Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe, and this is episode number 187 of the way I heard it, and it's called Beware the Irish Hammer, Beware the Irish Hammer. The episode starts with Chapter nine from my book, which tells the true story of two women who made a huge impression on me. And no, neither one of them is my mother. Mom will be back in a future episode to help spread her unique brand of sunshine here on the podcast.
But today I'll be discussing two other ladies who I respect and admire and from time to time, fear. The first one is best described, I think, as a full figured gal and her identity, you will no doubt discern from the myriad of clues about to come your way. The second woman is also a bit of a mystery, but only because she's chosen to remain under the radar these last 15 years, during which time she has done her best to keep me from blowing myself up or in her words, to keep me from becoming an asshole.
Her name is Mary Sullivan, but around the office, I like to call her the Irish Hammer. Why? Because Mary is very Irish. And while she has the capacity to be incredibly sweet, her temper is not a thing you want to inflame. Trust me, the Irish Hammer is a lawyer by trade who, for reasons I still don't entirely understand, left her very successful law practice years ago to run my business. Over the years, she has impersonated an agent, a manager, a publicist, a shrink.
We've been business partners for a long time now and today, since she appears in this chapter of my book, she's agreed to answer a few of my questions here on the podcast. Very rare media appearance for the Irish Hammer. Questions like, does she regret it? And is she's sick of me yet? Honestly, it's hard to tell sometimes, but our conversation is enlightening, especially for anybody who has ever started a business or taken a leap of faith with an erstwhile attorney or embarked upon a great adventure with absolutely no idea what they're doing.
It's the way I heard it, and it starts right now. And when I say right now, I mean right after I shamelessly plug my new hit show, Six Degrees with Mike Rowe currently streaming over there on Discovery plus dotcom, six degrees is a history show for people who normally wouldn't watch the history show. Each episode starts with a truly ridiculous question like can a horseshoe find your soulmate or can a mousetrap cure your hangover or can a sheep do your taxes?
The answers to these ridiculous questions are always yes and six degrees. Let me show you how it's possible by proving that everything in our crazy and mixed up world is in fact connected. The show was an absolute blast to produce. I loved every second of it and it's based on the stories in this podcast. So if you're a fan of the way I heard it, you're going to love six degrees streaming anytime it suits you over on Discovery. Plus, Dotcom won't cost you a penny, by the way, if you take advantage of the free trial, which I strongly encourage you to do, that's six degrees with micro streaming for free as we speak on Discovery plus dotcom.
Check it out, see if you can't spot Chuck, the producer of this podcast who portrays no less than 35 characters in this brand new series. That discovery is already threatening to reorder. How about that? That's six degrees with Mike Rowe and this. Well, this is the way I heard it.
Chapter nine, a full figured gal. Libby was a tall drink of water, no two ways about it, a statuesque, full figured gal who was, in the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein abroad, where broad should be broad. Beyond her classic beauty, though, Libby possessed another quality that most men found irresistible, a quality that suggested anything might be possible with a girl like her. Fred had conceived Libby 20 years earlier, her mom had never really been in the picture, but it would be unfair to call Fred a single parent.
Fred loved his girl as much as any father could love a daughter, but it was Gus who had actually raised her. And now Fred and Gus were trying to arrange a marriage, searching the world for a man who would put their girl on a pedestal. For a time, it seemed that that man would be the governor of Egypt, Ismail Pasha was handsome, charming and clearly enamored of Libby. He said all the right things and promised to build her a fabulous home right there at the entrance of the newly completed Suez Canal.
Fred was delighted. Obviously, Ishmail was Muslim, but Libby didn't care about that. She'd wear the veil in public if doing so would please him. But after two years of courtship, it became clear that Egypt was not the right place for a woman like Libby. Libby took the rejection in stride, but Fred was beside himself. He had wasted two years with smile and his little girl wasn't getting any younger. So Fred and Libby sailed to America to find a more suitable suitor.
To everyone's surprise and delight, the mayor of Baltimore proposed. So too did the mayors of Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
American mayors seem to have a thing for full bodied gals who radiated possibility. But ultimately it was a Hungarian immigrant who persuaded Fred that New York City was the only sensible place for his daughter to call home. At first glance, Joe was not an obvious match. He was a slender man who had been described as too scrawny for manual labor next to Libby.
He looked like a kid, but Joe knew exactly what he liked and precisely how to get it back in Missouri, as a reporter for the St. Louis Post, he had worked hard and saved his money. Eventually, he'd bought the entire newspaper. He'd bought the St. Louis Dispatch as well. Then he'd moved to Manhattan and bought a newspaper called The World. New York was where Joe first laid eyes on Fred's daughter. That's when he proclaimed on the front page of his new newspaper that Libby would stay in the city with him.
Fred was delighted, obviously, Joe was a foreigner, but Libby didn't care about that. There was only one problem when Fred told Joe that he and Gus wanted to see Libby on a pedestal. He wasn't talking in metaphors. He was talking about an actual pedestal, one that would cost the city of New York no less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. That's the equivalent of six million dollars today. Sadly, Joe didn't have that kind of cash lying around, but Joe was a man who knew exactly what he liked and precisely how to get it.
So one hundred and fifty years before crowdfunding became a thing, the journalist from Hungary turned his newspaper into a go fund me page and challenged his readers to keep Libbey in New York City. Phillip and Eliza Bender were among the first to contribute with 50 cents each, Joe printed their names along with his thanks, right next to a photo of his beloved. Their kids pitched in to and Joe printed their names as well. Anna 25 cents. Franni 25 cents.
Leonard ten cents. Frank 15 cents. Alice 10 cents. Ralph 10 cents. Carry 10 cents. Miss Nici 25 cents. All in all, the benders were good for two dollars and 30 cents and everyone read all about it.
Soon, hundreds of New Yorkers began donating their pocket change. Street sweepers, carriage drivers, stonemason's housewives, ordinary men and women with only pennies to spare. Anyone who donated saw his or her name in the newspaper next to an image of Libbey. Within months, the necessary funds were in hand. And soon after that, on a place called Bledsoe Island, the construction of a mighty pedestal began a pedestal sturdy enough to support the full figured gowe that Joe was determined to keep in the Big Apple, the four hundred and fifty thousand pound, 151 foot statue called Libertas.
Frederic Bartholdi had conceived her and given her name, Gustav Eiffel had raised her and given her a frame, but it was the immigrant from Hungary who'd given the lady from France a place to stand without Joe Libbey would be overlooking some other harbor. Philadelphia's probably or maybe Baltimore's or she'd be in some other country. She'd almost wound up behind a veil at the mouth of the Suez Canal, dressed in the robes of an Egyptian peasant. Instead, she stands at the foot of Manhattan, where she welcomes the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
It's funny, an immigrant famous today for the prizes bestowed in his name is largely forgotten for his greatest gift, the campaign that kept our favorite lady right where she belongs. Thanks to thousands of New Yorkers, their pocket change and a man named Joseph Pulitzer. We can say that once upon a time, America put liberty on a pedestal.
I had a pedestal once I put a pig on it, you can Google it. Go ahead. I'll wait. Are you back? Good. Let's continue my 2005 Dirty Jobs was an undeniable hit, but the network and I couldn't seem to agree on how best to promote it. They wanted a traditional marketing campaign with me at the center of it, a working class hero earnestly attempting to master every blue collar trade. That made me very uncomfortable, dirty jobs was not an earnest show, nor was it a show about me.
It was a lighthearted tribute to real people who woke up clean and came home dirty.
What I wanted was a campaign where everyday people were not only featured but treated like stars. I imagine them dressed in their work clothes as they appeared in the show, arriving in limos at a star studded red carpet premiere where they'd be swarmed by paparazzi and greeted by throngs of adoring fans. Ask my intrepid field producer and partner in crime wanted a campaign that featured me covered in feces from every species. A recurring theme in season one. A stickler for realism, Barsky also proposed a campaign that featured intimate portraits of me with each of the barnyard animals I had inseminated artificially in my ongoing attempts to demystify the secrets of animal husbandry.
All these ideas had one thing in common they were nonstarters. As a result, we were stuck. Happily, my lawyer was on the case. I don't have an agent or a manager or a publicist, I have a memory around the office, we call her the Irish Hammer. Mary Sullivan is her full name. She's a former bio major who woke up one day and decided to practice law instead. I'm glad she did. Mary has Farrah Fawcett's hair and Albert Einstein's brain.
And once I realized the ladder was bigger than the former, I started asking her opinion on everything. Mary had caught wind of the working class hero campaign already. She'd snorted elegantly and called My boss. Mike isn't a hero, she had explained. He's not the star of the show. He's not even a host. His job is not to be in the spotlight. His job is to shine the spotlight. My job is to keep him from becoming an asshole or worse, from looking like one.
Candor is a rare commodity in Hollywood, so, too, is charm, the Irish hammer has both in spades and so the network had backed off. But now we were back to square one with the promo and time was running out.
What do you think I should do? I ask Mary. We need to film something this week without looking up from her desk, the Irish Hammer said. What about the pig? What pig? The pig in the open of the show. Every episode of Dirty Jobs opens with a shot of me carrying a 200 pound swine from a barn to a pig pen, incidentally, that pig appeared to have an erection, which nobody noticed until viewers started to write in with questions.
But that's a story for another day. I'm not sure I understand. I told Mary, you want to make a pig the star of the show. More like the mascot, she said, a metaphor for hard work.
But pigs don't work hard, I said, unless truffle hunting counts, the Irish hammer looked at me in the way that a smart person might regard an idiot. Do you know what a metaphor is? I think so. Have you ever cleaned a pig pen? Several. I said. Was it difficult? Yes. Was it pleasant? No. All right, then. If you want to honor people who do difficult, unpleasant jobs without coming off as earnest, we're making it all about you.
Elevate the pig. Viewers aren't stupid. They'll figure it out and you won't end up looking like an asshole. See what I mean, don't let the Farrah Fawcett hair fool you. The next day, we booked a 300 pound sail for a most unusual photo shoot, she was chauffeured to Hollywood from a farm in Central Valley and arrived in style at the soundstage bright and early, ready for her close up. She was a perfect pig straight from the animal equivalent of central casting pink with gray spots and a sweet disposition like Wilbur from Charlotte's Web.
But all grown up. I called her Rhonda. In a pristine studio with white walls and a white floor, I watched as Rhonda was coaxed up a ramp that led to the top of a white pedestal, four feet off the ground.
Once she was situated, the ramp was removed and I took my place beside her. It was a simple setup. Standing next to Rhonda, I would look into the camera and riff about the unsung heroes of dirty jobs. I conclude with a pointed question, So what's on your pedestal? It was a play on that credit card commercial. What's in your wallet? I nailed it on the first take in front of a room full of nervous executives, unfortunately, Rhonda nailed it, too, just as I asked what's on your pedestal?
She crapped all over hers. It was an enormous dump delivered with impeccable timing. During the second take, Rhonda did it again right on cue, this time with a frightful spray of diarrhea that filled the studio with a sulphurous funk, blackening the white walls of our pristine set and transforming my blue jeans into something browner. I could only marvel at the stench while the horrified executives backed into a corner, a huddled mass, if you will, yearning to breathe free.
But Rhonda wasn't done, she crapped on every subsequent take and when she could crap no more, she began to pee. She peed on my cameraman, she peed on her handler. She peed on me finally when her bladder was empty. We got to take that the network could use, along with the commercial that won several awards for excellence in promos. Yeah, they have trophies for such things. Interestingly, the footage that went viral was not the footage that aired, but the footage Mary encouraged me to release on YouTube after the fact, the outtakes of Rhonda at her incontinent finest.
Those were hysterical and viewed more times than the actual commercial. Go figure. Looking back, putting a pig on a pedestal was maybe the smartest thing I ever did, not only did it make Rhondda famous, it established me as the non-traditional host of a non-traditional show, one whose primary job was to appear more like a guest and less like a host and whenever possible. Not at all like an asshole.
Opinions vary as to the degree to which I accomplish that. But I must have done something right because Mary Sullivan eventually agreed to leave her firm and partner with me, for which I'm eternally grateful. As for Rhonda, a poster of her now hangs in the office of the Irish Hammer. Like Libby, who welcomes the tired and the poor to these United States, Rhonda welcomes visitors to micro works staring out from her pedestal. Keeping me honest and just a little bit dirty.
I don't know where you were when you listened to that last chapter, but I hope you weren't standing in line at the post office. Honestly, the post office is a terrible place to listen to these stories, nor is it the best place to mail and ship your packages. That's why I mail and ship all my packages online at Stamps.com. Oh, yes, Stamps.com allows me to mail and ship anytime, anywhere, right from my computer letters packages. Doesn't matter.
You'll save a lot with discounted rates from USPS ups and more. That's what we do at Micro Works every day and that's what I do here at home. Once your mail is ready, you just schedule a pickup or you drop it off. It's really that simple. Stop wasting your time going to the post office and standing in line. Go to Stamps.com instead. No risk. And with my promo code RO, you got a special offer that includes a four week trial plus free postage and a digital scale.
No long term commitments, no contracts. Just go to Stamps.com, click on the microphone. It's at the top of the homepage and just type in my last name. Stamps.com promo code are OWI Stamps.com. Never go to the post office again. Having said all that, here's comes the Irish Hammer.
Ladies and gentlemen, as promised, the woman, the myth, the legend, the Irish hammer, my business partner and close friend, the one and only Mary Elizabeth Sullivan, I'm seeing you rolling your eyes.
I'm assuming that's not going to show up on the podcast.
Mary. The podcast is basically what you call a, you know, an audio medium for the most part.
So know, most of the people who listen to this will not see me roll your eyes, nor will they see me drinking from my carefully made gin and tonic.
I assume you have something similar within easy reach.
Yes, a glass of wine with a little inscription on it. That's your gift to me. And two thousand five.
That's right. What's it say for Mary? A clean girl with a dirty job? Do you remember those days?
Know how true that was in 2005, back when we used to give each other thoughtful gifts as an expression of our heartfelt appreciation? Those were the days.
Yeah, it was like one year, I think 15 years ago. I, I wanted you on the podcast.
And by the way, thank you for agreeing to to do this. I know it's it's a rare thing for you. You have perfected the art of staying under the radar, it seems, for the last 15 or 16 years. I don't anticipate this conversation will will go in any of the directions I've I've planned for because you are you. But I should point out that the pig on the pedestal is, in fact, as described in the book over your right hand shoulder.
And I'm leaning against Ronda moments before she evacuated her bowels and turned that particular promo shoot upside down.
Fiddlin it wasn't a good one. That was the moment you stopped being my lawyer and started becoming my my collaborator, my creative partner.
And ever since, like like Rhondda, you have peed all over everything I've done and and and made it better.
Would you at least.
There's a there's a benefit in having absolutely no idea what you're doing. You have no fear of being wrong. So I'm free to express my opinions, as you know.
Yes, I do. Where should we actually start with this?
Because I feel like people might might be at least remotely interested in in understanding why it is. You took my call and you know where it went from there.
Yeah, well, originally you tried if you remember, you tried to hire my ex partner. They used to run Discovery Legal and he couldn't take you on because of a conflict. So he called me and said, there's this guy at Discovery. He doesn't have an agent or manager. He's got a show that's just starting. But it looks really promising. And I think you should talk to him. I said, what's the show about? That he crossed through sewers and does stuff like that.
And I'm like, Thanks, Mom, what did I ever do to you? You're sending me a guy with no agent, no manager across the sewer. Yeah, that sounds like something I'd like to take on now.
It should be it should be made clear that at this point in your career, you're representing A-list talent, major Hollywood stars, best selling authors, you know, world famous comedians.
Why my name would ever wind up in your Rolodex is really, truly a mystery. But but you did take the call and the call came from a grease trap a little north of Bellingham, Washington, where the dirty jobs crew and I had been filming that day. We we had broke for lunch and those guys were eating their sandwiches while squatting in Greece and human excrement. And I waddled over to the far end of the pumping chamber and I called you and you took the call.
And we spoke for a long time. And I remember telling you I remember just like vomiting everything up and telling you that I had always done my own deals for the last 15 years. I negotiated all my deals. That was another positive.
Thanks, but so so what happened, folks, is my deals. I always negotiated for failure because my whole business model was based not on getting a hit or a series or a franchise or any of the things that Dirty Jobs became. I touched everything like it was very hot. I never really read the contracts too carefully because I was very cautious to only associate myself with projects that were so poorly conceived and doomed they had no hope of actually working. So buried in my contract were all.
Kinds of options that gave discovery incredible power to order as many episodes of dirty jobs as they wanted, and this came as a shock to everyone because I, I didn't think they wanted it. They knew they didn't want it. This was just a three episode thing to introduce me to their to their viewers. But it was the thing that worked. And when it worked, they ordered dozens of them. And I realized I had negotiated for myself really a bad deal and I needed help.
And that's why I called Mary from a grease trap in 2004. And you answered the phone and what happened next? Oh, I think I took pity on you.
You just sounded so desperate. I was the good or the good part was that you set the bar pretty low. You know, that contract was absolutely abominable. So if you were negotiating, you know, assuming that it was a failure and would never be used, you did a great job.
Yeah, but I was wrong about the most important thing, which was there's no way this will go to series. And look, I, I knew the germ of the idea was good, but I didn't know we'd get ten thousand letters. I didn't know we'd be flooded with invitations to keep shooting the show. And I didn't know that the only way to keep the show going was to literally do the work. You know, I mean to I mean, there's a very difficult show to do physically.
And when they ordered it a new look, on the one hand, it was a gift. This is the show I wanted to do, but I had no idea how difficult it would be or how crappy the terms were.
Yeah, the terms were crappy. But do you remember it was it was off for discovery. I mean, there was a time when I don't know that they were going to cancel it, but they were going to move the show because they didn't think that it had enough factual content behind it. Right. And you actually called up the president of the network at the time, Billy Campbell, and and told Billy to get a transcript from dirty jobs and to yellow, every fact in it, along with whatever, you know, program that they thought matched their standards for education.
And to let you know what the results were and my my bet was there be more yellow in an episode of dirty jobs than there would be in an episode of Nature where Jacques Cousteau or any of their natural history shows.
And you were correct. So why would you bring that up? Because that I mean, to me, we met you took the meeting with me. I showed up in your office after six months of phone conversations, looking like hell and smelling like a sewer. You made me look, people should know it was so weird for me.
You and I spoke for about six months back and forth. You really dug into the contract. You took me on as a client, a lawyer and a client. And and I finally went to your office in Los Angeles. I'll never forget this was two thousand five. You were wearing some Armani suit, all kinds of elegant jewelry and stuff. Your Farrah Fawcett hair was kind of blowing in the breeze. The window was open. The Los Angeles Sun was streaming in.
You look like Glenn Close in the stadium of the Natural, you know. And I was like, oh, dear God, what am I doing here? But you invited me in and we sat down and we had this conversation and we we started talking about branding, but we also started testing each other. And I think. I think the testing period is is worth talking about because, look, eventually something happened to make you comfortable enough to leave your firm and take me on as your only client and start to build a business.
So what the hell what did I do to earn your trust over that period?
Well, you know, you remember those days you were probably on the road, what, three hundred days a year? Yep. And after you get done with your jobs, you would call. And I think it was he was just desperate to talk connection to the outside world. So I think actually over that six month period before we met, I got to know a lot more about you, a lot more about what you wanted to do, had a better sense of who you were.
Most agents or managers don't get that opportunity. There's a quick phone calls jump on and off. You were stuck in a hotel room out in the middle of nowhere.
Usually separates Motel six is we'd shoot dirty jobs for 10, 12, sometimes 14 hours to get back to the hotel, a check into the mud room, talk to the fans, and then I'd call you and I'd say, any luck with this contract? Am I ever going to get out of this march to baton this crucible of despair? Is there anything is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
So before we put a pig on a pedestal, we spent nearly two years talking about this deal and I guess getting to know each other. I remember something you told me when things were really getting contentious. And I think this was part of the testing period. Right. You said, look, Mike, I'll take any position you want on any point you want. But if I draw a line in the sand and you back up from it, you're dead to me.
You literally said I'm gone and I believed you. I absolutely believed you. So why did you say that to me at that point? Were you testing me or did somebody burn you? Once upon a time, it was about credibility.
You know, it's you can negotiate, you can try to better your position. But if you're really going to draw the line in the sand, then you can't back up from it. And we really didn't draw a line in the sand very often because it was always a negotiation, a discussion. But it was important to me because people have to believe you. And so if you really wanted me to take a hard line, it's this or the highway, then you had to stick by it.
And yeah, look, the entertainment industry is filled with people that will take a really hard line until the other side says, sorry, can't do. I'm moving on to the next person and then they crumble like a house of cards. So they mostly went to my credibility. And at that point I had no idea if you'd be around tomorrow. So I was more interested in protecting my credibility. But the thing that the thing I saw you do early on and the thing I've seen you do really and I mean we've done hundreds of deals together, you and me, over the last 16 years.
You. Don't negotiate in a traditional way. You're right, I mean it in in Hollywood, it's very, very expected that one side will come in absurdly high and the network of the studios will come in stupidly low and the two sides will square off and ignore each other's phone calls for a couple of weeks and eventually they'll settle on something in the middle. But I think I think what happened for us is we talked for so long, I called you from somebody grease pits and so many sewers, and you always took my call.
And then we met and I thought you were interesting and weird and you thought I was whatever. But when you negotiated, you went in with a number and you said, look, this is this is the number. We think it's fair and. And nobody nobody believed you at first, like nobody, yeah, I mean, sometimes it's about the number, but I think we talked about it a lot. What we were asking for had a lot of backup.
So I don't believe in going in, you know, stupidly high and then, you know, them coming in stupidly low. It's just it's a waste of time and energy. You're not believable. That doesn't mean that you have to be intransigent. If there are different facts or there are other pieces, sometimes you get certain things in exchange for others. It doesn't mean that there's a line there. But if you explain your position, if you if you talk about why it's fair and the parameters, it is a discussion.
Yeah, but nobody does that. I mean, agents don't really do that.
But but that's that's why our relationship in some ways worked. I didn't I wasn't from the entertainment industry. I don't I didn't come from that background. So when you come from the corporate world, it's like building a business. You you're trying to figure out what's going to make everybody happy or at least equally unhappy to be able to move forward. And I didn't know what the normal was. I mean, at the time, I remember being really, really concerned that I was misrepresenting you, that I wasn't doing a good enough job because I just had no idea.
It's like you're on a football field. You don't know where the 50 yard line is. So I just kept running.
Well, you know, it was a weird couple of years, but this chapter is in the book because as best as I can figure it, the the day you said put a pig on a pedestal was not only the day I started looking at you, not so much as a lawyer, but as a partner. It was it was also the day that we we really kind of embraced this whole notion of a reverse commute. And, you know, when I look back now.
At all the deals we did, whether it's Ford or Kimberly-Clark or Master Lock or Motorola, Discovery, CNN, Facebook, returning the favor. Somebody's got to do it, TBN. I mean, there are literally hundreds. And it occurs to me that almost every single one. Has some version of a pig on a pedestal where we did. We did something we either weren't supposed to do or people weren't expecting us to do, and somehow or another it wound up turning into something, something good.
So so the question is, do you get any credit for that or not? Or was it completely one more Forrest Gump in thing that happened?
Well, it was definitely Forrest Gump in. But I'll I'll take the credit. I think that when you don't know what normal is, you are just operating from what you think is right now. The commercial world was a good example of that. We're odd in some ways because I would get calls from people and they were waiting for me just to throw out a number, then we do the contract, then you get on. So they would send me the creators and they'd send me the deal and they wanted to sign.
And I remember that just fell backwards to me. Shouldn't we have a conversation first? Shouldn't you be on the phone with the company and make sure that you like them and that creatively? We were on the same page before we did that. That was odd because normally talent clients don't talk to the client before the deal's done. So you just had somebody who is representing you that had no idea what was normal. Right.
And you were representing somebody. I figured you're probably talking about Doug. Remember Doug over at Burns Entertainment, right. Is got to Doug Shulman and poor Doug. He called Mary with a fully formed campaign around a client whose name he didn't want to divulge just yet. Around the same time, I was thinking, you know what? I would see my mom and dad ages. I'm so busy with dirty jobs. It would be great if I could hire them somehow or another.
So this guy calls Mary and the client turned out to be Kimberly Clark, paper towels called VVA. So, like on the surface, the last thing in the world is going to happen is that the dirty jobs guy is going to start representing a brand called Viva Viva. I mean, it sounds like Liberace, you know, after a two day bender goes to Vegas and makes a paper towel that obviously come on, I'm I'm the brawny guy. So Viva comes with this deal.
I want to get my mom in show business and the whole thing lands in Mary's lap and tell them what you did.
Well, we first had to figure out whether there was any creative that would work because we'd already turned them down a few times. I just said, let's let's figure out what you'd like to do and we'll go back. And if they like it, great. And if they don't, then whatever. So we ended up coming up with the idea Pigpen comes home. That was the name of the first campaign. And the idea was as the dirty jobs guy, you would walk into your parents house and your parents would be following you around with paper towels, cleaning up after you.
And I pitched that to to Doug, who took it back to the clients. And they liked the idea. So we were all set to go. And he called me up, say thumbs up. And I said, well, about his parents. And he said, don't worry, you're going to have approval on whoever, whoever we're going to cast. And I said the news gets worse than that. You have to cast his real parents with.
Yeah, they're great. You'll love them. Is there any tape? Sure, yeah, they've been on the beat on dirty jobs, but you kind of got to hire them and that ended up, I think, being one of the best aspects of that campaign. I think people really talked about the fact that it was your mom and dad. They certainly became little celebrities on their own. Oh, God. You remember your mom carrying around paper towels?
My mother, four years, four years. And after that and during it kept cases of paper towels in her trunk because everywhere she went, people would stop and ask her about this commercial and she'd always, you know, she talked to them and then she'd open up the trunk and pull out a roll. Would you like me to sign them for you? Do you remember being in Orlando?
We were at some event and your parents were there and you walked ahead. You were going up some grand staircase. And I was sort of following after you and your parents were behind me. And I get to the top of the steps and I'm like, oh, they're not behind me. And I, like, raced down assuming that somebody had tripped, you know, I'm going to follow them, see them sprawled all over the ground. But no, they were stopped by fans wanting to take their photo.
They'd let you go by, by the way. Yeah.
Like, you know, it was great. But I mean, it's it's worth talking about because putting a pig on a pedestal and changing the direction of the campaign for dirty jobs also changed the nature of the show. But you kind of did the same thing with this. You know, in this case, it wasn't a literal pig on a pedestal. It was my actual parents. And I'm not trying to analogize analogize my mom to a to a swine.
I'm just saying that what's what's the point of the campaign? What's what's on your pedestal. Right. That's when I started to realize that that's always the question. It's not authentic.
I mean, I think that's even in commercial campaigns, you're always looking for a through line to what's authentic, even if it's fun. Remember Novartis, the other done deal?
Yeah. Yeah. But I'm not done with this one yet because in this one, like in normal Hollywood, somebody says, what's on the pedestal? You would say, well, we've done a deal with a paper towel company and the product is paper towels. So the paper towels are on the pedestal. That's the most important thing. But actually, it's not it's not the most important thing at all. It's just it's just the product. The thing on the pedestal is your mom and your dad, your actual parents, not actors.
So now you have a story to tell.
You know, beyond the extra stuff, even when Web properties of paper tell which my father's still still talks about, although I started to say we're both laughing at that because we both remember your dad, the booming voice say that was so funny.
Yeah. He had he had one line in the first commercial which required him to turn around from a barbecue. Right. He's he he's using the paper towel to scrub the gunk off of the grill. And my mom and I are having a sweet mother son moment at a picnic table. She's like cleaning some schmutz off my face.
And my father is supposed to turn around and hold the towel up to the camera and say, you know, these things really are tough, even when wet.
And my dad, of course, has done a hundred plays, you know, and he's he's never been on television before, but he's very used to being on stage. And when he talks, he talks to the to the last row in the theater. And God, these poor guys from Viva and the ad agency and Doug, they're they're all in Video Village, one hundred feet away looking at monitors. They got their headphones on and they're watching the take.
And right on cue, my dad spins around and he holds that paper towel up to the camera and he says, by God, these towels really are tough, even when wet.
And it was so freaking loud they threw their headsets off these poor people. Everybody screamed. That was authentic. That was funny.
How's your mind holding up holding? Let me know if you need a refill. Your quart of vodka and gin. This point, what difference does it make?
It's fine. So at some point, I mean, you never stop being my lawyer, but you kind of morphed into this other thing. And after the viva paper towels and after dirty jobs got got squared away, when do you feel like you actually made the transition into however it is you had? Reduce yourself today. I've made a transition. I don't know, Mary. Look, I still don't know what to call you. I still don't know how to introduce you.
Oh, I remember the early days. Yeah. You had no idea. You couldn't call me your lawyer because everybody was always looking for the person who actually was in charge. So if you called me the lawyer, they were looking for your agent or your manager and you had no agent or manager because I failed to get you to hire anyone, you try some point. Yeah, I know. I tried. You just started referring to me as your people.
Do you remember that meeting was at CIA or William Morris were both. I remember you dragging me around a Hollywood like a Christmas ham, introducing me to all these people, sitting in all these boardrooms with a dozen guys talking about the micro business, whatever that meant. It was like a caricature of entourage, you know, that TV show.
But in fairness, I was trying to get you to hire people because everybody I knew in entertainment had people that were managing their careers. So I thought you needed people, but I didn't.
I needed somebody who was as jacked up as I was about the industry. Deep down, I think you you look at Hollywood the same way I do, right. When you came from corporate finance. And so entertainment was always this kind of weird thing. And I came from Baltimore like you. I mean, we actually grew up not far from each other, weirdly, but I had no interest in finding a hit show or developing a franchise, much less starting a business.
So, I mean, the more I think about it, the weirder this whole thing becomes. And for the life of me, I can't figure out exactly what happened to compel you. To leave your firm to to run a business that didn't even really exist around a guy that crawled through a sewer, I mean, what do you make that calculous certifiably insane? One way of thinking of it, but you had to brand it just wasn't like most of the other people in the reality space.
You know, you weren't a carpenter, you aren't a cook. And like everybody was coming as an expert in their field at that time, your expertise was in talking to people and highlighting them. I mean, that's what the show was. I think that's to a large extent what the commercial campaigns became, certainly the foundation. So everything sort of came from that perspective. And I think the PR aspect of trying to promote skilled trades got woven through everything that we were doing.
Many of the partners that we were in business with were always supportive of the foundation. What got me to leave the firm was we were having a good time. We were having fun sort of forest thumping our way through, trying to figure out and a little bit like Don Quixote maybe.
I remember you gave me a painting of Don Quixote and Sancho, what's his name. And it did feel like that. It did feel for a long time like we were tilting at windmills. But the business of putting a pig on a pedestal, again, I keep coming back to it because it happened with Ford. It happened with somebody got to do it. That deal you did around that show was unprecedented, not in the dollar amount. It was unprecedented because we owned the show and you got it on CNN.
And then somehow they gave it back to us and now it's on TBN. That's never happened. I mean, make sense of that.
Well, when you think about the show, I mean, it's not that surprising in the sense that on both channels they're interested in meeting people. You know, people are curious and they want to know and somebody's got to do it. It was not necessarily a job. It can be a hobby. It could be anything. You know, people are just interested in those kind of stories. The same was true with returning the favor. You know, find out what people are doing in their community.
It was aspirational and a non honest fashion.
Yeah, because the thing you did with returning the favor was the thing I did in dirty jobs years before. I've told the story a bunch not of the podcast, but I mean that show I passed on that show three times, there was no way I wanted to do a feel good show. But remember, you said at the end, look, use the truth. Can let let the viewers see the behind the scenes beats the same way you did in dirty jobs.
Let him see the making of a feel good show and that all of a sudden made it feel comfortable. And we wound up doing one hundred episodes. Yeah, because. Because you put another metaphorical pig on another metaphorical pedestal. But what was the metaphorical pig with returning the favor. Authenticity.
Yeah, it was a different situation because most of the shows I mean, I remember saying if it were ABC, CBS, NBC, we'd turn it down because there was a format for those shows. They were always going to have the heavy violin music. It was going to go in a certain direction. But Facebook watch was new and so it could be as long as it was good and the production company was game to try something different. And we wanted people to feel like they were coming along for the for the journey.
Right. That they were coming to the community. They were meeting somebody who was doing something good and they were there with us. And that extra camera really allowed that, well, it wouldn't have happened without it.
All I thought was, look, if people can feel like a fly on the wall, if they can come along with me in the crew, then that's just a completely different experience than sitting home and and watching a perfectly executed version of some show where everybody chants, move that bus. And not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just that there's no pig on a pedestal.
There's no reverse commute. You're stuck on that pig on the pedestal. You.
Well, you know, I kind of am because I don't think I mean, dirty jobs and returning the favor don't look much alike at all, you know, but it but it's kind of the same show. Is that your dog? Yes. One. Oh, it's ah. It's interesting. And I don't know if they, they, they chant in unison now.
Oh God yeah. I don't, I don't think that the shows, you know, optically look much alike. But fundamentally I was, I was doing the same thing. You know, high America got a load of this guy, get a load of this woman, see what they're doing. Check it out. Look what's on the pedestal today. I didn't really think about it when I put it in the book. I mean, I. I knew it was important for us.
It was a big day for us because, like I said, that's when, you know, no lawyer had ever tried to give me creative advice before. And so many creative people know that's true.
That's true. But I thought it was such a good idea and it and it did. Now, like, when I look back, I virtually everything we did is a version of it. My mom's book, thanks to you, my mother is a best selling author two times over. And it happened in part because she wrote me a funny story and I read it on Facebook in. Seventy two million people saw it.
But when the publishers came looking right, I mean, they were very specific. They they wanted a couple dozen stories like her bloopers story that kind of made everything happen. And they they were adamant about what they wanted. My mom just went and wrote totally different stories, nothing that the publisher wanted.
And you could have easily said, look, Peggy, don't don't do that or we can't help you if you do that or any number of other things that any agent or manager would have done, nobody in their right mind would have sent my 78 year old mother at the time off to write 30 stories that we knew nobody would ever publish. But you did, and when they came back, you know, all the publisher wanted was to make sure I was in all of them, so they had a hook, but my mom didn't put me in any of the really you just wrote a bunch of stories about her mother, and you were like, well, why don't we just publish them ourselves?
Who does that?
Different Pigou, different pedestal? And then we spent some money. We printed 10000 copies and we sold out in a few days. And then the publishers came. And then you made up a publishing deal?
Well, we knew we knew Peggy could write. She's got that dry, sarcastic sort of sense of humor. She was good. But yeah, you're right. In the publishing world, they're probably thinking, oh, it's Mike's mom. He just wants to do something to support her. They probably didn't realize she actually can write.
Yeah, she actually can. And she's almost done her third book, by the way. So, Charpentier, we interrupting you?
No, no calls coming in. I don't know what kind of business you're running down there in L.A., but up here in the Republic of San Francisco.
I'm on call 24/7, but your level of experience, you would know how to turn it on vibrate. You would think so.
Put yourself in the place of of a fan, assuming I still have a few. They have a good idea of what I've been up to for the last 10 years. You've been involved in every single project. What else comes to mind where you wound up putting some sort of metaphorical pig on the pedestal?
Well, the latest project degrees. Hmm. We've been talking about doing a history show, an untraditional history show for ten years.
Ten years, actually. We sort of did one. How booze built America. Yeah. Really, really, really close to what we wanted to do. It was back in 2014.
Yeah. And we wanted to do it again. But selling a history show is not easy. So we we decided to go a different route to get it made whereby people have to understand the History Channel is down to an age.
Right. I mean, that's how hard history shows are. The history the History Channel is now doing, you know, Viking cinematic shows.
I mean, I actually like it, but those old style history shows are really all but gone.
And I remember years ago with Discovery after the third season of Dirty Jobs, I walked into Clark Buntings office. I had a concussion. I had stitches. I had a cracked rib. I was beat to hell. And I said, Clark, man, I don't think I don't think I can do this much longer. And he said, well, you know, if you want to do something that'll keep you busy but maybe not kill you, make a show about history for people that don't watch history shows.
And that that's where that started. And that that's stuck in my brain for a long time. That's what six degrees is. But never mind that it didn't happen because the network wanted it. You had to go out and find a sponsor. And put that sponsor on a pedestal and the sponsor was API and DCA, basically the energy industry, I mean, that's a good example.
It was sitting around having a conversation about what would you like to do? It was over dinner with Rob Darden, DCA, after some speech that you've given and probably a few bottles of wine, it was bourbon, as I recall that to the up.
And he loved the show idea. And we left dinner thinking, sure, whatever. But he kept plugging away at it and talked to a bunch of people in the in the industry and they were kind enough to help us out. So we decided to take the plunge and actually make the show, having no idea where it was going to go.
No, they weren't kind enough. They were interested because they thought I could help them. I think I mean, energy is headline news, right? I mean, their talk about a branding nightmare. Half the country thinks these guys are the devil. You know, they think the country's everything's going to end in ten or 12 years. You know, they've got a real problem. The energy industry does. It's true.
And you're a fan. But when I say kind enough, what I meant was they took a leap of faith. At a time when we had an inkling of an idea, I mean, to get projects off the ground, you're normally doing PowerPoint presentation and teasers and like you've got stats and figures and we didn't have any of that. We had a good idea of where we wanted to go and we didn't want to do an energy show. We loved having them as a sponsor.
You were thinking it was more Texaco theater and the sense of, yeah, you can have a commercial in it, but sponsored programs at the time that we started this, we're really the sponsor trying to shove their product into the show. And they didn't do that. They weren't involved at all creatively. I mean, any energy connection that's in the show, anything that we did was because we wanted to we had fun. You dragged poor Chuck in to play characters, Igor and.
Oh, yeah. And so it was kind of a whimsy. So that's why I said they were kind because it wasn't there was no real heavy handed control. They wanted to help out. They liked the idea. I'm sure that they liked you.
Look, you can all shucks it all you want. I don't think anybody has got a show on the air like this in the last thirty years. We went out, we found a sponsor, one that's borderline controversial. They loved the creative idea, one that was ultimately fueled over a late night dinner with a bunch of bourbon from the men who build the pipes that allow the petroleum in the natural gas to get from here to there. That's what we had a conversation with, and in the end, it all felt kind of like minded and you're right, they were kind about it.
They they they were sports, you know, they loved dirty jobs and they loved the idea that we were looking to to do a traditional thing in a non-traditional way. And so they they stepped up in a big way. But the bottom line is we we we filmed a show with no home. We had no no idea where to put this now.
And look, there was a lot of patience because remember, we were thinking that it was going to be a 20 minute show on your Facebook page and. Yeah. And then, of course, you got involved in the creative process and decided that.
Yeah, but you know what I mean. Half an hour of you is not enough. I was right.
The people want an hour of memory, so they want an hour.
Look, six degrees actually began with a title that is remarkably similar to the book we're discussing in the podcast you're on. In fact, it was identical. That show was called The Way I Heard It. And we got halfway through it and we started thinking, yeah, maybe it should be called something else. You know how weird it is to change the title of a show when you're 50 percent done shooting it. But you convinced me to change it from the name of the podcast to six degrees.
And that affected everything, and then once we started making these new connections in the show, it seemed obvious to me anyway that it should be an hour instead of a half hour. But we didn't really have enough money to make an hour unless we spent whatever profit we thought we might keep. So we did that. We spent all the money and then we started going more and more and then covid, and then we couldn't go back and shoot and march the way we were going to.
We still didn't have a place to put the show, for God's sake. You know, we've got 60 percent of a show in the can. We need 40 percent more. We don't really know what it is. We don't really know when we can shoot it. And we don't really know if anybody is going to buy it, and now we're spending our own money.
What was the point on that pedestal?
Sometimes you got to take risk. We both like the show. And we figured that we'd be able to sell it. Misplaced confidence.
Look, we did. I mean, the show's doing great. It was a it was it was a safety third kind of move, as we would say. We put risk on a pedestal and energy. I guess I still can't figure out what the actual product is with that show, but. You better feed your dogs, for God's sakes, is this a sign? Have we talked enough?
I shouldn't say Chuck's head's probably exploding from the. You're going on too long. We have 15 years, you know, and I'm going to cover it in an hour.
Well, then but you might want to end with probably my favorite present ever you gave to me back in two thousand six, which is when you gave me the nickname The Irish Hammer. You remember the shadowbox?
I do. Do you created a shadowbox for me for Christmas, where you took a really old, somewhat rusty hammer and you engraved the Irish hammer in the handle and then you took what was here and I'm hoping red paint and put on the end of the hammer. And you wrote a poem. I wrote you a poem.
I did. And I was still a lawyer at the time. You were still fascinated by the negotiating that went on around your deal and around a bunch of stuff. And so, yeah, that was back in the days when you actually liked me favor.
I was fascinated by your persistence. I was fascinated by the fact that at one point things got so contentious with discovery and without, you know, look, we're we're all friends today. In fact, it's entirely likely that dirty jobs is going to be on the air at some point in twenty, twenty one. And if all goes as planned, we're going to start shooting this thing again. But back in two thousand six twenty seven, things were tough and I had to figure out a way to to move forward with the deal that I had.
At the same time, I was trying to improve it for me. And, you know, without talking at a school, something happened. Something happened in the midst of that two year period that that gave us a huge advantage in the talks, and your advice to me was don't take advantage of any of this, simply do the work. Right, and if you don't want to take the money that you're due in the next stage of the contract because you want to hold out for something better, then don't take it.
And you don't have to pay me either. Talk about testing each other, right? You know what a freak I am with that. I can't stand it. I can't stand to owe anybody anything. And here my lawyer is telling me. Don't take their money, just send it back, but keep doing the show, and so what that meant was she didn't get paid either. So the first thing I sent you before I sent you a gift was I said, do you still have it?
I sent you a blank check.
Yeah, I do. Somewhere I have the blank check with your letter to me explaining this for reasons that you were sending me a blank check because you felt guilty. Yeah. You had no idea what you owed me. Right. I seemed completely incapable of billing you. Yep. That was a very funny letter, but that was one for the records.
Look, since this whole conversation is based on my book and there's an epigram in the book, it says, The very beginning of a promise made is a debt unpaid. And I felt like you had bet on me, you know, when nobody else would, and you you you took me on as a client without an agent, without a manager, without nothing. And you slowly assumed the identity of all those people. And you're not trained to do any of it.
But you did your best and you didn't build me, you know, for any of it, because you were advising me as my lawyer to not take the money from the very people with whom I was negotiating in order to send a message to let them know that I was, in fact, serious, but not recalcitrant and still dedicated, doing the best I could.
It was an amazing bit of advice that seemed absolutely against your own interest. And so I just couldn't live with it. So I said I sent you a blank cheque and a long letter explaining it.
And I think that helped raise my stock somewhat. In your estimation, no. Sorry.
Five letter. I'll have to I'll have to dig it up one of these days, but it was very funny. So here's. Here's how we end this, and here's what people should know. You know, you you went from a biochem major into law law in entertainment entertainment into meeting a client who had an idea, not a show, but an idea. And, of course, the idea was Mike Rowe works the foundation you literally run today. And that foundation evolved out of the show that wound up running for 300 different jobs because you had me put a pig on a pedestal.
So I remember all this very vividly. And I'm and I'm grateful to you for all of it. But before I read the poem that I wrote in the Lightbox, The Shadowbox, good grief, the idea that I made a shadowbox for you is so ridiculous.
It's very funny.
But what's not funny is that back in 2000, whenever it was when you told me to put a pig on a pedestal that launched a series of events that ultimately not only got you to leave your perfectly respectable job, but to run a foundation that at the time hadn't generated any money or helped anybody. But today we've helped over twelve hundred people. And here you are, a lawyer, erstwhile doctor who is helping hundreds of welders get a get a real start with their careers and, you know, another pig, another pedestal, another feather in your cap.
Well, in fairness, we started it. But the foundation today, I mean. Jade, Jade in our office, I couldn't do it without her. She's amazing at running the foundation, Chuck, since he's listing somewhere on here, probably. Chuck does a remarkable job in telling stories because half of the job is PR. It's letting people know about it. So we all work for the company and donate our time will foundation because it is it's part of the mission.
Part of the goal.
Yeah. Mission. That's funny. You remember back in 2008, I said, look, we're in this industry to make money, but we're in this space to, you know, do something decent. So here we were talking about missions. You know, dirty jobs had a mission statement. And it occurred to me that there is in all things a missionary position and a mercenary position, both of which are are underrated. And we've we've tried to do both over the years.
And Mike Rowe works the foundation is is very much a missionary play. And look, not to get maudlin about it, but you you've done some amazing things for my mom and dad with your very unorthodox style of deal negotiating.
But but before that, this was all about my my grandfather, you know, dirty jobs, as you know, was a tribute to him. And he saw the first episode before he died. And the foundation is really his legacy. And all that happened because you put a pig on a pedestal once upon a time and wouldn't take my money and didn't cash the sign blank check that I sent you. Thank you very much. It's probably expired, by the way.
But it's a it's a crooked six degree kind of road, and you've been the traffic cop on it from the start. So much obliged. This is where you say you're welcome, Mike. And we're like, all right, so here's the poem I wrote to Mary Sullivan, and you have to picture it. It's in a shadow box next to a real miniature sledgehammer. And yeah, I put hair on it and red paint because we had finally finished the deal.
We had closed the deal. And I thought, wow, what would the Irish hammer look like after it vanquished the foe?
And so I made the hammer to look like it would post battle. And I wrote this. Let me find it here.
Here it is, low on to the who challenges she whose clients the hammer protects for scribes, who writes from morning till night to actors who want to direct be of good cheer. Redemption is here as studios learn their manners, the verdict is in to network chagrin. Beware the Irish hammer. That was the actually you know what, that was the second verse, the first verse. Here it is. There is bountiful shake in the city of fame when it comes to making a score executive scheme.
As managers dream of 10 percent ever more attorneys grin as publishers spin and agents vie for the glamour. So take my advice. Don't pay for it twice. Hire the Irish hammer.
OK, we're cutting you off of the gin and tonics when you read the second verse first.
Well, it was a picture of the thing and it was all backwards that I had to scroll around on my thing. Yeah, no. Hey, it's the least I could do. Here's the Irish hammer. Mary Sullivan, agent, manager, publicist, lawyer, Shrem people, the girl with the Farrah Fawcett hair, you know, your hair was trending all right months ago on a guy on Twitter.
Yeah. Adulations. You really know how to say goodbye to you, goodbye there he fell asleep.
Can we go back to the point where you mentioned something about me and storytelling?