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 and inappropriate.
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 well.
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?
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 to be?
MIKE POLK 2: I could not possibly agree more.
MP1: 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 do?
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 stick.
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 is?
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 offer.
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.