Professional Wrestling, as a vocation, apparently doesn't pay very well. How else can one explain the various wrestlers who apparently work a second job in their downtime? Stranger still, they bring the attire and mannerisms of their second job to the wrestling ring.
This trope has long been a part of the wrestling landscape (as it makes for easy gimmicks), but it was especially common in the WWF in the early-to-mid-'90s. Some fans think it was a twisted sort of Lampshade Hanging, as the WWF was in the process of going bankrupt at the time.
These wrestlers are more likely than any others to be a Steven Ulysses Perhero.
This is a case of Truth in Television, as any indy wrestler will tell you. In the case of amateur wrestlers, they have limited opportunities after leaving college (or rather, limited athletic opportunities) such as attempting to:
join a military wrestling team (like UFC fighters Randy Couture, who wrestled in the U.S. Army; or Brandon Vera, who wrestled for the U.S. Air Force)
make the Olympic level team (like WWE/TNA star and gold medalist Kurt Angle, gold medalist Rulon Gardner, and Olympic team member and current StrikeForce fighter Dan Henderson)
make the transition to either professional wrestling or mixed martial arts.
do several of the above, in the cases of Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley.
Conversely, within the landscape of the WWE, wrestlers earn in the six figure range for even low level performers while top tier stars can reach high seven figures plus perks.
Several of these gimmicks were the wrestlers' second jobs before they got to the big 2. Shane Douglas really was the dean of an elementary school, and Duke "The Dumpster" Droese was a garbage man.
This trope can apply to situations well outside of wrestling too, such as when a Gang of Hats actually have a line of work that requires them to wear their silly costumes.
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Used rather tragically in The Wrestler, where Randy "The Ram" Robinson is a former star in the 1980's who has descended into poverty as his star power has dwindled. By the beginning of the film, it's implied that he now spends more money on his wrestling career than he earns from it, and must work a regular job in a supermarket. The Ram's actor, Mickey Rourke, would later dedicate the movie to the real professional wrestlers who don't make much.
Of course, it led to him "auditing" random people backstage, or wrestlers he faced, including one rather disrespectful instance where he repossessed a ceremonial headdress gifted to Tatanka from an actual Native American tribe.
When Mike Rotundo was in WCW, and was given a gimmick where he suddenly inherited a lot of money and changed his name to Michael (later V.K.) Wallstreet. When he moved back to WWE, the "money persona" went with him, before he later reassumed the I.R.S. gimmick.
Henry O. and Phineas I. Godwinn, wrestling hog farmers. Notice the way the WWE put acronyms to clever use.
The Big Bossman, a wrestling prison guard. Nailz, his one-time rival, was a wrestling former prisoner, complete with orange jumpsuit, who claimed that The Boss Man and other guards abused him. Nailz( Kevin Wacholz) had never been in prison, but the Boss Man (Ray Traylor) actually was a prison guard in Georgia before becoming a pro wrestler. During later runs with the company, Bossman was dressed more like police S.W.A.T. personnel but still the same character.
Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake. He inherited a gimmick of making every match he had a hair-vs-hair match, but only the ones he won.
Brutus the Barber is actually something of a subversion. He wasn't created with the intention of being a wrestling barber; the gimmick kind of took off after he shaved Adrian Adonis's head at Wrestlemania III in retaliation for a beatdown. Didn't stop him from wearing barber-pole tights and carrying around a set of hedge clippers, though.
He was originally a male stripper (hence the name Beefcake) but that was eventually dropped around the time he joined Johnny V’s Dream Team.
The Repo Man, a, well, wrestling repo man, complete with skits in which he "repossessed" a kid's bike (he originally wanted his father's car but he was late so he took the kid's bicycle).
Before he was Kane, Glen Jacobs went through a string of these: Isaac Yankem, DDS, a wrestling dentist; Diesel (after Kevin Nash jumped to WCW); and "the Christmas Creature." When being the cartoonishly evil brother of a wrestling zombie makes your character less ridiculous, you really should look at your contract.
TL Hopper was a wrestling plumber.
Jeff Jarrett (Which is spelled J-E-haha-DOUBLE F J-A-DOUBLE R-haha-E-DOUBLE T), in his early days in WWF, the wrestling country singer who planned to use wrestling as a stepping stone to break into Nashville. Don't ask me how that's meant to work. (His guitar still featured prominently for most of the rest of his career...usually by way of cracking it over the head of his opponents.)
Don't ask Mickie James, either.
You could try asking Jeff Hardy and Chris Jericho, both of whom have turned wrestling into somewhat successful recording careers - the former as a solo artist and the latter as part of the metal band Fozzy.
Or John Cena who produced some rap albums. Heck even James Storm has more well known music than Jeff.
"Road Dogg" Jesse James made his debut as Jarrett's roadie (as well as the actual singer of Jarrett's "hit single".)
The Boogeyman actually used Wrestling Doesn't Pay as a Lampshade Hanging for his "monster" character; his backstory states that he was originally an actor who was going to be the star/villain of a horror series titled "Boogeyman", but suffered a psychotic break during the shooting of the pilot and started believing he really was the character. (Kayfabe) UPN executive Palmer Cannon figured that, since they couldn't use him for acting anymore, and he was still under contract, they might as well throw him WWE's way and see what happens.
The Mountie combined this trope with Foreign Wrestling Heel, much to the disgust of the real-life RCMP, who threatened to sue the WWF and in fact prevented the character from being used in Canada. Eventually they teamed him with Pierre Carl Ouelette and named the team "The Quebecers", and changed their theme song to sing "We're not the Mounties" even though they still dressed as mounties.
Abe "Knuckleball" Schwartz, a wrestling baseball star sometimes known as MVP (possibly a rib at Randy Savage who both wrestled (as The Spider) and played baseball in his early days). He was also a big Take That against Major League Baseball, as his character debuted about a month after the baseball strike cancelled the 1994 World Series. He eventually went on strike from wrestling, too, and started walking around with a picket sign during other people's matches. He quietly disappeared from the WWF soon after; guess Vince broke the strike.
Bob "Spark Plug" Holly (nee Thurman "Sparky" Plugg),a wrestling racecar driver. He eventually evolved into Hardcore Holly.
However he did continue to race in Real Life even after changing gimmicks
Single storyline example: In December 2008, JBL offered Shawn Michaels a job at his company to make up for Michaels's recent stock market losses. Not a completely impossible storyline, but still fairly unbelievable due to Michaels' undoubtedly astronomical salary as a WWE veteran.
Actually if HBK were to follow in the footsteps of Ric Flair this is certainly believable. Although consider Michaels' adoption of hardcore religious values, less believable in more recent times.
JBL himself has done this three times: first as Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw (later Blackjack Bradshaw, while teaming with Barry Windham as the New Blackjacks), a wrestling cowboy; then as one of the Acolytes/APA (with Faarooq, who were Undertaker cultists at first and then mercenaries after the Ministry of Darkness broke up; and then as JBL, a wrestling stock analyst - which is an example of the best gimmicks being those where you take the real man and turn the volume up. JBL wisely saved his money and invested it, instead of blowing it like too many others in his profession, and made himself a legitimate multi-millionaire.
There was an entirely too meta example where Paul Burchill, in tracing his family tree, discovered that an ancestor served as Blackbeard's first mate, and decided to become a wrestling pirate. He came up with the idea after the aforementioned UPN exec, Palmer Cannon, showed up and basically asked how he could make himself more interesting to viewers. Burchill pitched it as "Swashbuckling on Smack Down!" and Cannon was crazy about the idea. This led to a whole storyline where his former mentor, William Regal, tried to convince him to give up the gimmick and just focus on wrestling, while Burchill retorted that he was having fun and the fans loved it.
And after he came back without the gimmick, he was eventually fired again because he wasn't getting crowd reactions. He had been getting them before, of course, until Vince's Executive Meddling put a stop to that.
Inverted in the case of William "Paul Bearer" Moody, who actually was a certified real-life mortician. He had retired from the wrestling business by the 2000s, (though he made occasional appearances to participate in various Undertaker/Kane feuds) and ran a funeral home in Mobile, AL until his death.
Also inverted in the case of Ken "Slick" Johnson during his "Reverend Slick" days, as he actually is an ordained minister.
Phantasio, a wrestling magician, who performed tricks such as stealing the opponent's (and referee Earl Hebner's referee striped) underwear. His best magic trick: disappearing from the WWE.
Steve Regal, the 'Real Man's Man'. He was a construction worker or a lumberjack or something, it was kind of vague.
Later, Regal changed his name to "Lord Steven Regal" and later "William Regal", and became 'the United Kingdom's Goodwill Ambassador'.
Papa Shango, a wrestling Voodoo priest who would often put curses on his opponents prior to the match, resulting in a no-contest when their shoes caught fire and they started projectile vomiting in the ring.
Bonus points for the fact that the same wrestler was recycled into the above-mentioned Godfather.
Goldust was a wrestling filmmaker/critic. (He looked more like a 1970s/'80s glitter-rock star, however, which was pretty confusing since he debuted in the mid-'90s.)
Friar Ferguson was a wrestling monk. Who danced.
Jean Pierre Lafitte was a wrestling pirate.
The Goon, a wrestler-slash-hockey Player. Came to the ring in hockey gear, and when the bell rang, he'd throw off his gloves and attack his opponent!
Jeff Hardy, to a fan's extrapolation, a wrestling rave dancer.
After a gimmick switch, David Otunga went from celebrity hanger-on to a wrestling lawyer. The former is based on being married to Jennifer Hudson, the latter due to graduating from Harvard Law School and working at a firm before becoming a wrestler.
Personal story: The Wrestling Doesn't Pay phase was long gone by the Turn of the Millennium, but you couldn't tell that to some of the older or more oblivious fans. One fan, starting to follow wrestling again after over a decade of not doing so, took one look at Chris Benoit's peach-fuzz beard and missing tooth and thought: "Oh, is he supposed to be a 'hobo' wrestler?"
Jillian Hall was initially a "fixer" publicist brought in to help MNM out and later worked as JBL's image consultant before becoming a Hollywood Tone DeafDreadful Musician. With a twist, she got a real life album that sold well.
Simon Dean was a wrestling infomercial salesmen who was in several straight, if obnoxious, televised adds before being brought up to the Raw Roster selling the weight loss "Simon System" which were really paint overs of real products like Muscle Milk. His brief tag team partner Maven later became a real life wrestling infomercial salesmen. He combined this trope with No Celebrities Were Harmed, as the character was based in part on real-life fitness guru Richard Simmons.
V. K. Wallstreet, a wrestling stock trader. Played, amusingly enough, by Mike Rotundo, who's also on this list as Irwin R. Schyster. The "V.K." initials were a sideways dig at Vincent Kennedy McMahon, owner of the WWF, though he debuted under this name in late 1995, about four years before WWE's IPO. And while we're giving Rotundo a big career boost, let's not forget that he was Captain Mike Rotundo, a wrestling varsity-team coach who became a wrestling ship captain after leaving the Varsity Club stable... just so they didn't have to change his name.
Bob Holly (above) would probably have gotten along well with Dale Torborg, the wrestling member of the WCW Racing Team's pit crew. (For those baseball fans in the audience, yes, this is the same Dale Torborg who is the current strength and conditioning trainer for the White Sox (and son of Jeff Torborg, their former manager) — and this day job was taken advantage of in an appearance with TNA.)
Kevin Nash was Vinnie Vegas for a short stint in WCW.
Kwee Wee was a wrestling stylist, much like Rico mentioned above. Except he had a split-personality called 'Awesome Angry Alan'.
Crowbar was a gas station attendant, although that was forgotten after about a month or so.
MI Smooth was a wrestling limo driver.
Trucker Norm was... well, take a guess.
Sgt. Craig Pittman was a wrestling soldier. At one point, another soldier that he left for dead in Vietnam came back for revenge under the name Cobra.
Three Count consisted of Shane Helms (better known to WWE fans as Gregory Helms aka The Hurricane), Shannon Moore (later known as the Prince of Punk) and Evan Karagias. Their gimmick? A wrestling boy band.
There was also the West Texas Rednecks, three wrestlers, led by Curt Hennig, who decided to form a country band and record anti-rap songs when Master P started coming around WCW. The WTR were supposed to be heels, but because country was way more popular with WCW's audience than rap, and the WTR were rather badly outnumbered by Master P's No Limit Soldiers, and they were just genuinely charismatic and funny, the crowd treated them like faces anyway.
CHIKARA Pro has one of the funnier examples of this trope: Lance Steele, a knight who got time-warped to the present day and decided to become a wrestler. He later formed a tag team with... another version of himself, who he went back in time and picked up a week before he originally went forward in time. Try not to think about the logistics of them performing a double-team move too hard.
Chikara also has Retail Dragon, a wrestling Wal-Mart clerk in a dragon mask. Although he turned heel when he took a job at K-Mart.
Not really a second job, but Xtreme Pro Wrestling had Homeless Jimmy, who was living proof that Wrestling Doesn't Pay.
Ohio area wrestler Hobo Joe, to the point where he's interviewed at his dumpster home. Temporarily subverted in a storyline where he won $25,000, but reverted shortly afterward.
Inter Species Wrestling gives all sorts of examples:
Stinky the Homeless Guy panhandles around the ring and is billed from 'Outside'.
Flip D. Berger (say it out loud) worked for McDonald's, before being brainwashed by Moohammed the Terrorist Cow.
All the animals - Moohammed, his brother Moostafa the Misunderstood Cow, El Hijo Del Bamboo (panda), the Bear (bear), etc - and the zombies - Izzy Deadyet, Zombefied, Gorelust - are cases where wrestling doesn't need to pay.
There have also been numerous examples of Beef Wellington crowing about his $20 payday.
Truth in Television example: UWA fighter Nick Watts actually does (or did) work at a power company. And really, with a name like "Watts", how could he NOT work at a power company?
Also parodied on a skit of The Man Show, where Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel tried their hand at pro wrestling. At one point, Adam appears as a character called "The Calligrapher," complete with a Renaissance-themed costume. I can only assume that one of the Calligrapher's signature moves involves poking opponents in the eye with his quill pen.
Other gimmicks demonstrated included "The Rabbi", "The Alcoholic Step-Father", and "The Pope".
That last one, by the way, is Hilarious in Hindsight now that Elijah Burke is portraying a character in TNA named "Pope D'Angelo Dinero." (It's a Nonindicative Name, however, as he's not Catholic at all but a Protestant street preacher from Harlem.)
In its early days, TNA played host to a group called The Flying Elvises, a trio of high-risk wrestlers who were also Elvis impersonators. Mind you, the Flying Elvises used the gimmick in the indies as well.
Parodied in an episode of Goof Troop where the local wrestling champ was secretly also a short-order cook named Melvin. He actually wanted to just be a cook, but for some reason he couldn't quit while he was still undefeated (and couldn't bring himself to throw a match). Goofy somehow managed to get him pinned by Pete, resulting in Melvin being able to give up wrestling and Pete the new champ (and facing a long list of other people who had signed up to challenge the champ).
For one match, WrestlingECW had Mass Transit, a wrestling bus driver. Then New Jack bladed him at the November 23, 1996 show. Then it turned out he was only 17, and wasn't actually trained by Killer Kowalski as he claimed. Then it went to court.
New Jack was later acquitted of all charges due to the kid lying to the promoters.
AWA during its later years had Flapjack Scott Norton and Yukon John Nord wrestling lumberjacks.
At the same time, they also had The Trooper, who would write tickets and stick them to his opponents' chests after pinning them.
Heartwarmingly inverted by Father Sergio Gutiérrez Benítez, who raised money for the orphanage where he worked by becoming the Masked Luchador Fray Tormenta (Friar Storm) by night.
Storyline example from TNA. Lisa Marie Varon (WWE's Victoria, TNA's Tara) lost her career in a match and disappeared for a few months before returning as the sidekick of Madison Rayne, who retired her. The storyline explanation was that Madison pulled some strings to get Tara reinstated but had a contract that stated she would have to be Madison's right hand woman. Madison would regularly point out that she could "fire" Tara and send her "back to the lipstick counter with minimum wage". Likely a bit of Reality Subtext since the reason Tara left TNA in the first place was low pay. Ironically behind the scenes she was still being paid more than Madison.
This trope is actually the root of the late Ring Of Honor/CHIKARA wrestler "Sweet 'n' Sour" Larry Sweeney's Catch Phrase "12 Large, brother." He had been on a show with the Patriot (Del Wilkes.) Sweeney had asked the Patriot how much he had made selling his merchandise at his gimmick table. The Patriot told him, "I'm up 12 Large, brother," which meant that he had made $12.