q & a: mike polk jr., local funny man

Local funny man Mike Polk Jr. has both enraged and delighted Clevelanders with his irreverent "tourism" videos, which have garnered more than 10 million views. He also created and starred in the HBO weekly web show The Man in the Box. For his latest effort, Polk leaves the Internet behind and dives into print with Damn Right I'm From Cleveland, which local publisher Gray & Co. debuted earlier this month.
Fresh Water's Erin O'Brien caught up with Polk to get the skinny and the phat on this hilarious Clevelander.
In Damn Right, you refer to yourself as a "self-proclaimed Cleveland Ambassador." What does this vaunted position entail?
Did I proclaim myself that at some point? I probably did. I just haven’t read the book, but I've heard good things. It's been a long time since we actually wrote the content.
I just represent the city the best way I know how and I feel like I'm doing that by being barely employed, by drinking with fervor, and screaming at every sports team at the top of my lungs.
Speaking of sports, any advice for Cleveland fans?
I'd say just completely relent, that’s what I did a while ago. Now when I'm angry, I'm usually feigning it or doing it from muscle memory from when I actually used to get angry with these teams.
I heard -- and I don't know how they found this out -- that when you’re drowning, right when you go under for the last time, you stop panicking and this calmness falls over you. You're kind of warm and everything's just like … well, I guess this is just what it is … I guess that's kind of where I’m at with Cleveland sports.
Damn Right is very high-energy and visual. What was it like putting it together?
We rallied every friend we could and didn't even explain what we were doing. I'd just say, "Can I come and take a picture of us pretending we're on a date?" or "Hey, we're going to take a picture of you and I'm going to be a creep looking at you." It's funny how many people were willing to be a part of a cool little project.
I do want to give proper credit to Chelsea McKee, who did all the graphic design. I did all the writing with a few beers in me through the course of about a week. She did way more work on this than I did; and she did a great job. We really wanted it to be something that looked cool, had a cool vibe to it, and I think she accomplished that.
On the last page of the book, you describe yourself as a "down-to-earth, witty and debonair alpha male with a black belt in judo." The first assertions are obvious enough, but do you really have a black belt?
No. I’m huge wimp. You could beat me up easily. Pretty much anybody can.
I was a bartender for years. I worked at some shady places. Stuff would break out. I was the worst at breaking up fights. I'd usually hurt myself by trying to jump over the bar right as they'd start to go out. Sometimes that would make them laugh so much that they'd just stop fighting, which was normally my goal.
Deep in the bowels of the Internet lurks footage of you getting kissed by a transvestite on The Jerry Springer Show and another clip of you and local author James Renner kissing for the panning camera of The Today Show. So, which kiss was better?
That’s like trying to pick your favorite kid. They both meant a lot to me and I still relive each of them every night before I go to sleep.
The Renner thing was funny. I wish I could claim that, but that was all his idea. Right before the camera was coming toward us he said to me, "We've got to do something to stand out. You want to make out?"
I was like, "Uh, I guess so."
So we went at it pretty hard, to the point that it disturbed both Al Roker and Matt Lauer. When we got done I said, "I hope we got on, otherwise that's a real waste of a kiss with a dude." Then instantly, my cell phone rang and it said "Dad." I said, "I think we got on."
Where do you love to eat in this town?
It really depends on my mood. I'm a big fan of Quaker Steak. I know it's a Pennsylvania-based chain and what not, but part of it's nostalgia. I used to go there in high school and the wings taste like high school to me. I love that.
As for Italian there's an awesome place called Peppers in Lakewood. It's a little joint. Nice people run the place. For breakfast, I love a place called Shore Restaurant in Lakewood. I go to Pickle Bills in Mentor about once a month for seafood. I love that place. That's more about quantity than anything because it's all-you-can-eat and that's awesome.
How many Christmas Ales are too many Christmas Ales?
It depends on your circumstance. I have to endure my family over the holidays. It's going to get ugly, so I don’t think there is a limit.
Sometimes people use Christmas Ale as a crutch and I don't blame them. I think a lot of people use it as a very cheap therapist or as medication throughout the holiday season. This is not a very wealthy area. Who's got money for Valium now-a-days?
Last year you posted the one-minute video I'm a Stupid Cat! that features a kitty playing as you sing a song loaded with f-bombs. It's garnered more than 8.8 million hits. What gives?
You're going to get those people who just like seeing something with a cat in it. I won't say I'm above that myself. I like cats. I like looking at them. The other thing is, it's making fun of cat videos. It's making fun of people who watch videos with cats. It's also very vulgar and people thought that was funny.
Do you have any other Cleve-centric projects going on?
I'm under contract with Fox 8 and that's fun. I do stuff with the Morning Show, where I’m a wacky correspondent type guy. I do a video segment every week or so for the Rizzo Show. Sometimes it's commentary, but humor is always the intent. They also let me do a couple of specials, half-hour segments of my nonsense. They air super late at night. The ratings aren't very important. As long as it does better than what they would have put in its place -- say an infomercial for a collection of Air Supply's Greatest Hits -- they're happy.
We just finished the second one of those. It'll be out on December 9.
What's the best thing about Cleveland?
I know it sounds super generic, but it really is the mentality of the people. I think their priorities are pretty good. And there's a humility and toughness to the people here.
I don't pretend that I've lived in a bunch of places, but I have spent a lot of time in a bunch of different places, particularly Los Angeles. I noticed lots of people from Cleveland will just find each other. Even if they didn't know each other back here, they find each other and are friends out there. It's because they have similar priorities and a similar mindset. There's a reliability that just isn't there with other L. A. people or transplants from other places. It's probably more Midwest than specific to Cleveland, but it seems that Clevelanders just find each other out there.

Photos Bob Perkoski except where noted

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
Signup for Email Alerts