How a Comedian Gets by on a Day Job

Few creatives are thrilled about their day job, comedians even less so. Or maybe that’s just me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled when I get my paycheck and don’t have to decide between fun things like paying rent and a trip to the grocery store, but even couching the idea of day job as a means to an end feels like a technicality that I’d rather not acknowledge. I’m sure I’m not doing a terrific job of hiding it either — the days I put on my confidence bra and introduce myself as a comedian, people have asked me to clarify: “Oh, is that what you do for money?” I try to simultaneously be funny and hide my shame, “Well, sometimes. What, do you need to see my tax returns? Hahaha, no seriously I have a day job. I just do clerical work.” I mean, really.

There’s something about having a day job as a comedian that feels particularly embarrassing. And I say this with some level of authority because before I started pursuing the comedic arts, I dipped my toe at being a lawyer (meaning I bombed my LSATs) and then threw my leg in as a fashion designer for two years. By the time I realized I wanted to pursue writing and performing, I actively decimated my resume and took a job as clerical staff at a university. I didn’t want to take another design job that demanded all of my time and attention. Taking a page out of Philip Glass’s book, I wanted a basic job that allowed me to focus on my goal, and only my goal. It was my way of removing a Plan B while still being able to afford Plan B.

But nothing feels as flattering and embarrassing as when a YouTube fan approaches the reception desk and gushes, “Oh my god are you Priya? I love your channel!” Sounds cool, right? It is decidedly uncool watching a young person’s face do the math and feel sorry for me. “This is real life, your gods are mortals, and can sometimes only afford to eat crackers for lunch” is what I want to say, but instead I say, “Oh man, thank you! That’s so sweet of you!” and then offer them a coffee.

We all know that we need day jobs for money to live and pay for the basics and hopefully receive insurance. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is no joke. Plenty of artists have had day jobs, and the important thing to remember is to “do.” I’m most upset with having a day job when I’ve hit a lull creatively, when I've surrendered to thoughts that tell me a low level clerical job serving faculty is all my two degrees and years of hard work have amounted to. What took me time to realize is that day jobs may also serve us creatively. My job makes me confront thoughts, feelings, and personalities I actively avoid dealing with (I call it fulfilling my karmic duties) and meet people who are so beyond coo-coo-bananas that I have to write a character around them.

I’m also learning the art and politics of writing emails in a professional setting, so I can cover my ass and keep my dream job when I get it; befriend, but don’t abuse, the CC function. I imagine having your dream job doesn’t instantly erase assholes from your immediate or extended vicinity, though. At the end of the day, when we whip our confidence bras off while walking through the door, a job is a job. Day job or dream job, it’s a job. I mean, I’d rather have my dream job, for sure, but what I’ve learned from my day job, and will take with me to the red carpet when I win my Emmy (I'm trying out The Secret), is in order to keep growing I need to keep creating. And for me to keep creating I need to pay the electric bill.