‘Dirty Jobs’ host hopes new film helps Americans choose gratitude

3 mins read
Mike Rowe new film
Courtesy of mikeroweWORKS and TBN.

Our Sunday Visitor recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mike Rowe, the well-known creator and host of “Dirty Jobs” and former QVC host. Mike is preparing for the release of “Something to Stand For,” a new film that focuses on patriotism that hits theaters June 27. “Part mystery, part history,” the original movie features a collection of stories that highlight the spirit of American independence. In this interview, Mike discusses the inspiration behind his film, the importance of storytelling in connecting with audiences and his views on the role of gratitude in society.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Our Sunday Visitor: How much of the dimming of patriotism that we’re seeing is because people don’t have that get-out-there spirit you seek to encourage in “Dirty Jobs”? In this new film, are you intentionally looking to inspire people to go out, have conversations and discover our history?

Mike Rowe: Well, the honest answer is yes, but it’s not really the complete answer. The truth is, I’ve learned along the way that to have a message and a purpose is important. But in this world and this medium, you don’t have permission to just deliver your message as though the masses have gathered to hear it. Most people don’t want a lecture; they don’t want a sermon. You need to tell them a story. If you can’t entertain a room full of people, you will never inspire them or encourage them. Those things, while important, are ultimately subordinate to the stories themselves.

Photos courtesy of mikeroweWORKS and TBN.

I never set out to make a movie. I started writing these stories seven or eight years ago for a podcast, mostly just to pass the time on long flights and sitting in greasy spoons all across the country. I wanted to write in the style of Paul Harvey’s old show, “The Rest of the Story.” These short mysteries for the curious mind with a short attention span began to evolve and a podcast took off. And then when somebody came along with this idea for a movie, it really wasn’t about which stories should we use; it was about which occasion.

Our Sunday Visitor: What guided the selection process of the stories for your film? There are many hundreds of stories you could have chosen that highlight the enterprising spirit of American patriotism. How did you come up with this set?

Rowe: Again, full disclosure, I didn’t go out looking for the stories to make the movie. I have about 250 stories that I wrote and nine of them I thought perfectly dovetailed with American independence. The stories in this film are all 8 or 9 minutes long.

It’s difficult to describe the movie. It’s not really a documentary because I’m sitting on a stage talking to an empty theater. It’s not really fair to call it a major motion picture in the Hollywood sense. We have 300 actors in the thing, but they don’t really talk to each other. They don’t have dialogue. They’re there to help bring these stories to life.

We didn’t film this in LA or New York: All the actors in the movie are from Oklahoma and all the crews are from Oklahoma. It became pretty clear early on that these were stories from the heart and filming them in the heartland made a certain amount of sense.

Our Sunday Visitor: Could you say a little more about what you’re trying to recover exactly by telling these stories?

Rowe: The metaphor I use is more about connectivity. We’re either connected or disconnected. When “Dirty Jobs” started, it was a tribute to my granddad, who only went to the seventh grade but became a very successful electrician and builder. I wanted to honor him with a show he would recognize as work. I also wanted to reconnect myself to things I had become disconnected from. “Dirty Jobs” was a field trip on steroids that allowed me to work as an apprentice in various jobs, which was personal and maybe even a little selfish. But the fact that other people found things in the show to discuss with their kids and honor work was a great bonus.

Our Sunday Visitor: As a priest, I’m very concerned about increasing secularism in the United States. It seems that losing transcendental aspirations like patriotism maps onto this trend. Do you agree with that, and are there other things we should be on the lookout for?

Rowe: I do agree. In addition to worship and all the rest, there’s something else important that happens in a church: the egalitarianism. In a church, it doesn’t matter about class or color. We need places where people can take stock of their neighbors in ways that transcend secular nonsense. Our country needs the Boy Scouts, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, Rotarians, Lions clubs, churches — all of it. These are moments where we melt into the pot. Our country needs to achieve that on a daily or weekly basis on a micro level.

Our Sunday Visitor: What do you hope people walk away with from your film?

Rowe: Aside from being entertained, I think it’s gratitude. Of all the virtues, the most beneficial one to the most people at any given point is a sense of appreciation. So many problems start with a lack of gratitude. If we can’t find a way to be impressed by the everyday miracles around us, we’ll have a hard time being impressed by what our founders accomplished. Gratitude is a choice, and if the movie helps people make that choice, it’ll be a good thing in every way.

Father Patrick Briscoe

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is a Dominican friar and the editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Along with his Dominican brothers, he is host of the podcast Godsplaining and a co-author of "Saint Dominic’s Way of Life: A Path to Knowing and Loving God." He is also the author of the OSV seasonal devotional, "My Daily Visitor."