All the jobs I ever had: Ophira Eisenberg of Ask Me Another

ophira eisenberg

Ophira Eisenberg: professional funny person, writer, host of NPR’s Ask Me Another, grocery stock girl, IT guru, retail extraordinaire, Canadian.

From a young age, Ophira knew the importance of working hard to achieve success. Her second grade teacher once reported to Ophira’s mother that after Ophira completed her assigned work, she would sit in the back of the classroom doing extra exercises and worksheets, chanting “Work! Work! Work!” in a sing-songy voice. Ophira claims she has never been an over-achiever, but always understood the value of hard work, and something about being busy makes her feel whole, which is the kind of attitude that can land you a memoir that gets optioned (Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogomy) and not one but two comedy albums. Ophira will be at Union Hall on November 6 for a night of storytelling and comedy to celebrate the release of her second album, Bangs! but today she’s telling us the story of her journey from a grocery stock girl to a retail genius to an IT guru, before finally settling in as the host of NPR’s “Ask Me Another.” – MB

1. Various trades, grocery stores, – birth – 2001

My dad owned a few small grocery stores, so my growth as a child was measured as I progressed from dusting cans on the shelves, to pricing and restocking, to ordering stock, to working the cash register. I held jobs all through high school, college, and usually more than one. I worked at so many retail stores and office spaces that it only occurred to me recently that some people actually have to buy printer paper.

I was the idiot who came to New York as a tourist when I was 22 years old, ended up at a party in a crazy penthouse apartment in Midtown and thought, “Wow, if I work really hard, I’ll be able to get this!” I wasn’t familiar with the concept of the “trust fund kid.” I thought everything was based on elbow grease and merit.

2. Retail, various NYC boutiques – 2001

I moved here from Canada 12 years ago with no work status, so I could only work the kinds of jobs that paid under the table. Unfortunately, my vast and varied odd job work history did not include waitressing. I had hosted and bussed tables but it was clear to me that due to my natural state of clumsiness (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tripped up the stairs), I would never be a successful or lucrative restaurant server. And because I have a huge scar on my stomach from a car accident when I was a kid – stripping was also probably out.

My first few jobs were working in various women’s clothing boutiques in the East Village, and getting paid $10 or $15 cash under the table, plus clothes. Even though I couldn’t quite afford to go out, at least I had the outfit for it. At these boutiques, I observed three types of women: 1. The career woman who is working her ass off and doesn’t really care how much the dress is, just as long as it looks decent and she can get it hemmed or altered within the hour, 2. The faux-bohemian type who is shopping at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday because daddy’s paying for her to have a little adventure in New York!, and 3. The woman who is figuring out her life, and in-between trying on everything in the store, you have long conversations with her, mostly discussing whether she should wait or just call him already!

These boutiques also provided the perfect environment to pick up stellar tidbits of dating advice, such as: “No man in New York will sleep with you unless you’re waxed.” I learned very quickly that I would sleep with anyone after a fresh, expensive bikini wax, because there is a very small window to get your money’s worth on that wax. I’m half Israeli, so I have about 40 minutes.

3. Sales telemarketer, IT Company – 2003

I got a job doing sales calls for an IT company through a friend of a friend of a friend. For the most part, I was leafing through the yellow pages and cold-calling businesses in the area, asking if they needed anyone to fix their computer. Before long, I engaged in something I named “reverse telemarketing” where you call someone up and as soon as they answer you say  “Go fuck yourself” and hang up.

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ophira eisenberg

Ophira showing what it was like back in the day in the IT hustle.

4. IT Consultant, IT Company – 2004

After that, I did some book-keeping for a friend, I cleaned apartments, I was an errand girl, a personal assistant, and then I went to an immigration lawyer and applied for a work visa. Once that went through, which was one of the most glorious days of my life, I landed a job at another IT company, this time as an IT consultant.

Fixing computers is something that I picked up along the way. I had a lot of computer geek friends that would teach me and help me because, as it turns out, I’m not a model but I am IT Pretty. It’s not an easy job; most of the people you deal with are freaking out because their computer is “acting weird.” Because I’m a woman, I was often questioned as to whether or not I actually knew what I was doing. Those people got special viruses on their laptops before I left. I was basically a 20th Century plumber. Occasionally when I fixed the problem, the person thanked me and told me what a relief it was to know me, and then I got my check – it felt really good.

I wasn’t rolling in it by any means, but it was the first time I made enough money to… participate in society. I bought coffees, I went into stores with confidence, I sat down for dinner with friends at restaurants and didn’t just squirm the whole meal, worrying about what I would do if everyone wanted to split the bill. I upgraded to a better living situation and things were looking up…

5. “Volunteer” Comedian – 2006

…Until, of course, I decided to quit that job and funnel all of my energy into my volunteer career as a comedian – the equivalent of emptying the bank account and heading to the casino. Actually, I think craps has better odds. I went back to being broke, but it’s not as bad when you know why you’re doing it.

6. Host, NPR’s Ask Me Another – 2012

Years later, after a lot of hard work, I have this great job hosting a trivia show for NPR and I make money as a comic. Of course, if I took that money and spread it over all the free gigs over the years, it probably would have made more sense to stick it out in the retail biz. Somehow I made it, and now when I get offered a good gig for decent money, I chant “Work! Work! Work!” in a cheerful, happy, sing-songy voice.

“Bangs!” Ophira’s second comedy album, comes out this Thursday, October 6. Join the album release party at Union Hall for an evening of storytelling and new comedy from Ophira and performances by special guests Micaela Blei, Leah Bonnema, Andy Christie, and music from Julian Velard. Tickets are $10 and the show begins at 7:30pm.