Mike was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At age three months, Mike made his first visit to China, where he got to know his Chinese grandparents, aunts, uncles and older cousin during a six-week visit. He later lived in Beijing for almost two years beginning at age one. He attended nursery school, kindergarten and first grade in Ann Arbor. He enjoyed playing soccer, drawing, reading, playing video games, watching "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," as well as playing with neighborhood kids and his younger sister.
Mike moved with his family to Beijing in 1992. Over the next eight years, he attended two Chinese "key point" schools, an English language international school and the French School of Beijing. Mike was the only non-Chinese student in his junior high school, and the only one in his elementary school except for his sister. During these years, Mike made great friends with lots of Chinese kids as well as kids from South Korea, Bulgaria, France, Albania and the U.S., to name a few countries. On vacation, Mike visited Japan, North Korea and various places in the U.S. When not in school, Mike played soccer, basketball and baseball, went swimming, hung out with friends, took Spanish and French lessons, studied some piano and played video games.
Mike moved with his family to Madison, Wisconsin in the summer of 2000 to attend high school. He spent four great years at Madison West High School, with an extra year attending school in Amiens, France. Mike played freshman basketball, sophomore tennis (city high school doubles champion!), studied Japanese and French, showed excellent artistic talent, made great friends and got two long-term itches — for being an entertainer and an entrepreneur. While in high school, he studied theater and played major roles in various productions, including "The Fantasticks," "The Bourgeois Gentleman" and a stage adaptation of "Jane Eyre." He also learned how to make a buck and have fun doing it — by holding private, for-profit high school dance parties. Even in the days before social media, he could collect a crowd of 800 kids for one of his legendary parties. Mike also learned how to make money the more mundane way — by working in retail and food service. When not in school, Mike enjoyed playing video games and hanging out with friends, playing disk golf and creating rap songs, as well as just having fun.
Mike lived with a French family and attended a French lycée for several months as part of an exchange program sponsored by Youth for Understanding. While an exchange student, he made many good friends, had his first serious girlfriend, learned a lot of French and traveled to Paris and other places in France.
After multiple schools and detours that stretched out his K-12 years, Mike picked up his hard-won high school diploma from West High School in 2005. He contemplated going to college in Texas or Wisconsin, moving to L.A. or moving back to Beijing. He made a spur of the moment decision and, as they say, the rest is history.
Mike traveled to Beijing in August, originally just for a summer trip with American high school buddy Kane McDermott. At the last moment, Mike decided to stay in Beijing — accepting an offer to work as a bartender at his aunt and uncle's restaurant in a city he still considered home, while harboring dreams of breaking into China's entertainment world.
Mike hosted a show on Jiangsu TV featuring foreigners displaying their Chinese cultural skills, marking his first time on TV and his first paid entertainment job.
Mike performed rap at a nightclub in Nanjing under the billing "American Rap Prince." The name was the club's idea not his.
Mike auditioned for "My Show" (《我型我秀》), a popular "American Idol"-like TV singing competition, making it all the way to Shanghai (the show's "Hollywood") and into the top 100! He ultimately got sent home, but not before getting to know the show's winner Wang Xiaokun, a future friend and collaborator on many video projects.
Mike graduated from bartending to being an "intellectual" as he began to teach English for a living. His students included go-getter white collar workers and teenage English summer campers, among others. Ultimately, the daily grind of English teaching inspired him to find other ways to earn a buck.
Mike went into the hot dog business by renting out space in a watering hole on Beijing's famous and busy Sanlitun "bar street." Prospective customers were more interested in beer than brats, however, so the business failed to get off the ground. Back to the drawing board and more incentive to make it in entertainment!
Mike appeared in a basketball-themed commercial for Anta shoes featuring Argentine NBA player Luis Scola. Mike was awed by being able to play basketball with the Rockets player, if only for an ad. He was also excited to earn a little money not teaching English or selling hot dogs.
Mike played a U.S. journalist in the 25-part wartime drama "General's Diary" (《将军日记》), based on the autobiography of Communist New Fourth Army General Lai Chuanzhu. Mike quickly adapted to the long hours, hardship and occasional boredom of shooting in a remote area far from Beijing, being happy to get a foothold in the entertainment industry at last.
Mike spent a month in Gansu Province working on the comedy "Welcome to Shamatown" (《决战刹马镇》). In the film, Mike plays Little P, a member of a band of grifters bent on scamming a rural town in a desolate corner of the province. While in Gansu, Mike broke his collarbone when his taxi skidded off the road in a snowstorm and rolled over.