A man who doesn't know how to do anything goes to work as a guard. A woman who doesn't know how to do anything goes to work as a prostitute. Both jobs are basically the same thing; sleeping for money.
A Narrative Device
especially common in film and TV, though not limited to them.
This is the job where a once famous or admired character is "reduced to this!" More dire than a Day Job
, this is a stereotypical last-resort job to which has-beens, or Impoverished Patricians
or Fallen Heroes
have resorted, just to pay the bills. The Fallen on Hard Times Job is often the starting point for a protagonist's Redemption Quest
(with accompanying Gonna Fly Now Montage
). It can also serve as a recruiting station for a Ragtag Band of Misfits
or Putting the Band Back Together
. Such jobs include:
- Party organisers for actors (Party Down)
- Hotel lounges for musicians (Blues Brothers)
- Dinner theater or background work for actors (Team America, Soapdish, Auto-Focus)
- Personal-injury work for lawyers (Erin Brockovich, Legal Affairs)
- Cheesy ice shows for figure skaters (Blades of Glory)
- Sideshows for characters with unusual abilities (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
- Enforcer or Dumb Muscle for boxers (On the Waterfront, Dare Devil, Rocky)
- Youth coach for athletes (The Bad News Bears)
- Rent-a-cop or mall security for police agents (National Security)
- Entertaining kids at birthday parties (Ghostbusters 2)
- Really any blue collar stuff (taxi driver, cook, retail, fast food, etc) for various commando/spec ops military officers and immigrants whose merits (university degrees, positions, nobility) in their country are worthless in this country.
- Ghost-writing Extruded Book Product for authors.
- Hosting low-end talk shows
- Scullery Maid for runaway Fairy Tale Princesses
- Governess for Real Life Fallen Princess
- More or less everything for the Impoverished Patrician
Compare Former Regime Personnel
, when a lot of secret policemen, commandos, spies and similar people end up fallen on hard times at once. The most common Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job
for them is mafia soldier
. Also compare Worthless Foreign Degree
, in which highly educated immigrants end up in menial jobs. Contrast Waiting for a Break
which is about aspiring actors and film writers doing a day job whilst attempting
to make it big. Can lead to a Scrap Heap Hero
if the person is called back to duty.
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- An old Discover Card commercial depicts a fictional Hair Metal band called Danger Kitty (whose members are played by hair metal parody group Steel Panther) rising to great fame and fortune in the early 1980s before falling into obscurity. At the end of the commercial one of the members of Danger Kitty is seen working at a hot dog stand.
Anime and Manga
- One Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode revolves around a former boxer who's now an instructor ( he's also making some extra cash through espionage).
- In Heat Guy J, Kia is a struggling musician, and to make ends meet, he usually waits tables or works other odd-jobs. Also, Shogun used to be a big-time mob boss, but he had a Heel-Face Turn and mostly retired from that life, and he now sells pottery and non-perishable foods (such as rice). While it is just something to support himself plus Daisuke and Shun in their youth, he does genuinely enjoy it and it gives him a sense of purpose. He also moonlights as the leader of an underground vigilante group.
- Scullery Maid, in "Cap o' Rushes", "Catskin", "Katie Woodencloak", "Rashin Coatie", "All-Kinds-of-Fur", "The King Who Wished Marry To His Daughter", and many, many, many more.
- Also in The Fish And The Ring, where it is a chance to fulfill a prophecy as it turns out, not a place to go to the ball from.
- In The Goose Girl, the goose girl is actually the true princess.
- In Catherine and Her Fate, Catherine goes through an entire series of jobs before she finds one abject enough that her Fate doesn't ruin it for her.
- In Iron Hans, the prince works first in the kitchen and then gets demoted to gardener.
- In the Italian fairy tale The Devil's Breeches, the impoverished hero tries to support himself working as a valet, but either the wife or sister of each master falls in love with him for his beauty, and he has to quit to avoid complications.
- In The Brown Bear of the Green Glen, John works for the smith.
- In Fair Brow, his wife paints to support them.
- In Beerfest, the ragtag beer-drinking team recruits from their old college buddies: one's now a carny, and another's a street hustler.
- Blades of Glory brings us one ex-superstar skater who's a stockboy at a sporting-goods store, and one drunkenly lurching his way through a children's skating show.
- The Blues Brothers: Jake and Elwood reassemble their old band from members who are currently making their ends meet as lounge musicians, and short-order cooks. (Also, a maitre d'—but he actually prefers this position over his job as a musician, so Jake and Elwood have to resort to blackmail to make him rejoin the band.)
- In The Last Command, Sergius went from a Russian Grand Duke and army general, to working as a Hollywood extra for $7.50 a day, thanks to Red October.
- Bruce Willis' character in The Fifth Element starts out this way, being a former decorated soldier working a lousy job as a taxi driver.
- In The Goodbye Girl, after Elliot's Richard III show closes after one disastrous performance, Elliot takes a job as a sidewalk barker outside a strip club.
- In Peter Jackson's King Kong, entertainer Ann Darrow faces the prospect of becoming a burlesque chorus girl—in that day, pretty much one step above stripping.
- In The Muppets, Fozzie is stuck playing in a Muppets cover band.
- Before getting his big break, the failed boxer Rocky works as a debt collector for a local loan shark.
- In National Security, Hank becomes a security guard after being fired from the police force.
- Several members of the 2001 Oceans Eleven team are recruited from jobs like these.
- In Raging Bull (as well as Real Life), boxer Jake LaMotta ends up a seedy bar owner and stand-up comic.
- The protagonist of Rounders drives a delivery truck for a living whenever he busts out and loses all his money playing poker.
- In The Whole Ten Yards, Bruce Willis's retired hit-man character is spending his time as the world's most trying househusband.
- When Mickey Rourke's character in The Wrestler is forced to leave the ring—even at the low-level promotion he had been with since falling from national stardom—he resorts to working the deli counter at a grocery store.
- Subverted in Man on the Moon. After acheiving national fame on Taxi, Andy Kaufman (Jim Carrey) is seen bussing tables at a deli, while the show is still on the air. When people recognize him, he just tells them "I get that all the time." That was based on real life. Andy refused to quit his busboy job, in part because he never liked the show or his character and didn't want to be dependent on it.
- In Soapdish, Jeffrey Anderson (Kevin Kline) has sunk from a prominent daytime television role to performing as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in a rundown Florida dinner theatre for an audience of uninterested senior citizens. Half of his audience are too hard of hearing to know what he's saying, the other half are too distracted to care.
- The Hobbit shows Thorin Oakenshield, Durin's heir, working as a blacksmith in the time between the razing of the kingdom and his quest to restore it.
- The start of Ghostbusters 2 shows two members using their ghost-fighting gear to (unsuccessfully) entertain children at a birthday party. Another member is hosting a hack-psychic show.
- In Shaolin Soccer, the team's coach had suffered from a Career-Ending Injury in the beginning and is now working as an errand boy for his teammate now chairman who caused his injury. Also, the former Shaolin monks except one are working for a meager living.
- Slightly meta example: in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Betty Boop is seen working as a nightclub cigarette girl following the arrival of colour cartoons.
- When Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler from Discworld is found selling sausages, it's a sure sign that yet another get-rich-quick scheme has blown up in his face. Strangely, convincing people to buy and eat his guaranteed-some-kind-of-meat sausages is something he's very, very good at.
- In G. K. Chesterton's The Tales of the Long Bow, Elizabeth Seymour, Impoverished Patrician, has taken a job with better grace than most.
I suppose most people would call me a failure and all my people failures now; except those who would say we never failed, because we never had to try. Anyhow, we're all poor enough now; I don't know whether you know that I've been teaching music. I dare say we deserved to go. I dare say we were useless. Some of us tried to be harmless.
- In P. G. Wodehouse's Jill The Reckless, after her money was lost, Jill escapes nasty relatives and ends up resorting to work as a chorus girl.
- In the Chivalric Romance Sir Isumbras, Isumbras is reduced to menial work as The Blacksmith.
- In The Spine of the World by R.A. Salvatore, the barbarian adventurer Wulfgar's post-traumatic stress disorder after spending a few years as a demon lord's prisoner causes him to lose his heart for adventuring. He becomes an alcoholic and takes a job as a bouncer at a seedy tavern in order to support his drinking habit.
- In a crossover with Real Life, showing what times were really like for the disabled around the year 1918, Mary Grant Bruce's book Back To Billabong has the Linton family see a disabled youth offering for sale toy gas-filled balloons as well as matches in a London street. Since the Lintons are reasonably well off, they buy his whole stock of balloons to help him out without insulting him (and then give the balloons to a random youngster shortly afterward).
- In The Devil You Know by Mike Carey, professional exorcist Felix Castor works as a magician at a child's birthday party. This may be a Shout-Out to the Ghostbusters films (above).
- Lampshaded by Lois McMaster Bujold in Shards of Honor: Aral Vorkosigan (Admiral, Hero of the Barraran Empire, Confidant of the Emperor, Butcher of Komarr, etc, etc) notes that he'd be unlikely to even get a job as a judo instructor on Beta Colony.
- On Cheers, Carla's husband got cut from the Boston Bruins, and ended up wearing a penguin suit in the Ice Capades. (Eventually, a rogue Zamboni machine killed him.)
- Hack features a disgraced police detective reduced to working as a cab driver. He still considers it preferable to serving as muscle for a local gangster.
- After their wrongful imprisonment, the paroled deputies of Reno 911! have to make ends meet in various capacities, including security guard, realtor, carnie, bed & breakfast owner (in a bus), groupie and American Idol hopeful.
- Veronica Mars: After Veronica' mom walks off with her $50,000 bounty, Veronica makes some spending money as a barista.
- In Rome, professional soldiers Vorenus and Pullo become thug enforcers after they are demobilized and without income. Eventually they are required to actually kill people. Vorenus however draws the line at murder and quits.
- Caroline becoming a waitress 2 Broke Girls. Played with in that the series begins with her taking that job after her father's arrest cost her her access to the family fortune.
- The premise of Hung. The recession has hit Ray hard and he is unable to make ends meet with his job as a substitute teacher. Prostitution ensues.
- In season 2 of My Name Is Earl, Earl had worked hard enough to have a decent job as an appliance salesman, an apartment, and a girlfriend. Then he took the rap for a crime his ex-wife committed, out of pity for her new husband and her two children. So he spent most of season 3 in Prison. When he finally gets out, no one will hire him since he now has a criminal record, and he has since lost the cushy job, the apartment, and the girlfriend. So he takes on a job as a take-out deliveryman for a Chinese/Mexican restaurant, and loses his faith in Karma.
- This is part of the main premise of The Steve Harvey Show. Steve Hightower is a former disco singer who is now a high school music teacher.
- In Gilmore Girls, Emily Gilmore sees Lorelai running away from her privileged life as a teenager and working as a maid as this.
- Cady, midway through Season 2 of Longmire, loses her job at the law firm, and ends up working at Henry's bar (much to Walt's disapproval).
- In the Doctor Who story "The Brain of Morbius," Sarah Jane contemplates such a fate after being temporarily blinded. She hits upon selling flowers on the streets of London, briefly affecting a sickeningly-sweet Cockney accent: "Luv'ly violets, guv'nor!"
- "King of Spain" by Moxy Früvous. The titular king actually seems to have three such jobs: he works at Pizza Pizza, vacuums astroturf, and drives a zamboni.
- "Skipper Dan" by "Weird Al" Yankovic features an aspiring actor who languishes in his hard-times job at Disneyland, remembering his student dreams of stardom but feeling too worn down to shoot for them now.
- After losing his job when the WCW/ECW Alliance lost against the WWF at Survivor Series 2001, Lance Storm was shown working as a busboy in the WWF New York restaurant.
- In the mid-1990's, WWF did a storyline where Nikolai Volkoff fell on hard times and became an underling for "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase. Nikolai wore trunks with cent signs on the sides (a play on the $ signs DiBiase had on his) and "Property Of The Million Dollar Man" on the back.
- A similar angle was worked years later, when Shawn Michaels fell on hard times and wound up working for JBL.
- During the last year of WCW in 2000, Norman Smiley lost a match that cost him and Ralphus their jobs in WCW. In one segment, they were shown working as popcorn vendors at the arena.
- Knights of the Old Republic: Canderous Ordo was once a respected commander among the Mandalorian Neo-Crusaders. After his people lost the war, and Revan's forces strip the Mandos of all their armor and weaponry, he ends up cracking heads for the crime lord Davik on the backwater world of Taris. In the second game, he discusses this by pointing out to Kreia that he and his followers are clawing their way out of menial work and rebuilding the Mandalorian people. Kreia dismisses it, but the Expanded Universe shows Canderous as having the last laugh.
- In Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis, Roxis Rosencrantz, descendant of a long line of famous alchemists, mentions in one scene that his father earned the money they lived on by playing cards, as despite their fame and history, his family hasn't produced a decent alchemist in more than a century.
- In Erstwhile, Maid Maleen, All-Furs, and the prince in "Iron Hans".
- Ménage ŕ 3 pulls a nice comedy variant with Zii, the determinedly cool "punk rock chick" who, lacking a band or any other source of income, takes a job as "counter candy" in a comics shop, being "ogled by geeks" as she herself later puts it. This even comes with its own version of the traditional humiliating uniform, as seen here.
- In Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, "Strings" a major PR problem forces the Four to get actual jobs. Technically, only Susan's (childrens' entertainer) and Ben's (garbage man) might count. Two women cattily lampshade this, commenting on "how far she's fallen."
- The Simpsons: When Mr. Burns lost his fortune in an Absurdly High-Stakes Game to Rich Texan, he decided to start from zero. However, he felt he needed to work at Moe's in order to get up to zero.
- Batman Beyond episode "King's Ransom" has both Melanie and the Royal Flush Gang she left working this way. Melanie has a traditional hard times job working food prep in a restaurant, while her family laments that they have to steal for hire instead of for themselves.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold: When Batman tracks down the members of the Doom Patrol in "The Last Patrol!", he finds Negative Man working as a sideshow freak in a seedy carnival.
Miscellaneous, Real Life
- In Japanese media, paper-flower vendors are stereotypical emblems of hard times, indicating that someone is one step away from beggary.
- In 19th- and early 20th-century Europe, the match seller was a stock "hard up" character. It was an especially popular depiction of impoverished WWI veterans, especially the wounded and disabled. Famous examples are The Little Match Girl and Otto Dix's painting The Match Seller.
- During the American Great Depression, hawking pencils or apples was an equally common stock job in media.
- Nowadays the Traveling Salesman job is seen as this, George Orwell wrote descriptions of such people in his essays of the 1930s and Spike Milligan portrays an encyclopaedia salesman in Puckoon
- Slowly becoming this in the United States, thanks to the Great Recession, is people being snatched off the street and paid to wave customers into businesses that can't afford other forms of advertisement. "WE BUY GOLD" places do this all the time, and the poor guy or girl usually has to wear a Goofy Suit
- Drug dealing
- Up to WWI female teacher or lady's companion were synonyms of improvised woman of good social standing.
- Actress Nikki Blonsky started working at a salon after movie roles dried up.
- One specific to recent college grads who can't find work in their degree field is working in coffeeshops. At least, it's seen as this by more "marketable" graduates and by some of the coffeeshop workers themselves, at least. Ironically, despite the stereotype that "what the English major says to the business major is 'do you want fries with that'", coffeeshops are somewhat more likely to hire graduates than fast-food chains, who consider them overqualified.
- Colonel Thomas E. Lawrence resigned the British Army after WWI, but later found civilian life uninspiring. So he joined the Royal Air Force as an ordinary Airman under a pseudonym to get back to military, even if as an ordinary rating.
- Jon Gosselin (Jon & Kate Plus Eight) now works as a waiter in Pennsylvania.