Many creative types share the same plight: Getting a restaurant job to pay the bills while hustling for their true dream off the clock. The goal, of course, is to use the service-industry gig as a stepping stone away from the role of starving artist and toward a career in something they're passionate about. For many people, life doesn't quite work out that way. For comedian Chris Rock, however, it most certainly did.
As a 17-year-old high school drop-out, Rock landed a job as a dishwasher at Red Lobster on Queens Boulevard in New York City. "That was my real job," he explained in his 2008 HBO special "Kill the Messenger." He went on to say, "I wasn't working my way through school, I wasn't working my way in telling jokes, that was my life. 1989, I was scraping shrimp."
At the time, Rock never imagined he would have such an illustrious career or go on to be recognized as one of the comedy greats. His plan, he said in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, was to keep working at Red Lobster until he eventually followed in his father's footsteps as a trucker. Perfectly content with the idea of a simpler life, Rock said that up until he secured a role on "Saturday Night Live," "If you would have offered me a job that paid $10, $12 an hour, I would have never told another joke in my life."
Rock's Red Lobster Job Helped Him Appreciate His Career
Throughout his decades-long career in the entertainment industry, Rock has made several public quips about his stint at Red Lobster. "The thing about Red Lobster is that if you work there, you can't afford to eat there," he told Jay Leno in 2003, according to Us Weekly. "You're making minimum wage. A shrimp costs minimum wage."
Despite his many jokes about working at the seafood chain, Rock's time as a Red Lobster employee appears to have greatly informed his worldview. Now leaps and bounds away from the life he imagined he would have as a teenage dishwasher, he recognizes how fortunate he is to have a career he loves rather than a job he doesn't, saying in his "Kill the Messenger" special, "This isn't really work. This is my career."
Reminiscing on his time as a dishwasher, he joked about how slowly time passes when you're working a job that doesn't align with your interests. "When you have a career, there ain't enough time in the day ... When you got a job, there's too much time."
No longer being a starving artist is another perk Rock doesn't take for granted. "In the beginning, [making money as a comedian] really just meant I could buy more food," he told Oprah Winfrey in a 2002 interview with O Magazine. "I swear to you, I was like, 'Wow, I can get two slices now!'"
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