When you hear the name Mike Rowe, you probably conjure up images of him walking through filthy sewers or doing some kind of building demolition. But can you picture him sitting behind a desk and talking to political figures while a Comedy Central logo is in the bottom corner of the screen? Apparently Rowe was very, very close to becoming the host of The Daily Show not just once, but twice, back in the 1990s.
A fan wrote to Rowe and asked him about dealing with rejection, and in the middle of an inspirational answer – in which he mentions that he dealt with two or three job rejections a week for an entire eight-year span – Rowe brings up the fact that he thought that hosting The Daily Show was his dream gig, and how Comedy Central’s decisions were a nightmare for him. Whenever the show was first being developed, the harrowing audition process ended with just Rowe and Craig Kilborn at the top of the heap. If you’ve paid attention to history, you’ll know that Kilborn got the job, which “crushed” Rowe. But later, mental tragedy struck again.
Here’s how he put it on his website.
A year later, Craig split, and the network called me back. I went in for another audition. 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. 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. Of course, we all now which way the mop flopped, and I was once again, devastated.
I can’t imagine how awkward that must have felt, and Rowe still has the rejection letter to remind him of that time 17 years ago, calling it “one of the nicest rejection letters I’ve ever received.” But no amount of politeness can make up for ripping away a hard-fought opportunity, of course. Luckily, Rowe acknowledged while he was watching Jon Stewart’s final show that getting that hosting job would have meant he’d have never found his true calling, and we wouldn’t have gotten to know him in quite the same way. It would have been cool to see him as a labor correspondent at some point, though.
Considering how Comedy Central went after Chris Rock and Amy Schumer, among other celebs, one has to wonder if any of their potential host lists still had Rowe’s name on it. Maybe Trevor Noah paid him off not to audition this time around.