April 30, 2015 / 4:30 PM / 4 years ago

Comedy at work: From menial, low-paid jobs comes laughter

(Note offensive language in fourth and fifth paragraphs of Kathleen Madigan section)

Actor Tom Green arrives at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada May 18, 2014. REUTERS/L.E. Baskow

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) -

First jobs are not usually very funny.

In fact they’re often menial, and low-paid, and pretty degrading. But that’s exactly why some of the country’s top comedians find such a wealth of comic material there.

For the latest in Reuters’ monthly First Jobs series, we talked to comedians about the first time they brought home paychecks. The inevitable lesson: From tragedy comes comedy.

Tom Green

First job: Dairy Queen counter

“I was 15 and just wanted to skateboard all the time. But my father was an army man, and it was important to him that I had a job. If I didn’t have one, he would wake me up at 6:30, turn the lights and the radio on, make me get in the car and drop me at the student employment center.

“A lot of those jobs were telemarketing, like booking heating-duct inspections. I had to scare people into thinking their ducts were full of mites. I would do my minimum requirement and then just make prank calls the rest of the day.

“Eventually, I ended up working at a Dairy Queen, where I got really good at making Peanut Buster Parfaits. I used to put extra fudge on it. If you ever want a great one, just put me behind the counter.

“I made $3.75 an hour and worked there almost two years. It was really embarrassing because kids from high school would come by and I’d be there in my little Dairy Queen uniform. It’s very hard to be cool when there’s a girl you have a crush on, and you’re selling her a Dilly Bar.”

Kathleen Madigan

First job: Holiday Inn room service

“This was in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, which is a summer touristy place, but if you lived there full-time they gave you a job at almost any age. I was only 15 and lied that I was older, and started working in the Holiday Inn restaurant as a room-service attendant.

“It was ludicrous. I was 5 feet tall and 100 pounds, carrying all these giant trays around. I don’t know how I did it. But the best part was that after you delivered the food, you could smoke a cigarette or slam a beer on the way back.

“I made $2.01 an hour plus tips, which was crazy money for a kid. I thought it was the greatest job on earth. Why didn’t everyone do this?

“Once I delivered room service to Dolly Parton, and almost shit my pants. I couldn’t believe someone that famous was in Lake of the Ozarks. At first I thought maybe it was her sibling or something, but then I read the bill she signed, and it was really her. I couldn’t even say anything. She must have thought I was a frozen paralyzed mutant, or some borderline case.

“I still go to that lake every summer, and drive by that place and think, ‘Wow, I worked there once.’ But if I opened a door and saw Dolly Parton right now, I’d still shit my pants today.”

Wyatt Cenac

First job: Locking doors

“When I was 12 years old in Dallas, we lived on a street where a lot of new houses were being built, and the developer paid me a few bucks to lock up houses at the end of the night. I guess realtors would be coming through, and at the end of the day everything was still unlocked. I don’t think that happens much anymore.

“Not only did I have to lock up, but I had to walk around and make sure nobody was in there, even checking all the closets. I don’t know why my family let me do that by myself. It seems like a good way to set a child up to get murdered.

“As soon as it got dark outside, things got really creepy. Some of the houses didn’t even have lights yet, and there I was walking around all these dark empty homes. After a while I got really paranoid. Here’s the life lesson I learned: There are certain things you don’t make a 12-year-old do, and locking up empty homes at night is one of those things.

“I don’t know what kind of world I was living in at the time, where everyone left houses unlocked and then paid a kid money to put his life at risk.”

Editing by Ted Botha

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