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Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job

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"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, people who got fired or laid off from their regular jobs, 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, or attempt to chase after their Lifelong Dream (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:


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 or security mook. 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. See also Loser Protagonist, Acceptable Hard Luck Targets.



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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 & Manga 
  • One Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode revolves around a former boxer who's now an instructor (and who'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.
  • Maou from The Devil Is A Part-Timer! used to be the king of demons until he was defeated by Emilia the Hero. Now he works part-time at MgRonalds and plans on working his way back up to the top of the food chain through the wage slave ladder. He also genuinely enjoys and is passionate about his work.
  • The Hentai, Cage revolves around a young woman who resorts to prostitution after her boyfriend ran off after having maxed out her credit cards, and emptied her bank account. When she accepts the proposition of a guy to help her financial situation, he responds by pimping her out to random johns.
  • In I Can't Believe I Slept with You, Chiyo Kozuka, who quit her job at a game company after getting reassigned to general affairs, ends up taking a part-time job at a deli where she worked in high school. It's played with in that while this is not the job Chiyo wants, she's regained enough of her energy and confidence to work again, so the fact that she can do so is a sign of her recovery, rather than of desperation.
  • In The Way Of The House Husband, a few former members of the Yakuza are forced to work in simple honest jobs after their crime groups were disbanded.
    • Torajiro, The Rival to Tatsu, was in prison when Tatsu wiped out his gang. He now sells crepes and bubble tea in a food truck after seeing everyone was gone.
    • Hibari Torii, former co-leader of the Torii Family, now works in a supermarket with three of her former subordinates.
    • Tatsu is the exception, as he willingly left the Yakuza life behind to become a House Husband and he's happy with his lot in life.
  • Zombie Land Saga: At the beginning of Revenge, Franchouchou has had to pick up part-time jobs to pay for a massive amount of debt from their EFS concert.
    • Sakura and Tae tend to a dairy farm.
    • Saki works night shifts as a construction worker.
    • Ai works in a production line at a dried squid factory.
    • Junko paints ceramic dolls at a cultural center.
    • Yugiri works a night shift as a bartender.
    • Lily does the only job available to an 11-year-old-looking zombie and works as a milk deliverer.


    Comic Books 
  • When the Soulsearchers and Company temporarily split up, Peterson earns money by exhibiting Stanley as a talking prairie dog and selling tickets.

    Fairy Tales 

    Fan Works 
  • In The AFR Universe, Ryuji ends up a Tragic Dropout after a year in college. He'd spend the next five years working in backbreaking part-time jobs just to help his mom get by in their apartment. What kills him the most about it, as he explains to Haru, is that he feels like he can't propose to Hifumi like he wants until he knows he can support them. Things do improve for him as Haru uses her connections and knowledge of higher society to introduce Ryjui to, and getting an interview for, Private Security.
  • The two-part Daredevil (2015) fanfic Marci Stahl Is Better Than You is based on this trope. Written before season 2 was releasednote , the premise of the work is that after turning against her Landman & Zack colleagues who were aiding and abetting Wilson Fisk, Marci Stahl ends up having to take a job as a contract attorney with Nelson & Murdock as her past association with L&Z makes other Manhattan law firms unwilling to hire her.
  • Marinette spends several years working as a waitress in The Seven Misfortunes of Lady Fortune. Luckily for her, Madame Zhou is too kind to force her into her main business.
  • In Marinette Dupain-Cheng's Spite Playlist, Gabrielle feels this way about her job at a small café. This is mainly because her family has paraded around their status as 'old money' for generations, but has effectively gone bankrupt, and is struggling to keep up appearances.
  • In Vengeance of Dawn, when we first see Breaking Dawn in the present, she's getting fired from her job at a clothing store. Most ponies probably wouldn't find this so bad, but Dawn, as a former student of Princess Celestia and ex-candidate for alicorn princesshood and the Element of Magic, considers it beneath her. Apparently she had to work several of these jobs after getting kicked out of the School for Gifted Unicorns, but couldn't hold on to any of them because of her pride.
  • In With Pearl and Ruby Glowing, Jasper was a parole officer before she was revealed to have raped Lapis, her sixteen-year-old parolee, and is now so desperate for a job that she'll take anything. The side-story Shard Times follows her attempts at applying for several jobs, only for every single business to understandably refuse to hire her due to her being convicted of statutory rape and ending up as a registered sex offender.

    Films — Animated 
  • In the Frozen short Frozen Fever, following his failed attempt at taking over Arendelle, Hans is demoted to cleaning horse manure.
  • Batman and Harley Quinn: Nightwing discovers the recently paroled Harley Quinn working as a waitress at a restaurant called Superbabes—basically Hooters, but with the servers dressed in skimpy superheroine/villainess costumes. Despite Harley's psychiatric background, no one would allow her back in the field and no one else was interested in employing a former supervillain. Aside from offers to do porn, Superbabes was her only option.
  • In Leap! Odette reveals that years before the film's story takes place, she was a talented dancer with a shot at being prima ballerina. However, an accident resulted in a broken leg, and after recovering she walked with a bad limp, and by the time of the movie's events, she's working as the cleaning lady for the Paris Opera House.
  • Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island: Even though Fred and Daphne managed to find a decent job after Mystery Inc. split up (Working as a news show hosts), Shaggy and Scooby are both working as airport security where they get fired after eating contraband they were supposed to guard while Velma is working at a small book store that's close to going out of business.
  • In Sing, the dilapidated Moon Theater collapses following years of neglect, as a result of its owner, Buster Moon, mounting a series of flops, the property is repossessed by the bank, and Moon has to resort to washing cars.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In American Mary, medical student Mary is reduced to applying for a job as a masseuse at a sleazy strip club to pay off her debts. However, during her 'interview', a medical emergency arises that opens up a whole new career path for her.
  • Ant-Man's titular hero finds himself working at a Baskin-Robbins after getting released from prison - and even they fire him once they discover he's an ex-con (Baskin-Robbins always finds out). Then he ends up working as a thief for eccentric billionaire Hank Pym, thus starting his superhero career.
  • 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: After champion skaters Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy are banned from Men's Singles skating for fighting on the winner's stand, they end up respectively as A) a drunk lurching his way through a children's skating show and B) a stockboy at a sporting-goods store.
  • 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. Averted in the case of Mr. Fabulous, who had found a high-paying job as maître d′ at a fancy restaurant and was apparently very happy there. The rest of the band Jumped at the Call, but getting Mr. Fabulous back took a fair bit of work (and some judiciously applied blackmail).
  • Blue Streak: A criminal version appears when Miles is shocked to find out that Tulley, an experienced getaway driver, has been reduced to sticking up convenience stores.
  • Catch Me If You Can: Frank Abagnale Sr. was apparently quite a successful entrepreneur at one point, but by the start of the film he's being scrutinized by the IRS for sketchy bookkeeping, likely tax evasion. First he's forced to sell the old family home and downsize his store. The last time his son sees him, his business has apparently gone under, as he's now a deliveryman for the US postal service.
  • In Chalet Girl Kim was a skateboarding champion, but she had to quit her career to help her dad at home and works as a Burger Fool at the start of the movie.
  • Cop: The sleazy main character hooks up with a minor Hollywood actress whose roles have dried up and has had to resort to dealing drugs and prostituting herself to make ends meet.
  • In The Country Girl, Bernie is shocked to find out that Frank Elgin, once a highly successful big band singer, has been reduced to recording commercial jingles.
  • In Dead Again, Robin Williams plays a former therapist who lost his license due to sleeping with patients, and now works in a grocery store.
  • Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element starts out this way, being a former decorated soldier working a lousy job as a taxi driver.
  • The start of Ghostbusters II 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 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.
  • The Hand: After losing his hand, and being dropped by his agent, cartoonist Jon Lansdale takes a job teaching cartooning at remote community college, to a class of students who seem largely uninterested in the subject.
  • 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.
  • In Kill Bill, former international assassin Bud is working as a bouncer slash handyman at a perpetually deserted Texas strip club with the frustrated owner firing him when he points this out.
  • 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.
  • Kolya: Louka's offhand smartass remark to a bureaucrat got him fired from the orchestra. Now he cadges work playing at funerals and moonlights as a restorer of gravestones, and is in debt, which is why he agrees to the marriage scheme. Lampshaded when the Bad Cop interrogating Kolya threatens to get him fired from the orchestra and leave him playing funerals, and the Good Cop passes him a note saying "HE DOES FUNERALS ALREADY."
  • 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.
  • The Magnificent Seven. Charles Bronson's character was once a highly-paid Bounty Hunter, but now works chopping wood so he's willing to accept the measly pay the villagers are offering. "Right now, that's a fortune."
  • Subverted in Man on the Moon. After achieving 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 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.
  • In Ocean's Eleven, at the beginning of the movie, Rusty has resorted to teaching young actors how to play poker and Saul is attempting to retire and take up dog-racing but both are clearly bored out of their minds.
  • In Raging Bull (as well as Real Life), boxer Jake LaMotta ends up a seedy bar owner and stand-up comic.
  • In Rehearsal for Murder, Frank Heller mentions having waited tables, worked in construction, and driven cabs between acting gigs.
  • Roger & Me has many examples of unemployed people doing odd jobs.
    • Most famously, Rhonda Britton who earns just enough money for groceries by selling rabbits for meat.
    • Some people are able to literally profit from Flint's decline, like U-Haul helping people move out.
    • Janet, who decides to become an Amway saleswoman and tries to help unemployed women do the same. Moore decides to help Janet out of a crisis by letting her do his colors.
    • Some autoworkers get jobs at Taco Bell, hoping to use their assembly line skills in the making of Tacos.
    • Some autoworkers are retrained by the UAW as prison guards. Notably, many of the prisoners are their former co-workers.
  • The protagonist of Rounders drives a delivery truck for a living whenever he busts out and loses all his money playing poker.
  • 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 color cartoons.
  • 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 is too hard of hearing to know what he's saying, the other half are too distracted to care.
  • Spider-Man 3: After she is fired from Broadway, Mary Jane eventually resigns herself to working as a singing waitress as she struggles to find a job as an actress.
  • Sunshine Cleaning deconstructs this. Rose drags her sister into starting an impromptu business cleaning up crime scenes - because she needs the money to get her son into a private school. Although disgusted by the work at first, she soon finds enjoyment in it and comes to love it - especially when she realises that what she does benefits people.
  • In The Whole Ten Yards, Bruce Willis' 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. The movie plays with this as Randy actually seems to enjoy working with the customers - though he's mortified when someone recognises him as a wrestler.

  • 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.
  • The Han Solo Adventures: In the final book, Han is shaken to find out that his mentor "Trooper" Badure, a war veteran and piloting instructor turned adventurer, has been reduced to contract labor at a mining camp.
  • In The Kite Runner most of the Afghans who made it to America were from well-off or even noble families (escaping a war-torn zone and getting a visa has its cost). Since their degrees or merits have no value in the U.S. most of them work in blue-collar jobs. Amir's father goes from tycoon to gas station worker (but eventually becomes the director), his father-in-law is too proud to work and lives on state aid money and what he earns from the flea market.
  • 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 working 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, 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 Ghostbusters II above.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's 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 (the only non-military job he could think of that he'd be qualified for) on Beta Colony.
  • In The Death of Kings (second book of Conn Iggulden's Emperor series), two former soldiers of the destroyed Primigenia legion are found working as guards in a (high-class) brothel.
  • In A Pearl for My Mistress, which is set in 1934, Lady Lucy's family regards her journalistic occupation to be this. Lucy herself actually enjoys both the job itself and the independent income it allows her.
  • In Straight Outta Fangton, Peter Stone works as a convenience store clerk. This is despite the fact he's a former Iraqi veteran, security guard specialist, and oh yes, a vampire. Played with as it's discovered a lot of vampires have graveyard shift jobs as people don't hire them and only a few Vampires Are Rich.
  • Kris Pulaski, the protagonist of We Sold Our Souls, is working at a truly fleabag motel when the book starts.
  • Mahabharata: The First ever examples are the jobs the Pandava princes and Draupadi are forced to take on during their one year spent incognito at King Viraat’s palace. After losing their kingdom, all their wealth, personal belongings, pretty much everything except their armor and weapons in a dice game, the Pandavas and Draupadi spend twelve years living in the forest followed by a year spent in hiding under assumed identities. Yudhistir becomes a court advisor for King Viraat, Draupadi becomes the queen’s personal maid, Bhim becomes a cook, Nakul tends horses in the royal stable, Sahadev tends to the king’s cows and Arjun, who also has to endure a year of impotence, slaps on the Manscara and becomes a teacher of music and dance.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock: Tracey Jordan starts out as a once-popular A-lister whose continual eccentricities and other conflicts have branded him difficult to work with and he's reduced to starring in the eponymous show, which in-universe is generally considered hacky and not that great. Later he has a brief career renaissance which is cut short once other A-listers realize he's a "TV Actor". Includes a meta-commentary on this by Jack Donaghy, played by Alec Baldwin, a former A-lister now better known for his TV work.
  • Arrow:
    • After his loaded father cuts him off, Tommy Merlyn, who previously didn't need to do anything to live by, seeks employment at Oliver's bar.
    • Felicity is a MIT graduate, and isn't happy when Oliver promotes her as his assistant, as it ends up reducing her to become a Girl Friday (or "Girl Wednesday"). In season 7, after Oliver is arrested, she ends up having to go undercover by working at a coffeeshop.
  • On Cheers, Carla's second 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.)
    • After being fired by the Lillian Corporation, and with her reputation as a businesswoman nuked thanks to her lover using her for insider trading, Rebecca gets a job as a demo room saleswoman, where's she's treated shabbily, having to demonstrate unsafe products with no protection and no medical coverage. This job is so humiliating that going back to Cheers is still a step-up from, as Woody puts it, "selling snake oil like a carnival geek".
  • 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's mom walks off with her $50,000 bounty, Veronica makes some spending money as a barista.
  • In Breaking Bad, Walter White after exiting a technological firm where he did research on chemistry had to take a job as a high school chemistry teacher. He made only $45,000 a year so he also had to take a second job at a car wash. The day he found out he had to wash a car for one of his own students from chemistry, he snaps and turns to a life of cooking and distributing meth.
  • In Better Call Saul, the main character Jimmy McGill after his involvement with Walter White's criminal empire back in Breaking Bad were exposed and he is wanted for money laundering and conspiracy with a kingpin, is forced to go into legal hiding assuming the identity Gene. No longer the criminal lawyer comfortably living on high 6 to 7 figures per year when he was Saul Goodman, Gene is a Cinnabon manager who mops floors and empties the trash.
    • During the primary timeline of Better Call Saul, Jimmy struggled to make income with simply his independent law practice making only $700 per defense (and he scarcely earned any clients), so he tried supplementing that with taping and airing commercials for small stores throughout Albuquerque, NM. But he lost money as a result of taking this job.
    • After being temporarily disbarred, Jimmy winds up working in a cell phone store for a full year.
  • 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.
  • Wealthy socialite 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 delivery man 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 like 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!"
  • In the StargateSG1 episode "Mobius", a trip to the past by the main cast creates a timeline where the Stargate was never discovered. Alt!Daniel is reduced to teaching "English as a Second Language" courses while Alt!Carter is working in a civilian research company as a glorified proofreader for other people's work while having her own research plagiarized by her boss.
  • In Supernatural Sam Winchester, a former Stanford student studying law, is seen clearing tables at a bar after he and Dean part ways in season 4. In later seasons the boys are separated again and Dean works construction, but that might be less of an example since he's a high school dropout who likes working with his hands. Still, you'd think a lifetime of monster hunting at the elite level would have some more transferable skills.
  • A variation in Charmed's Season 6. Paige decides to find herself, so she goes to loads of temp jobs. These end up being annoying jobs such as dog walking, fruit packing in a factory, secretary to a sleazy businessman, etc. She usually finds a magical purpose in them, however.
  • When Lisa in Saved by the Bell spends too much money on her father's credit card, she gets a job as a waitress to pay the money back. Bear in mind that Lisa is a rich, prissy Daddy's Girl. Her father finds this Actually Pretty Funny when he finds out - and his punishment is for Lisa to keep working the job until she's paid the debts (at her own insistence).
  • Luke Cage (2016): Luke Cage used to be a cop in Savannah, Georgia, and before that, he was a soldier in the Marines. After being framed up by Diamondback and sent to Seagate Prison, and receiving powers in a botched experiment, he escapes with Reva to New York City, where he initially works as a Hell's Kitchen bartender up until near the end of Jessica Jones (2015). After getting shot by Jessica to break Kilgrave's control over him, Luke starts his own show living in Harlem, getting paid under the table by working as a floor sweeper at Pop's Barbershop and a dishwasher at Harlem's Paradise.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • Narrowly avoided by Marci Stahl, as after blowing the whistle on Landman & Zack's dealings with Wilson Fisk, she manages to secure a job at Hogarth Chao & Benowitz.
    • We learn in "Penny and Dime" that Frank Castle was shot in the head, and "suits" conspired to have him declared deceased. Unfortunately for them, Frank woke up (after flatlining for a minute) and made the nurse assigned to him take him home. The guy lost his job, and subsequently, when Karen tracks him down, he's working as an office building janitor.
  • The Wire: In season 5, budget cutbacks in the police department lead to decreased morale among the rank-and-file, though Burrell is able to lift it when he convinces Carcetti to lift the cap on secondary employment. Crutchfield, for instance, makes up his lost overtime by securing part-time work as a security guard at a jewelry store.
  • Ghosted: Leroy Wright was the LAPD's best missing persons detective, now he's forced to work as a mall cop. Doctor Max Jenifer was a professor at Stanford and the leading theoretical physicist, who is forced to work as a sales clerk in a bookstore. They both initially agreed to work for the Bureau Underground because Captain Lafrey’s offers to get them their old jobs back.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?: One skit had Drew Carey playing the new employee at an ice cream parlor. Ryan Stiles, playing the employee training him, comments something like "I used to watch both your shows. You should have saved some money."
  • On Shakespeare & Hathaway - Private Investigators, Sebastian is a RADA-trained actor who is working as Frank's receptionist and secretary while keeping his acting dreams alive by appearing as a spear-carrier in plays and doing bit parts in commercials.
  • On Schitt's Creek Johnny Rose is a formerly wealthy business mogul who now owns part of a roadside motel. He throws himself into the managing of the place and gradually improves it, and he rarely if ever complains about the hard work.
  • On BrainDead (2016), the show opens with Laurel being talked into taking a job as constituent casework for her brother because funding for a documentary film she's been working on has fallen through.
  • Frequently comes up on Heroes with characters whose involvement with superhuman abilities unknown to regular science and that sort of thing ruins their careers. Niki formerly had a better job at a casino but becomes a Single Mom Stripper after her husband goes to jail on felony charges under mysterious circumstances. Mohinder was a professor in India, but drives a taxi after coming to the States to investigate his father's bizarre murder. And when his telepathy does more harm than good in his law-enforcement career (so much for the Super Cop), Matt ends up being a bodyguard or security guard.
  • Life with Boys: In "Bathroom Battles with Boys", Jack takes on an embarrassing, and physically punishing, second job as a party clown to raise the extra money so Tess can have her own bathroom (and not have to share with her brothers). Tess feels incredibly guilty when she finds out.
  • Frasier: Bulldog Briscoe gets fired from KACL at the end of season six after the ratings on his show drop too low. By his next appearance in the following season he's living at the YMCA and delivering pizzas to make ends meet. He gladly accepts Roz's offer to take over as her new babysitter. Later seasons see him back at KACL but working in the storage areas hauling boxes.
  • The titular Obi-Wan Kenobi is working a factory job (which seems to involve harvesting meat from a dead Kraytt dragon) ten years after the Jedi purge.
  • Andy Kaufman did an extreme parody of this trope in his 1980 appearance on David Letterman's morning show, claiming he was no longer doing Taxi, was having trouble even finding work in dinner theater, and had lost everything in a divorce. He ended his "set" by actually panhandling in the front rows of the studio audience before being led out by stagehands. (In truth, while his mainstream career had peaked owing to the backlash against his wrestling Heel persona in particular, he stayed with Taxi through its entire run, and even as his career went into further decline was still able to parlay recognition into smaller gigs — and had he not died in 1984, probably would have found ways to keep doing so and turn it into a whole new phase of his work, as he was fascinated by performers past their peak.)

  • "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.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    • "The Rye or the Kaiser" is a parody of Eye of the Tiger where the boxer lost the big fight and wound up retiring to run a small deli.
    • "Skipper Dan" 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.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • 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-1990s, 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.
  • Lisa Marie Varon when she was wrestling as Tara in TNA, lost a Title vs Career match and disappeared for months, before returning as the sidekick of Madison Rayne. Madison alluded to Tara being reduced to working at "the lipstick counter" before she got her rehired.

    Religion & Mythology 
  • The Parable of the Prodigal Son from The Book of Luke has the wayward younger son becoming a swineherd after squandering his father's wealth. This is especially abhorrent, as the Jews consider swines unclean, and the fact that the young man was willing to lower himself to such a devastating extent for a bit of food and cash demonstrates how destitute he's become.
  • In Greek mythology, following a failed rebellion against Zeus, the supreme god has his brother Poseidon and his son Apollo punished by temporarily banishing them from Olympus to build the walls of Troy.

    Video Games 
  • The Dark Brotherhood in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a shadow of its former glory. Without a Listener to speak to the Night Mother and receive word of Black Sacraments, they're forced to rely on rumor and word of mouth to find contracts, and whatever work they can. The player character gets their attention by talking to a kid who'd performed a Sacrament and been ignored, taking the job in their place.
  • 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, a 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.
  • After closing the rifts at the end of Orcs Must Die! the War Mage inadvertently put himself out of work. Without invading Orcs to fight and his actions causing all the magic to go away and getting people mad at him, he's become a miner by the start of the sequel.
  • In Dead Rising 2 Chuck Green was once a star and a champion in the motor-cross circuit, but has been reduced to slaughtering zombies on the controversial "Terror is Reality" in order to afford Zombrex, his daughter's expensive multi-dose anti-zombification medicine.
  • Red Alert 3: The Soviet engineer mentions he was once a professor. This being Red Alert, it's possible many of these were given the choice of being an engineer or being shot.
    Combat engineers hail from all walks of life: They are the Union's bookkeepers, professors, curators, symphony conductors, mechanics, shipwrights, and, of course, its civilian architects and engineers.

    Visual Novels 
  • Daughter for Dessert:
    • Saul cooking in the diner after getting fired from the liquidation company. However, instead of being bitter, he is grateful for the employment in the time when he is trying to find another job in law.
    • Possibly the case for Heidi (who sells her bar to break the cycle of long days every day just to barely get by) and Veronica (who founded a startup that eventually failed).
  • Subverted with the protagonist's tutoring job in Melody. The protagonist isn’t keen on the job when it’s first offered to him, and takes it mainly to get away from Bethany, but he makes enough money to get by, and enjoys the town where the job is, and the people in it.

    Web Comics 
  • In Erstwhile, Maid Maleen, All-Furs, and the prince in "Iron Hans".
  • Ménage à 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.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Torbjörn and Siv Västerström are from a family that underwent a Riches to Rags episode some years ago. After this, Torbjörn got a job copying old books and got the idea for the expedition when he found out just how valuable the original texts were. Siv was working in an institute researching the Rash before joining him in his initiative, but it is unclear whether she got the job before or after the family's financial difficulties showed up.

    Western Animation 
  • In Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes episode "Strings", a major PR problem forces the Four to get actual jobs. Technically, only Susan's (children's entertainer) and Ben's (garbage man) might count. Two women cattily lampshade this, commenting on "how far she's fallen."
  • The Simpsons: In "The Seemingly Never-Ending Story", 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.
  • King of the Hill:
    • In "Propane Boom", Hank Hill ended up working at Mega Lo Mart when he got laid off from Strickland when the aforementioned store briefly sold propane.
    • Subverted in "My Own Private Rodeo". Hank, Bill, and Boomhauer think this happened to Dale's estranged father Bug, finding him performing in a gay rodeo (though they originally didn't realize they were even at one) and when they do, they figure out that he's there because he's gay himself.
  • Magica De Spell in DuckTales (2017). You know you hit rock bottom when your current job is a party magician for kids, while your previous occupation was an all-powerful sorceress.

    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.
  • Up to WWI, female teacher or lady's companion were synonyms of an impoverished woman of good social standing.
  • Actress Nikki Blonsky started working at a salon after movie roles dried up.
    • Similarly, Gary Coleman worked as a security guard when his career fizzled out. In fact, it's not all that uncommon for actors to have a second job if they don't have a long-term contract or can't find regular short-time roles.
    • Following photos of him working at a Trader Joe's going viral in 2018, actor Geoffrey Owens (Elvin on The Cosby Show) began getting roles after being "job shamed".
  • Louise Brooks was at first a Hollywood star in the '20s and '30s but faded into obscurity in B-movies before quitting acting altogether. At one point among other jobs, she worked as a call girl. She would later enjoy Career Resurrection as a novelist.
  • 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 coffee shop workers themselves. Ironically, despite the stereotype that "what the English major says to the business major is 'do you want fries with that'", coffee shops are somewhat more likely to hire graduates than fast-food chains, who consider them overqualified.
  • Colonel Thomas E. Lawrence resigned from 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 into the military, even if as an ordinary rating.
  • Jon Gosselin (Jon & Kate Plus Eight) now works as a waiter in Pennsylvania.
  • This photo of a Syrian civil war victim selling pens while hauling his daughter made the rounds across the world.
  • From the 16th to the 19th century, working on a slave ship was this for contemporary sailors. While their conditions were practically enviable by the captives on the cargo hold, most of the crewmen had to sleep on the exposed top deck, since there was no space below deck. The raw sewage and deceased bodies meant disease was rampant. If the cargo decided they did not want to be cargo anymore, the crew could literally find themselves fighting for their lives. To top it off, employers offered comparatively low pay for dangerous work, or oftentimes stiffed their employees. Once the slaves were sold off to their new masters]], most of the crew were told their services were no longer needed and had to sail back their home countries from the Americas.
  • Sadly many wrestlers employed by TNA also had to get second jobs because the company didn't pay them enough or paid them late.
    • Taylor Wilde was working a minimum wage job at Sunglass Hut while was reigning Knockouts Champion because of how underpaid she was. After a fan recognized her, she resigned immediately.
    • ODB had a second job as a bartender because TNA's low pay made it hard for her to make ends meet. She was a multiple-time Knockouts Champion and a Knockouts Tag Team Champion too.
    • Jesse Sorenson had to work backstage at TNA to pay off medical bills that TNA refused to pay for after he suffered a broken neck.
    • Gail Kim had to outright leave TNA in 2008 despite being a star and proven ratings draw - because she literally couldn't afford to be there. She signed a three-year contract with WWE solely for financial reasons - and spent those three years miserable and being misused, quitting four months before her contract expired.
  • In the '50s and '60s, television roles were considered this for actors, as acting on TV was the kiss of death as far as Hollywood movie casting went at the time.