When I was working front-of-house in restaurants around New York City, I always enjoyed working with different types of personalities. I worked with a lot of actors, comedians, and musicians, but I slowly shifted into working with musical theater people—they were very different from everyone else. One musical theater guy cried because he accidentally ate a piece of tuna that wasn't approved by the FDA. He went behind the ice machine and started weeping. But when I started working with actual criminals, I quickly realized that they were much easier to get along with than anyone else because they knew how bad shit could get.
There was one porter that never showed up for a shift again because the FBI came looking for him. Apparently, he had killed somebody. I'm not sure if that was related to an incident that involved two overnight porters getting into a knife fight; they refused to press charges on one another. There was a guy named Juan that I worked with at a Brooklyn restaurant who was pretty candid about things. After our shift one evening, we asked him what he did in his hometown in Mexico before he came to work in Brooklyn, and he explained that he was a former Federale. Someone casually asked him, "Have you ever killed somebody?" And he ultra-casually replied with, "Yes, ten people."
When I started working with actual criminals, I quickly realized that they were much easier to get along with than anyone else because they knew how bad shit could get.
Musicians aren't the worst people to work with because they live their lives doing what they want to be doing. They don't walk around saying things like, "I'm actually a rockstar, this is just my day job." It was always the writers that had failure-to-launch syndrome from their restaurant jobs. There was literally nothing stopping them. That's the worst kind of self-hatred when someone would say, "I'm just gonna take some time and write," and then watch them come into the restaurant bar area on their day off waiting for co-workers to come in so they could hang out. You'd stare at them and say, "Oh, I thought you were just taking this time to write."
I would think as an actor, waiting tables would help you recharge for upcoming roles. There's no better place where you can meet as many diverse personalities and get them to act as natural as possible so you can suck their character straight out of them. It's good people research.
Being a waiter can be very fun, but I think some people self-sabotage during the process. When I was a 20-year-old, someone told me how much money I could make working in restaurants. I was about to turn 21 and looking to get an apartment in New York City, so I figured it was a good option. To pay for my monthly rent, waiting tables would allow me to achieve that in one week. I wrote down my real experience and went over to Ruby Foo's uptown spot in New York City. I didn't get the job because my resume didn't have any relevant experience, so I changed everything to fictional restaurant names and put all their addresses in the New York area, went to the Times Square location, and got the job.
I would think as an actor, waiting tables would help you re-charge for upcoming roles. There's no better place where you can meet as many diverse personalities and get them to act as natural as possible so you can suck their character's straight out of them in one night. It's good people research.
I held on for dear life there until I knew how to do it. I used to give my tables away to other servers. I was petrified every time I went into work. It was horrible. If I gave one table away, other servers would say, "That's an extra 200 bucks!" I'd just tell them, "Take it. I can't do it. I will fuck it up." In life, I think if you're unafraid of something when you start, it's not worth it. I needed that much pressure on me in my restaurant gigs. Sometimes, I suffered from classic mistakes, like not knowing how to multi-task. The first time someone ever ordered a Drambuie from me, I thought that was a made-up word. I went over to the bartender and blurted out, "Drambuie," and he responded with, "rocks or neat?" and I realized, OK, that's actually something real. I was really good at fucking people's shit up, and slowing down service in a big way. One couple thought I was giving them crappy service on purpose, and I had to tell them, "No, that's just how I do it. This is my style."
But then things got better, and restaurant life resulted in extremely fun scenarios. I waited on actress Catherine O'Hara, who was as funny as she is on screen. I appreciated it when she actually took my advice and asked for a recommendation on what wine to order. I also waited on a Polish pimp who told me I would make big tips if I made "it" come fast. He was always good on his word. More than anything, I always dreamed of catching somebody from my hometown in New Jersey walking into the restaurant so I could catch them in the act of having an affair. If that happened, I could extort or blackmail them, and they would have to go to an ATM and give me a lot of money. That never happened—that's a sick thing to wish for—but that was what I always wanted. It never came true.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2014.