Even though it “builds character” and “helps pay the rent,” having a day job that is a far cry from your dream career can be kind of discouraging. In high school, I worked in a nursing home dining room, and I would sometimes panic at the thought that I might spend the rest of my life scraping butterscotch pudding off plates and helping people look for their dentures, which would have been fine if that’s what I wanted to do, but I aspired to be a successful writer! In my off hours, I frequently found myself googling “jobs celebrities had before they were famous” as a reminder that even my heroes started somewhere—often somewhere far, far from where they ended up. These are some of my favorites, beginning with Danny DeVito:
Before starring in such hit movies and TV shows as Matilda and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, DeVito was a licensed hairstylist working in his sister’s salon; one of his occasional duties was doing the hair of corpses before funerals.
You may know Nicki Minaj as a rapper and mogul and the Patron Saint of Boss Bitchdom, but before Pink Friday there was…Red Lobster. As a teenager, Nicki worked for the restaurant chain but was fired for being rude to customers. Can you imagine being the force that is Nicki Minaj and having to deal with mere mortals demanding endless shrimp?!
The summer before college, Amy Poehler worked in an old-time-y ice cream parlor, a job she’s described as pretty grueling. After she became a comedy superstar, she wrote a great essay about it in The New Yorker, which goes to show that even the crappiest part-time gigs can pay off later—like when a fancy magazine gives you money to write about them.
I always thought that working at a frozen yogurt shop was the ultimate teen job because of the unlimited free samples—but then I learned that actor Christopher Walken was a circus lion tamer before he was old enough to vote.
One way or another, most people deal with terrible jobs. For a pre-music-icon Debbie Harry, this meant stints as a secretary and a waitress at the Playboy Club in New York.
Kanye West talks about one of his early jobs in his song “Spaceship”: “Let’s go back, back to the Gap / Look at my check, wasn’t no scratch.” Next time you’re shopping for khakis, remember: Your sales assistant could be a musical genius! ♦