How ‘Dirty Jobs’ Host Mike Rowe Almost Landed ‘The Daily Show’ Gig

by Jennifer Shea
Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Old-school Daily Show fans may remember the Craig Kilborn days before Jon Stewart took over. But it turns out they were almost the Mike Rowe days. Because back then, the future Dirty Jobs host was also up for that job.

In an exchange on Facebook from years ago documented by The Wrap, Rowe answered a fan who asked how he deals with rejection in the work realm. That prompted Rowe to share that he had almost landed the glamorous job of comedy show host – twice.  

“When ‘The Daily Show’ was first conceived, Comedy Central spent a year looking for the right host,” Rowe told the fan. “The audition process was extensive, and when the dust settled, it came down to two — Craig Kilborn and me. The job went to Craig, and I was crushed.”

And Rowe posted a picture of himself pretend-crying while holding up the very letter that Comedy Central had sent him back in the day. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Mike Rowe Came So Close to Landing Daily Show Role

Then, in 1998, Kilborn decided to leave The Daily Show. So Rowe auditioned again. And he gave it his best shot.

“This time, I wasn’t going to let it get away. I did the very best job I could, and all modesty aside, I killed it,” Rowe recounted. “Afterwards, I was told by the producers and writers that I was about to become the new host of ‘The Daily Show,’ unless — by some miracle — Comedy Central were to suddenly cough up the kind of money that could entice a proven entity like Dennis Miller or Jon Stewart.”

We all know how that turned out. Stewart reinvented The Daily Show, making it culturally iconic during the aughts, before ultimately leaving in 2014. Meanwhile, for Rowe, it was a long, difficult journey – the Dirty Jobs host called it “a critical step in a long series of failures” – to find his calling.

But it all worked out in the end. And who knows? If Rowe had gotten the job over Kilborn, he might still be conducting 10-minute interviews with celebrities today, instead of taking an in-depth look at ordinary people with gritty jobs who keep the nation moving.

Rowe Holds Forth on Dirty Jobs Reboot

Earlier this month, the reboot of Dirty Jobs premiered on Discovery and Discovery+. And for the show’s audience, it was like the show’s decade off the air had never happened. Mike Rowe just picked up right where he left off, focusing on essential workers given the pandemic.

Rowe acknowledged that he didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel in a recent interview. He brought back the family-friendly reality show in almost exactly the same form, he told WGN Radio this month.

“The country has changed, I’ve changed a little… but the show itself, you know, it worked from the very beginning, and I think part of its appeal was the fact that parents could watch it with their kids,” Rowe said.

As for the show’s content, it doesn’t shy away from pandemic-era realities. One recent episode featured shrimpers who pivoted during the pandemic to a slightly different form of fishing (for jellyfish) to keep earning a living.

“Well, adapt or die, you know, pivot or perish. In relative terms, everybody had to do some version of that dance if they wanted to keep busy over the last two years,” Rowe said. “I think some of the most interesting people out in the world today are the people who found a way to keep the lights on during the last couple of years, and those are the people we feature on the show.”