Working at a McDonald's Drive-thru Gave Comedian Confidence

PHOTO: Mike Lawrence, 29, is a comedian in Brooklyn who built his stand-up career while working for McDonalds in South Florida.Courtesy Anya Garrett
Mike Lawrence, 29, is a comedian in Brooklyn who built his stand-up career while working for McDonald's in South Florida.

Comedian Mike Lawrence says he is living his dream as a stand-up comic in New York City. But before he made his living in comedy clubs in New York and appeared on Comedy Central, he spent seven years working at a McDonald's in South Florida.

Lawrence started working part-time at the fast-food chain when he was 16, about thirteen years before his comedic debut on "Conan" last month.

"I was a sophomore in high school," Lawrence, 29, said. "That's when you're supposed to work there."

Lawrence quit in 2001 to go to college, but he found himself returning to the same McDonald's the next year.

"I remember how happy I was when I left. The freedom!" he said. "To bring myself back was kind of hard but I don't think I knew any better."

When he returned to the job, he worked full-time -- usually the morning shift, starting at 5 or 6 a.m.

Lawrence says that his starting wage was $5.25 an hour, and, after four raises, he ended his seven-year career there at $6.45 an hour. He told comedian Marc Maron in his podcast that three of his raises were government-mandated minimum-wage increases.

"Heckling doesn't bother me because I've been yelled at for McNuggets," Lawrence said in the podcast interview.

Lawrence said he earned about $400 every two weeks if he worked five days a week.

"The only thing that kept me sane was I showed up at least 10 minutes late every day," he told ABC News. "This is my kingdom, I thought. I own you. You don't own me. When you work a horrible job like that, you create anything in your mind that gives you a sense of power."

When asked whether he preferred serving the breakfast menu in the wee hours of the morning, Lawrence said it wasn't all bad.

"It made me feel like I had the rest of my day, even if that meant I smelled like French fries," he said.

And while the aroma of golden fries may not sound that bad to many of us, Lawrence says you should try standing near a deep fryer for hours on end.

"It's bad. It takes a long time to clean it off."

Lawrence said he called himself the "phantom of the drive-thru," taking people's orders by intercom.

"'Don't look at me," he would think. "People would just hear my voice."

That allowed him to make fun of people and speak in different voices in a microphone, he said, which played a part in

"It's weird to say, but working there gave me the confidence to be a comic," he said. "I could make employees laugh and a lot of them had horrible lives or had been through a lot. If you could entertain them, you can entertain hipsters in their 20s."

He said his former co-workers don't know about his comedy career in New York, saying they would be more likely to believe he was famous if he was a Nascar driver.

"I don't think they have seen me on TV," he said. "You don't get the revenge in the world to say, 'Look guys, I did it.'"

Lawrence, who said he was never asked to be a manager or thought about owning a franchise, finally quit four days before he moved to New York City.

"I'm definitely happier now. I think I'm making close to the same amount but I'm making a little more money as a comic," he said.

Lawrence said he still eats at McDonald's in New York.

"I haven't gotten to a point where I can't afford not to," he said.

He said he makes a point of treating food-service workers well, especially people at the drive-thru, and gets upset when people around him mistreat workers.

"You don't know what they're going through," he said. "You respect them," he tells other customers. "They are human beings."

Lawrence will celebrate his seven-year comedic career next year and he couldn't be more thankful.

"Anyone who is struggling or in a s***ty job or works anywhere, even in an office, you have to think about your own happiness and if you can get out, then get out," he said.