4 Deceptively Difficult Jobs Everyone Thinks They Can Do
Money for nothing and chicks for free. That's what Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler famously implied about the work habits of rock stars, on the only song he's recorded that probably still earns him plenty of both.
You have to be at least 35 to understand that joke, and even then, it's a long shot. What I'm getting at is this: to a lot of people, what the athletes, actors, musicians, and various other entertainers of the world do for money doesn't look much like work. When you're spending your days laboring over an assembly line or sandwich artist-ing office workers' "healthy" lunches, it's hard to imagine that the song and dance sector ever sees anything in the way of job stress.
Awful work stories are the topic of discussion on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Dave Waite (new album Hotdoggin' in stores now) and Cat Rhinehart (My Stupid Overactive Imagination on YouTube).
As for this column, let's talk about a few of those "jobs that aren't really jobs" that almost everyone assumes they can do. Up first ...
A lot of people in this world call themselves "photographers," and about 90 percent of them have a lot of goddamn nerve for doing so. Contrary to what countless Instagram users believe, taking pictures people (should) pay money for does not involve owning an iPhone and having a keen eye for filters. Sure, you might snap some cool pictures with that kind of setup, but that's because sometimes there's cool shit happening that you happen to be on hand to see. Whatever it was, it looked exactly as interesting to the naked eye as it does in your phone.
You know what doesn't look awesome in real life? A wedding. Never. Not once.
They're almost always held in one of a handful of locations (church, park, VFW), with receptions afterward at equally standard spots (hotel ballroom, someone's back yard, VFW), and everyone is dressed exactly the same, for the most part. When you factor in how every single person there wishes they were anywhere else, it becomes remarkably difficult to put together a series of photos that make the event seem like a memory worth cherishing.
Nevertheless, countless brides have trusted "the friend from work who has a really good camera" with the important job of documenting their special day. It's very likely that those people aren't friends anymore. For one thing, "a really good camera" probably doesn't mean the kind of rig that professional photographers haul to work. As you'll see in this list of the best cameras for wedding photography, the low-end prices are somewhere in the $2,000 neighborhood, with some models closer to the $6,000 - $7,000 range.
Chances are the digital camera your friend's mom bought her from Target for Christmas last year isn't any of those, and even if it was, that's just the camera. Potential wedding picture pros might be further disheartened by this list of "essential gear" for wedding photographers, which reminds you that you'll also need things like extra batteries, stands, lighting, diffusers, and (of course) a second expensive-as-all-hell camera to act as a backup in case your main unit fails.
That's a hefty investment, especially if you have no formal training or instruction in how to use the various lenses and gadgets that the job requires. Someone is going to have to teach you all of that, and they aren't going to do it for free.
Have you done all of those things? If not, make no mistake, you are not a photographer -- you're just a person who owns a camera. People might pay you to take pictures with that camera, but it's only because they don't realize they shouldn't.
Professional Sports Referee
If you watch sports with any degree of fervor, chances are I'm talking about you in this entry. I'm definitely talking about me, if nothing else. I watch a shit ton of football, and not a game goes by where I don't somehow manage to convince myself that I should give this comedy stuff up for good and pursue my real passion and talent in life, which is calling false starts and holding penalties in National Football League games. It's something I mentioned on my podcast once, to which the lovely and talented Breandan Carter (of Cracked.com fame) replied, "which of the seven positions would you pick?"
Here's the thing: I didn't even know there were seven different positions. I don't know shit about shit as it pertains to officiating a football game, except for the part where I can totally see a 300-pound offensive lineman jump before the ball is snapped, provided I'm watching on a pristine HD screen from the comfort of my own home. Even the chaos of a bar or just a room with other people in it is enough to put me off my game, to such a degree that I have to wait for replays to confirm the validity of any alleged penalties.
Nevertheless, talk to me during a game and try to convince me I couldn't do just as good of a job officiating as those clowns on the field. In that moment, I know this to be true.
I don't think I'm the only fan who feels this way, no matter what sport we're talking about. I can't confirm this, unfortunately, mostly because I take watching football so seriously that I refuse to do it with more than one or two people at a time. That makes my sample size way too low for science.
Still, I can't be alone. Or at least I better not be, given the way we scream and curse at the professionals who officiate our sporting contests. Once you're losing your voice as a result of questioning the choices someone makes on the job, you damn well better be able to do that job as well as that person. If not, rightfully, we should just shut the fuck up. For example, it's a massive bummer that all of those Space Shuttles exploded back in the day, but nothing about those tragedies would have prompted me to stand on the sidelines of the next launch waiting for another disaster to happen so I could shout insults at the "rocket scientists" who kept messing up.
That analogy doesn't make a bit of goddamn sense, but neither does the fact that we pretend as if professional sports officials aren't complete and total marvels of science. Well, NBA and NFL officials, anyway. They do more running during one game than most of us do all year long. If hockey even has referees, they're gliding around on ice like a bunch of Nancy Kerrigan's, and the only things that move less than the umpires at an MLB game are the players and the scoreboard.
If we're being totally honest, though, the brave men and and like one or two women who officiate this nation's NFL and NBA games deserve a massive amount of respect for being able to keep up with athletes who are sometimes half their age. Case in point, remember Mike Carey?
If you watch the NFL you certainly do. You probably hated the guy, even if his over-dramatic first down calls were the "Let's get ready to rumble!" of football. Anyway, see that video above, where he legitimately seems to physically intimidate a Philadelphia Eagles linebacker into settling the hell down? He's 62 in that video, and he's not some kind of freak exception. That's Ed Hochuli you're thinking of.
Whatever the case, actual game footage is hard to come by, on account of copyright law and all, but watch almost any football or basketball game and at some point you're going to see an elderly dude running step for step with a professional athlete. Study up on the laws and bylines of the game all you want, but unless you're willing to commit to staying in "playing" shape well into your golden years, your chances of lasting as a pro sports official are slim to none.
Do you live in a medium-to-large-sized town that, despite having plenty of available live performance space, rarely sees anything in the way of major concerts? I used to, and it really confused me at the time. I mean, sure, Sioux Falls, South Dakota wasn't huge, but still, were there not another 3,499 Drive-By Truckers fans in town who might want to see them rock the Washington Pavilion?
Probably not, but even if there were, who would tell them all the band was in town? That's a tougher question to answer than it seems. No matter how huge a band may be, those concert tickets don't just sell themselves. In every case, there's a promoter of some sort whose sole responsibility is selling tickets to those shows. It's a job that, technically, anyone can do.
The number of people interested in doing that job, though, decreases in direct proportion with the population of the town you're in, and even if some enterprising young buck does decide to go into the concert promotion business, the acts that play your local venues are going to be mostly determined by the tastes of the person booking the shows. For example, when I lived there, someone responsible for bringing live entertainment to Sioux Falls loved the shit out of Toby Keith, because that bastard was in town like every six months, with Larry the Cable Guy showing up at a similarly alarming pace.
Of course, that person might just as well have been playing to the audience they had. I did see a few decent shows in Sioux Falls, and without fail, they never even came close to selling out. I saw Bob Dylan at a minor league baseball stadium and I swear more people turned up for the actual minor league baseball game I saw at the same venue a week later.
Same thing with Elvis Costello. I suspect he probably makes his way to Sioux Falls as often as comets come close enough to Earth to be seen by the naked eye. Nevertheless, the one time he magically appeared in town, he didn't come remotely close to selling out a relatively small theater. I've talked about it in other columns before, but popularity is not a globe-spanning kind of thing. Sure, Elvis Costello has sold millions of records, but there are billions of people on the planet. Speaking in the most general terms possible, the majority of the world has never heard of the majority of the world's artists and musicians. Because of that, getting a lot of people to show up to an event, in most cases, is a hard thing to do.
If you're looking for a more close-to-home example, take the live comedy show I host.
I work for a website that gets millions of visitors every month. The club where the show happens holds maybe 90 people, and that's only if we're willing to work under the ever-present threat of becoming the Great White of comedy.
Realistically, it's closer to 75 people. You'd think that millions of monthly visitors would translate to bloody combat in the streets among rabid Cracked fans hoping to get inside when we put on a show at a venue that small. You'd be absurdly wrong. It took us having six people in the audience on a night when we had what still stands as one of our strongest line-ups of comics ever (Ron Funches! Jerrod Carmichael! Nate Bargatze! And more!) before I realized that just slapping the name "Cracked" on something doesn't necessarily mean people are going to show up to check it out. Six people. Six. And I'm pretty sure all of them were on the guest list. It was horrifying.
It was at that point that I actually started promoting the show through every channel available to me. The next show sold out and we've come close to that every show since then, but it doesn't happen by magic. I imagine it's the same for just about any live performance. So if you're wondering why no concerts ever come to your town, it's probably because the job of making that happen is a shitty one that no one wants.
Fuck. You. This entire entry could be just those two words and I suspect most everyone reading would understand perfectly. I mean, back when being a DJ required hauling gigantic crates of records from shitty club to shitty club, I could totally understand why a person would claim such a thing as a profession. But now? No. Plugging your laptop into a PA system and sharing the playlist your personal assistant assembled with a crowd of drunken revelers does not make you an entertainer. If it doesn't involve vinyl records and a mixer and some sort of skill, you're just playing music. I suppose those contraptions that allow you to mix CD's like records are fine also.
Beyond that, if you're paying someone $15,000 to play songs at your club, the only way you're investing your money wisely is if that person brings a few thousand more hardcore drinkers along with them. So I guess my problem here isn't that "DJ" is a job everyone thinks they can do, it's more that people think they're doing anything at all. The DJ is to a party what the redneck pushing the buttons is to a carnival ride. They're both necessary components of the process, but it's mostly the manual labor component.
The guy running the Tilt-A-Whirl doesn't breathe new life into the experience thanks to his unique style of pushing buttons, and DJ's don't do anything remotely similar for great songs. In both cases, you're just operating a machine. It's that machine that makes the fun, not you.
Yes, I get that "celebrity" DJ's do indeed sometimes draw a larger than usual crowd to a club, but it's still the same principle. People are just showing up to look at the freak in the booth. If you're one of those people, it doesn't make you a skilled performer, it makes you the modern day equivalent of the bearded lady.
Your face is the attraction, your talents are not. Until the apocalypse hits and you're the only person in town with an iPod, no one gives a shit about your "skills" as a DJ.
Adam would like it a whole lot if you'd download the latest episode of his podcast and/or watch him tell jokes at Rooftop Comedy. Then come see him do that in person the first and third Tuesday of every month at Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. Once you have all of that out of your system, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.