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Q&A: CNN’s Mike Rowe on ‘Bloody Do-Gooders’ and Searching For Oddball Stories

Mike Rowe knows how to play dirty — as host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs,” he did it professionally for eight seasons. Now Rowe, a one-man variety show who’s worked as a narrator, actor, host and opera singer, has cleaned up his act in his current series “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” which opens its second season on CNN tonight. The show follows a similar format as “Dirty Jobs” but with a broader lens. The show, along with Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” has been a big part of CNN’s push to add more unscripted series to its news and talkshow mix.

So the second season of your show is about to start… can you preview the first episode?

The first episode is three stories — one couldn’t be more different than the other. The first happened in Chicago at a professional bull-riding event. So the real focus of the day, for me anyway, was to find the guys responsible for getting the bull away from the rider after he’s bucked off. And in the rodeo traditionally these guys are rodeo clowns, but these guys don’t wear makeup. They’re all business, and they’re awfully good at what they do. I got in the ring, and they basically taught me what to do, which, the short version is run toward the bull — make the bull charge you, and then don’t let him gore you. It’s absurd. But as you watch an entire event unfold, you watch the same three guys out there literally saving the cowboy’s life over and over again.

What about the other two stories?

The next piece actually was kind of an accident. I was in Iowa late last year giving a speech for something or other, and walking down the street I saw a man dressed like Abraham Lincoln — I mean exactly like Abraham Lincoln. And when you host a show called “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” you can’t just ignore a guy who looks like Lincoln. So we ended up hanging out for a while, sat down and had a talk. It’s a quick little story about a guy who loves Lincoln so much, he simply decided to assume his identity.

The third story happened in Northern California up in Humboldt County. We spend the day with a couple of guys who were working for years as carpenters, but quit their jobs to make chocolate. So they’re doing the only bean-to-bar chocolate operation in the country. And they’re doing it in a very strange part of the country, which is probably best known for the amount of weed that comes out of the area. But it’s also a weirdly entrepreneurial, capitalistic, yet a communal Berkeley-type of place where everybody seems to be in the manufacturing business on some level and everybody kind of buys each other’s stuff. So the economy is really robust, and so is the whole entrepreneurial foundation. It’s a cool story about what made in America looks like in 2015 through the eyes of a couple of carpenters who decided to make chocolate instead.

What else are we going to see this season?

One minute I’m carving ice sculptures with a husband and wife who are madly in love with each other, next minute I’m curling. The next minute I’m with a forager going through the hills of Northern California looking for food because the guy refuses to buy food — hasn’t bought food in ten years, he just lives off the fat of the land — then I’m cleaning up a river with a bloody do-gooder in Louisville.

What exactly is a “bloody do-gooder”?

‘Bloody do-gooders’ is my expression for people who are nicer than me, who are better than me. In this guy’s case, all his life he grew up on the Mississippi, and he just decided as a kid, the river’s a freaking mess and somebody’s got to clean it up. So he operates a couple of barges that are fully staffed with a couple dozen volunteers and he has pulled literally hundreds and hundreds of tons of sh— out of the Mississippi river day in and day out — from cars to tires to oil drums to the occasional dead body to hundreds of messages in bottles. It’s like the river is coughing up its history and its secrets to this guy. And he just cleans it up by himself because he’s got to.

Will you ever go outside the U.S. for stories?

I’m not disinterested in the rest of the world, but studies show the rest of the world is really freaking far away. I’ve been around it a couple of times, and there’s still about 300 million people I haven’t met here. I figure for the first couple of seasons anyway I want to keep it local. But over time, you never know.

When you’re not working on the show, do you just try to do the most mundane things possible?

I’ve got one of those over-stuffed leather chairs from the Pottery Barn. It faces north. I live in San Francisco, so there’s the Golden Gate Bridge off to the left, and there’s Alcatraz off to the right, and I’ve got a pile of pulp fiction next to me and there’s usually a decent bottle of red wine next to the fireplace. So you light a fire, you sit there, you pet a dog, you read a book, you drink some wine, you watch the fog blow over the Golden Gate. It’s kind of a like a little vacation.

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