Mike’s charmed life is filled with endless small indignities, at work and beyond. Only a person chipped away at every day would ever willingly describe their own body as being shaped like “a little salmon.” And that brings to mind one such small indignity, emblematic of his career thus far.
We were gearing up to shoot Car vs America. We were excited. We were getting a TV show! Some of our pre-production meetings had been, well, strange, but we held out some optimism that we wouldn’t get rolled. Mike and I would host, our boss Patrick George was a producer along with us, and we were promised full creative control.
In an early meeting, our production company told us that we’d get a $1,000 wardrobe budget. Glitzy! We told them we’d be happy to pick out some new TV-friendly clothes, but the production company assured us that if we just gave them a brief description of our measurements, they’d bring in a personal shopper for us. Mike patiently explained that his body is an unusual size—he even gets his t-shirts tailored—and it’d be easier if he just bought his clothes himself.
A day or two before shooting began, we showed up at the production company’s office to find two large suitcases waiting for us. No personal shopper looked us over or measured us; we just got clothes picked out.
In a little glassed-in room, I watched as Mike diligently tried on each shirt, sweater, jacket, and pair of pants, all to no avail. Nothing fit. He had told the relevant people in charge exactly what they had needed to hear, he explained it with sound reason, and nobody listened. He ended up wearing his regular-ass clothes on TV, old t-shirts and all.
This is Mike in a nutshell. He has been here before. He knows what ought to be done. And he always finds himself in a position where nobody listens to him.
With all that in mind, let us hear from other coworkers and colleagues who worked with Mike over the years.
Nicole Conlan - Writer, A Late Show With Stephen Colbert
Please enjoy this, the oldest video on my phone - Mike Ballaban driving the McLaren at Pebble Beach where he says, “Oh my God it’s too fast.”
Mike Roselli - Content Director for FCP Euro
When I started at Jalopnik I was tasked with creating their video program from scratch, and since Ballaban held a camcorder once in high school, he appointed himself an expert on the subject and found it necessary to tag along to various shoots to “help.” Here are some of those times:
- He unnecessarily scripted a 30-second monologue into the intro of this video to be out of the office for a day and get a free lunch because he wanted a Fiat 500 Abarth press car
- He unnecessarily scripted himself into this video to be out of the office for a day and get a free lunch because he wanted a Polestar press car
- He unnecessarily scripted himself into this video and this video to be out of the office for a week and go to Finland
- He unnecessarily scripted himself and his Yugo into this video to be out of the office for a day and get a free lunch because he wanted a Ford Raptor press car
- He unnecessarily tagged along for this video shoot to be out of the office for a day and get a free lunch because he wanted a Mazda6 press car.
- He unnecessarily tagged along for this video shoot to be out of the office for a day and get a free lunch because he wanted a BMW M2 press car. I even wrote the review.
- He unnecessarily tagged along for this video to get out of the office for a week, stay in Pebble Beach, and drive the Ariel Nomad.
- He unnecessarily insisted on being in this video so that he could immediately afterward get sick with the flu and leave me to cover the entirety of Pebble Beach car week by myself
- He unnecessarily insisted on being in this video so that he could be out of the office for a few days and get free food because he wanted an S63 press car
- While reviewing an Ariel Atom 3S, a car with no doors, roof, or floor, he stalled it, lost the key, and then mistakenly referred to a random USB stick in his pocket as such.
Ballaban, if you’re reading this among the other 800 tabs you have open, I hope that you can help others at your new endeavor in the same way you’ve always been there to help me.
Megan Greenwell - former EIC of Deadspin, now site editor at WIRED
It’s very easy to feel alone (I’d imagine) when you’re (hypothetically) getting pushed out of your job by a bunch of men who (theoretically) think they can do your job better than you can despite having no relevant experience and no understanding of what it is that your job entails. A person in that situation might (I would guess) feel pretty let down by many people, including some of one’s presumed allies. If the (mythical) person in that (fictional) awful situation was lucky enough to count Ballaban as a colleague, though, they’d never feel fully abandoned. He is the kind of guy who checks in on his pals when he knows they’re having a bad day, who fights and fights and fights for what he knows is right until the bitter, bloody end, who is always there for someone who just needs to yell about how shitty and stupid their company is. Ballaban is the ultimate mensch and the ultimate role model for comradeship. He also ran a pretty good website about cars (I think?).
That said, Ballaban once promised to write about sumo for this website I used to run, and then he never did it, so he is dead to me. I sincerely hope he enjoys hell, where he belongs.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd - Editor In Chief, Jezebel
The only possible way I can roast Mike Ballaban, a wonderful and brilliant colleague, is to remind everyone of this photo in the New York Times, taken in 2015, in which he is wearing a button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves and what appear to be black chinos. (Not pictured, according to my memory: hard-bottom shoes.) The roast is that he would probably wear the same outfit today, five years later (pretty sure I saw him in the same shirt in January 2020), but such is his consistency and loyalty: He does not flag or falter according to the petty whims of anyone or anything, fashion or otherwise, just like the venerated “car” “brand” of [WHATEVER “CAR” “BRAND” REFERENCE HERE, IDK].
And while after six years of working together I still don’t know why his Slack profile has said “Number One at Jalopnik” the entire time—I always casually interpreted to mean he was lying in wait to assume his deserved role as comandante, armed in some kind of rocketmobile after equally beloved Patrick George left—the Times photo in which Ballaban is wearing what appear to be black chinos is a moment that illustrates this enigmatic nature, thoughtful (check the face scrunch) and full of resolve. I’m very sad to see my beloved friend and colleague go, and annoyed that we will now be competitors when Jezebel finally starts writing about [INSERT CAR GENRE HERE].
Joel Johnson - Head of Comms, Dashlane
Did Balaban work at Jalopnik? Is that the car blog? Did he ever write anything? Was he the guy who always complained that everyone who managed him was an idiot? That seems like someone who would work at Jalopnik. But I can’t put a face to the name. He wrote about cars, you’re saying? Huh. Have a great summer, I guess!
Veronica de Souza - Used to work here, left before shit got real bad
One time I asked Ballaban what was new with him and he responded with a photo of a baby, presumably his baby. Congrats!
Alex Cranz - Gizmodo Blogger
The first time I met Ballaban was at a book release party where someone may or may not have had sex in the bathroom. He was so enthusiastic and not afraid to be enthusiastic when so many people worked hard to seem carefree and cool. He seemed like a new work colleague I could become friends with. He told me I understood cars when I panicked and could only talk to him about the 87 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme I drove in high school. He seemed nice.
Our conversation shifted to work and I told him I was trying to do pre-production on a video where we would test the effectiveness of a variety of period panties. (This video did not get made but the supplies for it wandered around the office for over a year.) The plan, in my head, was to wow Ballaban with my newly gained knowledge that unset cherry Jell-o was a very good approximation of menses.
But Ballaban interrupted me and asked what material I would be using. He did not wait for an answer because he had his own idea of what would best approximation of period blood.
Chunky god damned peanut butter.
His girlfriend and I were both rendered mute.
Later she married him.
Kristen Lee - Senior Automotive Reporter, Business Insider
[I remembered but could not find the photo. It was great. - Ed.]
Justin Westbrook - Staff Writer, Jalopnik
One time Mike Ballaban dropped a screenshot of a slack conversation between me and another editor into Jalopnik slack on accident, which I saw, which he then immediately deleted. He then declined that it even happened, despite me seeing it sitting right next to him. I had to get Patrick to make him apologize, and he did it via slack an hour later despite us being in the same office. Another time he told me he loved me, but he didn’t like me.
Is this HR or the roast, I’m forgetting.
Kristen Lee (Again)
Now that Ballaban is leaving, I say good riddance. You think your college frat hazed people? They’ve got nothing on Mike Ballaban. True, Ballaban never made us do hours-long wall sits or chug fermented monkey urine until we went blind. But that was only because pulling that kind of shit would get him arrested. Mike Ballaban is very good at not getting arrested.
No, Ballaban’s hazing flew far below the legal radar, but it was still hazing nonetheless. He didn’t always get to pull off all the stunts he wanted, but he gave them his damn best.
First, there was that time he sent me to cover a boat reveal as Jalopnik’s “Senior Boat Correspondent” minutes after I told him I get horribly seasick and that boats and I don’t mix. (Ironically, that was the only senior title I ever got while working at Gawker/GMG/GO Media or whatever the fuck it is now.) Did this particularly relevant bit of information regarding his new colleague’s health, safety, and wellbeing give him pause? No. It did not. He sent me anyway because he thought it would be “funny.”
Then Ryan Felton arrived. I don’t think Ryan ever fully graduated from being hazed because Ballaban antagonized him every single day at the office. It seemed to bring Ballaban endless joy to see Ryan’s face turn red and hear him splutter indignantly about this or that bad take Ballaban had about the MTA or NYC or Tesla or the government. To Ballaban, it was all “funny.”
Then, when Aaron Gordon started, Ballaban wanted to rent him a Hummer (or some other gas-guzzling monstrosity equivalent) from Turo for a week. The idea was to force Gordon, who is environmentally conscious and a bicycling advocate, to commute to the office from his apartment in Brooklyn in the big, stupid car every day. Thankfully, this one never came to fruition. But there was no reason for the exercise other than it would be “funny.”
Then there was that time he decided to send Alanis King to China. This one I remember very clearly because Ballaban presented the plan to me with the air of someone very proud of his big brain idea. Alanis was, he reasoned, someone from Texas whose two favorite restaurants in the world were IHOP and Chili’s and had never tried a cannoli until 2017. There was no better person to send to a country on the other side of the world. “It’ll be so fucking funny,” he said.
Then there were all those times he hazed Justin Westbrook, which I honestly can’t remember because there were so many. They were all “funny.”
But we did get him back in the end. With the fucking Yugo. What else does one do to a serial hazer such as Mike Ballaban? You buy him a piece of shit car and send him off into the sunset. Did that car spend more time at his friend’s shop than in his own garage? I shan’t say. But every time woes regarding the Yugo were brought up, there may or may not have been some silent satisfaction among the staff.
And now Mike Ballaban is leaving Jalopnik. It’s sad, but altogether unavoidable. The thought that someone with such a twisted sense of humor going elsewhere to terrorize a new set of coworkers gives me mild stress ulcers, but I am assured in knowing those poor folks at The Federalist are getting one of the best people in the business.
Ballaban is the kind of person who Slacks you back, “Gimme more, MORE, I SAY, Lee!” when you file a take that isn’t hot enough. The kind of person who fights fearlessly for you as a union comrade. The kind of person who sticks around after the holiday party, making sure everyone gets home safely. The kind of person who truly and fully embodied the Jalopnik ethos, who not just lived it but shaped it in his own way.
Godspeed, Mike Ballaban. Eat shit.
Aaron Gordon - Senior writer, Motherboard, Vice
Mike Ballaban was the first person to write a comprehensive, in-depth article questioning the MTA’s official narrative as to why the subway was getting worse. He wrote this for a car blog so nobody paid attention. But credit where it’s due. This was two years before the subway actually melted down and other journalists, including myself, finally deemed the issue worthy of attention. Nearly everything Ballaban wrote in that blog was correct. It’s been all downhill ever since.
But there’s no shame in that. The only thing we can ask for out of this brief, meager sojourn on our little blue dot is to write that one good blog, and by god five years ago Mike Ballaban blogged the good blog.
Ryan Felton - Investigative Reporter, Special Projects, Consumer Reports
Here is my submission:
Alanis King - Cat Lady at Business Insider
Anytime you hear from Mike Ballaban, his entire goal is to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong or stupid, because you probably have—even if it wasn’t the thing Ballaban is reaching out to you about. Exhibit A(BCDEFG):
Here I am, watching “Alanis King” … “What the FUCK” come across my computer screen, thinking, “Oh, God, what did I do now?”
I had too many email addresses. (I do have too many email addresses.)
Working with Ballaban is often like working with that person in the group project who has ridiculous ideas, and everyone else just nods. But instead of just nodding and shoving that person a few feet away, Ballaban will make you carry out his ridiculous ideas, because he is the editor and you are the ridiculous-idea writer. He will especially make you do this if you indicate that you do not want to.
I remember one time, there was some issue with Formula E underwear being not up to par (or something of this sort). Ballaban pops into our Slack room and goes, “ALANIS, THIS IS YOUR BLOG. GO FORTH.” And I’m like, “Ballaban, can we not make underwear jokes today?” Of course, me saying this gave him all the more reason to make me write underwear jokes that day.
So I went forth and wrote underwear jokes, begrudgingly. It ended up being a good blog, made better by my underwear jokes.
What I’m trying to say is that when Ballaban has a good idea, and he knows you will do it well, he will make you do it even if you don’t want to do it. And you will do it well, just like he knew you would.
Ballaban also always answers the phone with an enthusiastic “Ballaban!” and nothing else. Someday, I will start doing that, too.
Hell yeah. Thanks, Mike Ballaban.
David Tracy - Jalopnik Senior Technical Editor
For multiple years, Mike was just a guy from New York city who edited my blogs and absolutely infuriated me.
It seemed like no matter what I wrote, Mike just HAD TO inject some witty joke into my work. I’d often go to the front page, open my article, and see in it a joke that a) I hadn’t ever seen before and b) more often than not, I didn’t even understand what it meant. “Son Of A Bitch!” I’d think to myself as I’d pace back and forth, my blood boiling from this blatant contamination of my writing voice. This was a tragedy!
But after multiple years of throwing darts at a cardboard cutout of Mike Ballaban’s face, I flew to New York City, and met the monster himself, who actually ended up being the human version of Mike Wazowski. He’s incredibly hilarious, brilliant, occasionally smells like wet dog even though he doesn’t have a dog (?), and most importantly: he’s genuinely kind. Few people make me feel as respected as Mike does when he talks with me one-on-one.
I specifically remember a little road trip we took from Brooklyn to Mike’s old stomping grounds in Long Island, where he housed a vehicle that somehow matched his hilarious persona to a tee: A 1991 Yugo GV. Near where he grew up, Ballaban introduced me to the most incredible bagel ever created by the human hand, I’m convinced of it. We also talked a lot about social issues, which are important to Mike, and in which he is incredibly well-versed. But most importantly, we wrenched on an old Yugo and just had a great time hanging out. When I got home, I discarded that dartboard.
More recently, Mike became interim Editor-In-Chief, and during his short stint, he fought for me and helped me take important steps in furthering my career—something for which I will be forever grateful.
Mike, someone I’ve been working with for nearly five years, is someone I intend to stay in touch with for another 50. Because he’s a brilliant, thoughtful man, and I know he’s always got my back.
I still don’t get most of his jokes, though.
Hamilton Nolan - Labor reporter, In These Times. Washington Post public editor, Columbia Journalism Review
For about two solid years, every time I would see Mike at work he would say to me, “You should drive this Yugo we have.” He kept asking me. “You should write something about driving this Yugo.” Then a few weeks later: “Want to come pick up the Yugo this weekend? I have it at my house.” For a long time I tried to blow him off. “I’m out of town this weekend,” I’d say. When that didn’t work, I tried to scare him off: “I’ll drive that damn Yugo right into a lake, and leave it there.”
“Sure,” he’d say. “That’s fine. Do whatever you want.”
I never did actually see that Yugo. Later I learned that there never was a Yugo at all. It was all in his mind. That’s when I came to realize Mike Ballaban is ultimately a very unstable and dangerous man—no matter how nice his beard may be.
Erik Shilling - News Editor, Jalopnik
The strangest thing about Mike is that his favorite car of all time is any generation of the Dodge Viper, a fact that he has hidden for years but which I’m revealing for the first time now. Despite that, Ballaban is family to me at this point, meaning that, at any given point in time, I would do anything for him, and, at any given point in time, I’m probably mad at him. There is no greater level of affection or respect. Eat shit, Mike.
(Erica) Lourd, the way Ballaban addresses me - Video Producer, Jalopnik
My favorite memory of Ballaban was from not too long ago, when I was picking up a Jeep Gladiator press car from his house. We had agreed to share it, so long as I came over to get it from him, which I was totally cool with. We had done this sort of thing before, with a Maserati Quattroporte, under the condition that if I drove him and Olga to the airport, then I could take the car, which I also did.
Anyway. It was summer and I couldn’t wait to pick up the Gladiator, put the top down, and drive around. We (a couple friends and I) pulled up to his house, and he came out, with his adorable baby son. From what I recall, he didn’t even ask me if I had any experience with children, just sort of thrust him into my arms and said he had to grab a few things out of the truck before I could take it. So, funny story- I have 0 experience holding babies. I would say I am okay with children ages 2 and up, from a camp counselor job forever ago, but absolutely no skills in the art of handling humans younger than that. I held onto Benji as if my life depended on it, completely unnaturally with two arms wrapped around him, as he looked up at me like “do you even baby, bro?” Bless the kid, he is already great at judging people, namely me, so I could tell he will go far in life. He is so much like his father.
For anyone reading this and sweating—my friend who was with me offered to hold him instead (she was laughing at the poor job I was doing) since she is much better with babies, and I felt a lot better about the situation.
I respect the hell out of you, Ballaban. I know we didn’t have long together compared to the rest of the staff, but I will always appreciate your honesty, humor and genuine compassion you show toward everyone you come in contact with. Sure, there was that instance of misplaced trust with me holding your first-born, but guess what! My (loving) vice grip on him meant maybe you can trust me. ANYWAY, eat shit, or whatever.
Andrew Collins - Reviews Editor, Jalopnik
Mike will always be remembered as the best film slash television actor on Jalopnik’s staff. Sorry, not “actor,” I meant “unwilling participant.” It took me some aggressive Googling to find this old video we did of him lapping Lime Rock in 2015. But if you’re inclined to watch it, I think both fans and haters of our dearly departing Michael Ballaban will enjoy how hilariously fucking miserable he was riding around the track that day.
Sorry, what was the prompt here? Eat shit, Mike? At least without him pestering me about “doing journalism” we’ll finally be able to usher in the new era of comedy and corruption I’ve been pushing for around here.
I’ll miss ya, bud. I don’t plan on texting you any less, so, you won’t miss me.
Riley MacLeod - Editor-at-Large, Kotaku
Even though I haven’t driven a car in over a decade, the folks at Jalopnik have always been my unlikely buddies, at least in part because I positioned my desk at the old office in the optimal spot to get to talk to all of them when they walked by me to their pod. This friendship enabled me to have many mundane Ballaban-related adventures. I think we went to a hockey game once (I think he was there?), and I pretended to remember how hockey works. I got to look at and even ride in some weird cars, which would pull up while I was smoking in front of the office and I would be swept along in Jalopnik’s excitement about them. I got to cram around Jalopnik’s TV and watch Ballaban and Raph’s TV show, staying at work late for the chance to be proud about stuff my friends had made. These aren’t exciting memories necessarily, but they comprise part of the vibe of what it felt like to work at this company before This Time In Our Lives, some of the good stuff that made the bad stuff worth it.
And now Ballaban is leaving, and there’s one less good thing to offset the bad things, and that sucks. I think we’re supposed to be edgy cool in these roasts, but I suck at snark, so: working with Ballaban made working here worth it, and now it’s less worth it to work here. It sucks to work with one less of my friends, again. I’m sure Ballaban will go on to do cool things that make him happy, and Jalopnik will continue to do cool things that make them happy, and I will continue to trot out any car words I can think of in order to have an excuse to hang out with them, but it’ll all suck just a little bit more. At least now he will stop bugging me for an Xbox.
Sultana Khan - Crown Consulting
When I first started working at Gawker, on a small project that no one else understood or cared about, I had the great fortune of being seated next to the Japolnik team. The other sites were a mixture of rude, condescending, and apathetic, with inflated (and undeserved) egos and a penchant for gossip. I was significantly older than most staff members, and I remember being baffled by how immature and gross I found the vibe of the Elizabeth Street office. The Japolnet team was different, always kind. Eventually their collective shyness wilted under my relentless friendliness, and since I left New York, I’ve been visited by multiple staff members in luxurious cars that I will never again be fortunate enough to touch.
On one of those trips, Ballaban, who is quite possibly the worst driver I have ever met, nearly got a very fancy Land Rover stuck near my family’s yurt in Vermont. Another time he came to meet me at a bar in Brooklyn in his absolutely not street legal car, wearing a helmet while driving, ostensibly because he knew it was only a matter of time before he crashed it. Once in the heart of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, I had the unbelievable joy of watching a film crew record Ballaban and Raph try to bail out of a moving car, after which they smoked corn cob pipes, fulfilling some particularly weird ritual of masculinity that was only undermined by Ballaban’s compulsive questioning, “Are you sure this is safe? Like, really sure?”
The other thing I remember about Ballaban is the time he overheard my boss being inappropriate with me, and offered to go with me to HR. He was so offended and furious on my behalf that even when I convinced him that our banter was just that, he checked in on me regularly after that to make sure I was okay. After I was forced to leave Gawker, he offered me work at Jalepeno, and often bugged me to submit pitches. He’s the curmudgeonliest motherfucker you’ll ever meet, and he’s so convinced by his own authority that it’s impossible to argue with him without wanting to commit homocide—but when you need him, he’s there. I don’t know what Jaloptik looks like without him, but it certainly won’t be the same. Miss you, buddy.
Travis Okulski - Editor-in-Chief, Road & Track
The key to Ballaban’s success at Jalop is that he thought he worked there before there was any chance at an offer. He incessantly sent us Kinja posts to move to the front page. He cornered me at a reader happy hour near the old Gawker office to talk about a story idea he had, one that we ended up paying him to write. We brought him on as our weekend editor when Patrick George (sp?) moved to full-time. And then somehow he was part of the team. I don’t even remember him getting hired. He was suddenly just… there. In the office every day. At auto shows. On TV at the hugely popular Fusion network. Wearing sweaters no matter how hot it was. Breaking news stories. Blowing out tires. Bending wheels.
The dude loves to hit potholes. One morning I got a phone call from a fleet manager. The car he had just returned went back with four bent rims and tires with bubbles in them. If you didn’t know, most cars come with four wheels these days. I pulled him aside, and he told me he hit some potholes on the BQE. Hitting potholes and hitting potholes that bend wheels are two different things, which made me question 1) his ability to feel things and 2) if he even knew how to drive. He claims both are fine, and he just has supremely bad luck with holes in the road. I’m still not sure.
But that’s the worst I can say about the guy. Ballaban didn’t get to where he is through luck. He worked his ass off. He knew what readers wanted because he was one, and he worked tirelessly to make sure that they were entertained every single day.
Matt Hardigree (Late Entry) - VP of Editorial, Tangent Vector
I tried very hard not to hire Mike Ballaban. When I first heard his name he was working as a journalist for a financial pub but that’s not where I found him. He was one of the earliest writers to see the value of Kinja and he kept writing these pieces for OppositeLock and asking us to splice them over and they were, unfortunately, good. So we spliced them.
It was clear he wanted to write for Jalopnik and I thought I could just avoid him like I mostly avoided the 900 other people who wanted the same. But you can’t say “no” to Mike Ballaban even though you probably should.
After weeks of his emails he accosted me at a Gawker party and he just kept saying, in his little confident-yet-conspiratorial way “you know you’re going to hire me, right?” Maybe it was because I was drinking but I relented.
And that is the whole of working with Ballaban. A constant struggle to stop what seems like a bad idea and then a begrudging acceptance that, well, maybe it wasn’t a bad idea.
God, there were all the meetings
with the network people who insisted that there was no way they were gonna make a TV show with Raphael and Ballaban and could I suggest someone else? Telling those same network people they were wrong probably hastened my exit and yet... I think Ballaban makes up like 90% of Fusion programming.
You cannot defeat Mike Ballaban, you can only slow him down. This is more a warning to the people who are currently running the show over at G/O than it is a compliment. Watch out guys: You may think you have gotten rid of one more thorn in your side but, really, you’ve just knocked down one more domino in a line that ends with Ballaban in charge of the whole company.
Also, it’s funny to me that he was EIC longer than Travis.
Máté Petrány - European Editor, Hagerty
I can’t say I remember the exact moment Mike started as the weekend dude, but that’s hardly surprising, given my permanent thousands of miles remote status, and the fact that I can barely recall last week. Still, with no Zoom meetings and thus no first contact, it was pure fantasy that made everything better. I may have had a suspicion that the gentleman in question is perhaps not the FIA-licensed track rat pro mechanic car publications seem to prefer, but Jalopnik was Gawker, Nick had no interest in cars, Matt was Hardigree, Euro Car Boy had no drivers’ license, and I myself was almost totally new at this gig too. Blogging was good, the internet was free, and our man handled weekends like a champ. A few years later, I got to know Mike, this wonderful male model type who revealed some special skills fellow New Yorker Spiderman wouldn’t possess even following what he described in his rather unconvincing DNA-alteration story. Mike would go on to break more wheels on a loaded BMW 7-Series than an evil German businessman rushing over tire spikes just outside of Cologne on Alarm für Cobra 11 - Die Autobahnpolizei, making conservatively tailored people selling BMWs to insane folks look baffled at the damage report. He would also ride as a passenger in his own Yugo in such a classy fashion that would shame experienced royalty all over the globe where the monarchy is somehow still not overthrown by the stinky peasantry. Going all Rolls in a Yugo you still need to pay taxes on is a hard stunt to pull off, but Mike does magic even when the circus tent is on a stubborn gasoline fire. Pushed into a Lexus by pure Manhattan peer pressure, if one Brooklyn sex symbol deserves a dual citizenship from an ex-Tito nation of his choosing in the name of fluid diplomatic relations, it’s Ballaban.
Patrick George - Editorial Director, The Drive
There’s an alternate timeline somewhere in the multiverse where Jalopnik is still owned by Univision, and Car vs. America, the car travel show that Mike Ballaban and Raphael Orlove starred on for one season, took off like wildfire and became a massive ratings hit. Jalopnik would’ve spawned its planned empire of vehicle-vs.-country deep cable shows (Motorcycle vs. Mexico, Boat vs. Russia and such) but the success would’ve gone to my head.
Awash in my own arrogance, that sweet, sweet Fusion money and probably a crippling cocaine addiction, Mike still would’ve been there to slap my face, bring me down to earth and remind me who I was.
“You’ve changed, man,” he would’ve said, smacking the coke mirror and the roll of $10 bills out of my hand. “It used to be about the cars.”
Alas, that’s not the reality we live in. Ours is considerably worse. But in any reality you’re in, Mike Ballaban is the guy who keeps you honest. He did it for me as my Deputy Editor, he did it for the entire team at Jalopnik, and he did it for an entire industry that runs on bullshit and smarm.
I can’t overstate what an honest, principled, committed journalist Mike is. I’ve lost track of all the ways he pushed Jalopnik to be better, to have better writing, to do more ambitious stories, to do cooler videos, to have a sharper voice. He doesn’t suffer fools, he hates liars and assholes, he is almost completely fearless, and he still thinks doing this job should be fun. He was always the site’s ironclad integrity, its backbone.
He was kind of tailor-made for this place, in a way. He left his job covering mergers and acquisitions by coming in through an OppositeLock post and then eventually rose to the top gig. And through countless fires, crises, lawsuits, upheavals, sales and herbs along the way, he never lost sight of what Jalopnik could be. The current powers that be even fucked with him on his way out the door. That should tell you how committed he is to this site, its team and its audience.
Of course, I must roast him here. He takes very long showers and often uses up all the hot water when you have to bunk with him at a work event, such as the Detroit Auto Show. In the seven-plus years we worked together I think I was in a car with him maybe nine (?) times, and I never got the impression he really knew how to drive one. And some of his Car Takes are so devastatingly bad that even if Brad Brownell and Mack Hogan used the Fusion Dance to merge and powered up to their final form, they still wouldn’t be able to land a single blow on Mike.
But I can only go so far there. I’m forever grateful to Mike for being such a great leader, for making me be a better leader too, for pushing everyone here to do unique and amazing work that mattered, for keeping me sane, for letting me crash on his couch during the Hulk Hogan trial because we didn’t have the money for a New York hotel, for suffering through an utterly insane production process on the TV show—for just all the many, many things he did for this site. There’s too much to even list here. He is a titan of Jalopnik’s history. I hope he’s proud of all he did here. I know I am.
And I’ll just say this: if you ever find yourself having to lead people through a tough situation, pray that someone even half as good as Mike has your back.
Eat shit, brother. You can be my wingman anytime.
Fritzie Andrade - Director, Video, New York Magazine, former Executive Video Director at GMG
Mike is one of the nicest, most genuine people you’ll ever meet, but he’s also in a constant state of nervousness. Why is he so nervous all the time? I have no idea, but it’s hilarious. So hilarious that I wanted to watch it on TV. And for a brief time we worked for people that DID put him on TV! But now those days are over and I want my royalties for Car vs. America. Where are my royalties, Mike? Where?
Susie Banakarim - Vice
Mike Ballaban was one of the first people to really welcome me at GMG. I suspect mostly because Fritzie told him I was cool (which tbh... false advertising) but also because of an early meeting we had with some people who were very bad where I was... let’s just say clear about some feelings Mike, Patrick, Raph and I shared.
That’s the thing about Mike. Once he knows you have his back, he has yours completely. He’s loyal and thoughtful and good. He always tries to do the right thing and he’s willing to pick a fight when it matters. He’s exactly the kind of colleague you want. He also knows a lot about cars and writes pretty decent blogs so that’s good too, I guess.
Joyce Tang - Former Executive Managing Editor, GMG
Ballaban was the best Interim EIC Jalopnik ever had. But I still can’t believe I watched an entire season of him (and Raph) on TV. Actually, I can. He and his team of misfits were always looking for new and more ways to connect with Jalopnik’s readers, and it turns out that people with a genuine and shared passion about something want a place to congregate, whether that’s on a website, through watching something they can have a shared conversation about, or getting together IRL. I’ll never understand “car people,” but if he can convince a definitely not “car person” to watch him wax on about car culture for hours, who knows what he can convince his future colleagues to do. Next thing you know we’ll all be moving to the ‘burbs!
Katharine Trendacosta - Former Managing Editor of io9
Mike Ballaban is eminently roastable, filled with only bad and confusing
takes. A man who shared with me the theory that Wall-E was actually the
devil, shares the hottest and worst Star Trek opinions I’ve ever seen, and I’ve
spent almost all of my adult career writing about nerd shit on the
internet. I saw his computer once, and his tab situation caused me
It’s so sad to see yet another person from the old, Gawker days leave because of the piss-poor management by Great Hill, state of media, and Gawker-Gizmodo-GMG-G/O’s historically bad run of luck. Some companies go out in a blaze, our fate is to watch the place and people we love continually tortured while those of us who do get our suffer a kind of survivor’s guilt. Mike is a good friend, great editor, and all around good person—as all of Jalopnik is and was. He will be missed.
I’ve attached what I think are the only two pictures of Mike that anyone will ever need.
And leave you with this unparalleled bad take from Mike:When I left this company, I mercifully was kicked out of slack.
I asked Mike how he’d like to keep in touch, and informed me he preferred Twitter DM as it was the “best” way to talk.
Kelly Bourdet (Late Entry) - Editor-in-Chief, Gizmodo
Anyone who would actually roast Ballaban is a monster. He’s one of the kindest, smartest, funniest journalists at a company filled with kind, genius journalists.
It was years ago, but if memory serves me, Mike was one of the first non-Gizmodo people I met when I arrived. I believe this was the result of him constantly coming over to the Giz pod to argue with Katharine about Star Trek.
Working at GMG has never been easy. The place was in a bit of a “transition” when I arrived, and Mike would just hit me up on slack to say hi and be a chill, nice guy. I don’t care about cars, but I read Mike’s blogs. And that says it all. Sure I’ll be seeing you again, Ballaban. Drive free!
Erin Marquis - Managing Editor, Jalopnik
Michael Barnacleback is a portrait in peaking too early. He now has to spend the rest of his long, colorless life at some boring job with no mad scientists on staff or streaming impossible car trivia nights. He will never know the glory of crafting the perfect double entendre headline again. Jalopnik is the best job ever, and he’s gone and done left it high and dry. I wish I could say we will miss him, but let’s be frank: he’s just never been mean enough for Jalopnik. Sure, Bananabread was weird enough—deeply, cryptically unnervingly so—but an aggressive leader? A strong steady hand with staff? Not at all. I mean, you could just tell he was holding back during Justin Westbrook’s shock training. As if 50 volts ever impressed AP Style into anyone. What a softy. If Boilbumman were a Star Trek character we’d have to have some sort of cross-series transporter malfunction episode so he could be properly portrayed as a mix of Wesley, Barclay and Nelix. Wesclix, and Janeway would still murder him only this time, fans would cheer.
I also wish I could say we can’t wait to see what he does in the future, but come on. I’m not reading CNN (I’m under the age of 55) and his tweets are terrible enough now while he has a fun and interesting job. I can’t imagine what lamestream media hijinks he’ll get up to, and frankly, don’t care.
Bye bye Michael Blablabland, we hardly knew ye—it just didn’t seem worth the time.
Jason Torchinsky - Senior Editor, Jalopnik
The brutally honest truth is that, aside from seeming like a 45 year old man even though he’s like still in his 20s, there’s just not that much to really roast Mike about. Mike is relentlessly kind and fair and thoughtful, and from the moment he came on board, pulling that Betamax tape of the CNN secret end of the world ending out of what I think was his anus, Mike has been nothing but an absolute prince to me and, really, everyone.
So let’s make up some terrible shit about him:
The first time I saw Mike in person was during a visit to the Jalopnik offices in Spike 5 of the Statue of Liberty’s crown-thing. Mike seized me by my arm and told me he needed to show me something important.
He dragged me all the way to Central Park, where we ended up in a woody grove. He slapped me with a slice of cold pizza he had in his pocket and told me that I had 15 minutes to find him a squirrel, or he’d post several compromising pictures of me on our website, pictures I foolishly brought with me in a cardboard valise, hoping to dispose of them in the East River, the procedure my religion prescribes for explicit photos with trayf.
Mike had previously stolen the valise from my bag when I wasn’t looking and now was waving it around, yelling at me to find him a squirrel. I finally was able to lure and capture one by secreting a peanut-scented musk, a skill I learned from a Dutch shaman while working for that UNESCO thing.
Anyway, Mike took the squirrel and began to strangle it. I tried to look away, but he forced my head back, saying “I want you to see its lights go out.”
It was terrifying. He explained he had to do it to show me how serious he was about posting those pictures, but when I told him I already believed him and I didn’t understand the point of it all, he just waved me off, irritatedly.
“You don’t get it. You never will.”
And that’s when I learned what a monster fake Mike Ballaban was. He’s awful. Everyone, be warned.
Real Mike, though, is wonderful and I’m sure going to miss him.
Rob Emslie - Contributing Writer, Jalopnik
I can clearly recall the first time I met Mike in person. This was after years of trading emails and getting to know him through posts and videos illustrating his eclectic taste in cars and impressive collection of swarthy cardigans.
Our meetup happened on a muggy mid-day in New York City. I was passing through town and a number of us decided to get together for lunch at a Cuban place near the Jalopnik office. Now, you know how you can meet someone with shared interests and experiences and almost instantly find a sense of camaraderie? Maybe it was the IPA hitting my empty stomach, or perhaps the heady richness of the Cubano Panini that followed it, but in that short lunch, I felt like I had known Mike my entire life.
And now he’s leaving. Yeah, thanks Mike. Anyway, enjoy this next phase of your life, and your new gig—selling bags of oranges at the freeway offramp.
Stef Schrader - Freelance Writer
Ballaban has the most disdain for hollow, self-serving #brand nonsense out of anyone I know, which is saying something for this group. Thus, I am convinced that he would win in a fight among the remaining Jalopnik staff. You’re all nuts for putting up with this nonsense for so long, but he’s low-key more insane than the rest of you.
Stay inside the battle octagon, or else you’re out. No weapons allowed. I feel like Erin is probably the sleeper pick to take out most of the staff, but at the end, it’s just going to be Ballaban attempting to play patty-cake with the last person he knocked to the floor.
Also, screw that guy for not getting me a company diesel Porsche (tractor or Cayenne, either one works). I’d have stuck around for that.
Adam Milt - Senior Video Producer, Jalopnik
Mike, you were like a mentor to me. Before I started at Jalopnik, I was so green and you gave me so much wisdom to this job... These are words no one will ever recite back about Mike Ballaban because the only thing you will actually hear is “That was the worst fucking take I’ve ever heard Mike.” I wish I could say that the last 3 years with you have been good, but you honestly drove me up the wall more than anyone else in this office. The constant annoyances you would send my way literally made me scream. I never fought with anyone so much about such little dumb things like thumbnails than with you. At the best of times you were only slightly a nuisance to me. I hope whoever gets stuck with you working for them has the decency to put you in an office by yourself in the sub-basement.
I’m gonna miss you. Your shitty video landed me the job here and you were a really good friend. We’re losing a huge part of Jalopnik. Fuck you, Mike.
Tom McParland - Contributing Writer, Car Buying, Jalopnik
In the handful of times I met Mike, I was always perpetually confused by his use of sweaters. Not that his sweaters were of poor quality or not stylish, in fact, quite the opposite. But there was Ballaban in fairly warm weather wearing a sweater that is better suited for life in the Arctic circle. You and your unseasonably warm sweaters will be missed, Mike!
Ernie Deeb - Senior Product Manager at Postlight, Kinja Romanticist
Ballaban is truly a pure soul. I can’t remember a single interaction that he didn’t start with “Ernie my dear” or “Ernie my sweet”. Of course, the only time we interacted was when he wanted something from me. To be honest, I’d expect more from a quid pro quo than a little butter up, but Ballaban seemed to be perennially on the cusp of a nervous breakdown so I never pushed for more. You’d think he’d let me sit in his Yugo at the very least, but nope, not so much as an offer. Anyway, he’d sweet talk me and in return I’d do something in Kinja that made him look more competent than he actually was, and we’d go our separate ways only to do it all over again the next week. And I didn’t mind, because I liked him despite the used car salesman vibe he emanated.
God speed, Ballaban. Please give my best to Mr. Frodo as you ride off toward Mount Doom.