It was starting to get ridiculous. I had probably called the Cleveland Magazine
offices 40 times throughout the course of the week trying to get someone with some
common sense on the line. But I just got passed around like a hot potato and eventually
dropped. How could they not comprehend what a great opportunity I was offering them?
An extensive, tell-all interview with me, Mike Polk Jr., to be published in their
wildly popular Rating the Suburbs issue. They seemed somehow unimpressed and, shockingly,
many of the people that I spoke with didn't even seem to know who I was.
Initially, I assumed that they were just pretending that I wasn't a big deal in
order to give themselves bargaining leverage should I try to overcharge them for
the exclusive exposé. This wasn't my first rodeo.
But it soon became abundantly clear that, unfathomable as it may sound, these people
honestly did not know who I was. I explained to them (actually, to their voice mail)
that I am Cuyahoga County's premier comedic provocateur. That I am responsible for
creating countless regional YouTube Web hits, such as the "Hastily Made Cleveland
Tourism Video" and "The Factory Of Sadness" Browns video, that — though extremely
unprofitable — nevertheless secured my reputation as a Cleveland folk hero, according
to my immediate family and my blog.
No one returned my calls.
Undeterred, I called again, this time leaving an even longer message explaining
that I am also the accomplished author of Damn Right I'm From Cleveland: Your Guide
to Makin' It in America's 47th Largest City (available on Amazon), a book
one critic hailed as being "104 pages long."
I went on to reveal that I am now a Fox 8 personality who regularly appears on New
Day Cleveland and The Rizzo Show. I also continue to produce my very own
half-hour comedy specials for the station called The Mike Polk Jr. Show,
which has yet to attain a permanent time slot but for now typically airs on Sunday
nights at about 2:30 a.m. in between a syndicated episode of Veronica's Closet and
an infomercial for the Miracle Blade (a remarkable knife that stays sharp even after
cutting through a cinder block!).
When I was abruptly and rudely cut off due to unreasonably stingy voice mail length
restrictions, I called back and performed a couple of my hilarious hit comedy songs
on acoustic guitar.
Well, needless to say, at long last, I managed to get their attention. Someone who
referred to herself as a features editor finally called me back. But to my surprise
it was not to set up a time that was mutually convenient for both of us so that
she could conduct a lengthy interview. She told me that what I was doing was "borderline
harassment" and that I really needed to "get a life." I found this to be both unprofessional
She then told me that she did not believe that Cleveland Magazine readers
would have much interest in reading about my life. This is when I admittedly lost
my cool and flew off the handle a little bit. I said something along the lines of,
and I'm paraphrasing myself here: "Well, we wouldn't want to tear your readers away
from the annual bombshell news that the highest-rated suburbs are the ones that
collect the most tax revenue and can therefore afford to run efficiently! However
will they figure that out without your hard-hitting journalism?!"
She hung up.
I'll be honest, people, at this point I almost gave up. But then I thought to myself,
No, Mike, you have an important story to tell. And that story has the potential to
inspire tens of Cleveland Magazine readers who could draw hope from your
experiences and who knows, possibly find the courage to reach for their dreams as
You pulled yourself up from nothing but a comfortable middle-class upbringing surrounded
by a loving family in Youngstown, Ohio. As a youth you were no stranger to adversity,
never receiving the Power Wheels ridable toy monster truck that you requested each
and every Christmas until your were 16 years old (even though your neighbor Ben
had one and it was awesome). You slept in a bedroom with no attached bathroom. You
attended a private school that lacked a viable theater program.
But despite all this, you managed to pull yourself up from such humble beginnings
to graduate from Kent State University with a communications degree in just less
than six years, even though no one believed that you could. You then moved to Cleveland
and dug in like a tick. And it's been nothing but triumphs and accolades ever since.
It was then that I realized I had been talking out loud to myself about myself for
the past four minutes, and it felt great! The epiphany hit! If no one from Cleveland
Magazine wanted to interview me, I'd interview myself! After all, who knows more
about me than me?
So I scheduled a time to sit down with myself and went to work. Below are the fruits
of my efforts. Upon the completion of this interview, I will print it out and mail
it to Cleveland Magazine to show them what they missed out on. But I also
intend to make it clear that if the latest feature piece they are working on — where
it's just a pictures of former Channel 3 news personality Mark Nolan leaning up
against a bunch of his classic muscle cars smiling like a goon — doesn't come to
fruition, they are welcome to run this piece instead ... if they get in a pinch.
It's Tuesday, 1:35 p.m. at Mike Polk's impressive and extremely affordable rental
home on West 110th Street, right next to the train tracks that goddamned trains
come down like 10 goddamned times a night. Mike Polk 1 is wearing a handsome three-piece
suit recently purchased at Unique Thrift on half-priced Monday because Mike Polk
1 is no fool and knows where all the sweet deals are. He is also wearing a fedora
with a cardboard tag on it that says "Press." Mike Polk 1 made this himself just
for the occasion. Mike Polk 2 has just risen from slumber and is wearing pajamas
that look like silk but are actually made of a less expensive and more practical
fabric. But to look at them you'd think they were real fancy silk. Both Mike Polks
MIKE POLK 1: Can I just start
by saying how much I'm looking forward to this and how great I think this is going
MIKE POLK 2: I could not possibly
Well, where to start? There are so many things to discuss. You've really done
it all. Internet videos, regional pizza chain commercials, stand-up comedy at various
plaza bars in the Greater Cleveland area.
MP2: Yes, I've always considered
myself a "triple threat" performer in the Sammy Davis Jr. mold. Except I do even
more things. I'm probably more of a quintuple-threat — if that means 12 threats,
and I think it does.
MP1: Let's begin at the beginning.
You got your start at Kent State University, where you graduated with a degree in
the challenging major of communications.
MP2: That's true.
MP1: Now, some people look down
on a communications degree, even though it's a perfectly legitimate and impressive
major and a real thing. Can you enlighten people as to what it qualifies you to
MP2: Well, that's the beauty of the
major, Mike — it's very open-ended. To be successful in any career, one needs good
communication skills. So you can really do anything with it. I could be a CEO of
a Fortune 500 company or I could practice law. I could be a famous architect if
I so desired. Because in all of those jobs you need to talk, aka "communicate."
So it works for all of them.
MP1: That's a really good point.
But despite all of those options, you decided to go into the entertainment biz,
where you have found enormous success. Why did you go that route?
MP2: Why do birds fly? Because it's
what they were born to do.
MP1: Great answer, and if I were
someone reading this interview I'd think you were really deep and complicated.
MP2: I know, right?
MP1: From where do you draw the
inspiration for your humor?
MP2: I find that the most relatable
and the purest humor comes from simply observing people in everyday life. For example,
just last week I was watching an old Dave Chappelle stand-up special on Comedy Central
and I found a lot of what he was saying to be absolutely hilarious. So I've recently
started working some of that material into my act.
MP1: Fascinating. And totally
aboveboard. But I understand that there have been some misguided people who have
criticized you for telling other comedians' jokes verbatim on stage?
MP2: There are always going to be
some critics. It comes with the territory. What they don't understand is that I'm
interpreting these jokes in a totally "Mike Polk" way and making them my own.
MP1: That makes sense.
MP2: And besides, no one ever criticizes
the Cleveland Orchestra for covering Mozart rather than playing original music of
their own. And they're world-renowned!
MP1: Touché. Now I know that
this is a little off-topic, but let's talk about love for a second. A lot of people
find it impossible to believe that you're still single.
MP2: Oh boy, here we go. You sound
like my mother!
(Both laugh at this very good joke.)
MP1: But seriously, you bring
a lot to the table. You're intelligent, redheaded, you own your own washer and dryer.
MP1: How has a catch like you
managed to dodge the altar for this long? You must have to beat them off with a
MP2: You'd think so, Mike, but that's
actually not the case. Women seem to keep their distance from me.
MP1: And why do you think that
MP2: Frankly, I think they're intimidated.
When I walk into a bar, most women won't even make eye contact with me. And I get
it. I have a swagger. I've been in local oil change commercials. It has to be daunting.
MP2: That's why now when I walk into
a bar or a restaurant or a party that someone was too intimidated to invite me to,
the very first thing I do is yell out, "Hey everyone, let's just get this out of
the way: Yes, it's me, Mike Polk. But don't be nervous, I don't bite! I'm just here
to have fun tonight like one of you normal, boring people!"
MP1: And is that effective?
MP2: Not really. They're still too
intimidated to approach me. But that's the price you pay for regional fame.
MP1: Witty and well-stated. Having
effectively dominated the Cleveland comedy scene, why do you elect to only perform
in the Northeast Ohio area, primarily at strip mall bars nestled between a laundromat
and a Dollar Tree? Why have you not yet succumbed to Hollywood's siren song and
headed West toward inevitable fame and fortune?
MP2: Look, I want to put this to
rest once and for all, Mike, and I thank you for the opportunity to do that. The
reason that I don't leave is very simple: I love it here. Is that such a crime?
Cleveland is an amazing city, and I'm proud to call it my home.
MP1: That's very noble.
MP2: Additionally, no one has ever
asked me to perform anywhere else.
MP1: And if they did?
MP2: I'd be totally open to it. In
fact, if anyone is reading this, anywhere else in the world, and you have an opportunity
for me, any opportunity, please contact me through my website mikepolkjr.com, and
I can be there in 24 hours.
MP1: That's a great and legitimate
MP2: And it doesn't even have to
be comedy related. I'll paint your garage if that's what you need. Just hit me up.
I already have a bag packed.