Q: How old were you when you worked at Chuck E. Cheese?
A: I was 17. It was 1995 or 96.
I didn’t think they’d hire me because I was a seventeen-year-old bad kid that was into metal. But they hired me to work in the game room.
Q: What was your job title?
A: I started as a game room tech, but eventually I did everything there. I got hired to fix the games.
Q: Did you know how to fix games?
A: I didn’t. I told them I was tech-savvy.
In 1995, if you had a computer, people thought you were a tech genius. And my dad is a computer programmer, so I grew up around computers.
I told them, “I know all about that kind of stuff” even though all I did on the computer was play video games.
Q: So you start by fixing the games.
A: Right. They tell you to test the games, but that really means to play them. But if they catch you playing too much, they yell at you.
If you work in the game room it’s very easy for you to just kind of disappear. That leads you to the back room, which leads you to the Chuck E. costume.
Q: You had to wear the costume?
A: Yeah, I wore the costume a lot. I didn’t really like customer service. I was willing to take anything that wasn’t customer-facing.
They said, “If you do Chuck E. you can go in the back room and sit for twenty minutes, then come back out front and dance for twenty minutes, then go back and sit.” I thought, “I’ll do that. That sounds fine to me.”
If you’re not really tall, and you’re a dude, that’s what they want. The suit is for guys that are average height. The times women were in the costume — I saw so many women get beat up. I mean, I got beat up a lot, and I think they were like, “Bryan looks like a guy who can take punches.”
Q: What do you mean, people got beat up?
A: I’ll tell you a story. I worked with this girl. She was nice, she was into entertaining the kids… She wanted to be part of the birthday celebrations, which was something I did not want to be a part of.
One time they put her in the costume and this group of kids swarmed her and just started punching her, got her down on the ground. And it was pretty scary for her, because you have that big doofus mouse head on. It doesn’t hurt, but you know something is happening.
I picked her off the ground and kind of pushed the kids away and took her to the back. I was like, “They don’t get Chuck E.” I was kind of incredulous about it. My boss was like, “Yeah, they don’t deserve it.”
But the dad got really hot under the collar about it. He had rented a limo and they wanted a picture of the kids standing with Chuck E. by the limo. We weren’t going to put that girl back in the costume, so they put me in it and took me out to the parking lot. It was like walking to death row. I was so terrified they were going to kick the shit out of me. But it ended up being fine.
Q: Can Chuck E. talk?
A: You’re terminated on the spot if you talk. That’s the biggest rule they had.
I still to this day have dreams of talking shit to kids in the Chuck E. costume.
Another thing people would have you do is hold their baby. I was a 17-year-old stoner kid. I never held a baby! I was 17! I always have dreams of telling them no. It’s like a victory dream for me.
Q: Do you remember your first time in the costume?
A: The first time I did it I gave a very lackluster performance. It’s embarrassing to dance when you’re a teenage boy.
Even in the uniform I was self-conscious. It was rainbow-colored, and at the time I primarily wore Korn T-shirts. It was very much embarrassing.
Q: What were your other responsibilities?
A: In the tubes there were a lot of accidents that kids would trod through. When an accident happened, if you’re the game room tech, that’s your job. So they’d close the whole thing out and be like, “Bryan, get in that tube.”
I was a small guy so I fit in there. And I had to do it quite often — more than most.
Q: I don’t even know what to say. When you say “accidents,” I assume you mean when the kids wet themselves?
A: They’d vomit or shit in the tubes and you’d have to clean that up.
Q: Wow. Any other jobs you had to do?
A: One of my favorite jobs there was rolling tokens. You got to sit in the back room with this guy who was really into lizards and snakes and stuff. And he was like 30 years old and he smoked and he’d get me high.
Me and him would smoke a joint and then we’d sit in this little room. He’d set up a radio in there.
And there was this machine that would put 50 tokens in a sleeve and you’d just roll the sleeve up and put it down. Any day I got to do that was my favorite day.
Q: Any other responsibilities?
A: I had to do “kid check.” You stamp everybody who comes in together with the same number, and then as they leave you check to make sure those numbers match.
I hated it. And I was so bad at it. I’m very conflict-averse. I am afraid to confront people, and they’d set me up there in that kid check stand…
The basketball game was right next to the kid check stand. I’d pile a bunch of tokens on that game and shoot baskets all day while people walked in and out.
When I was doing it, if there was even the hint of resistance, I was like, “Go ahead. Please.”
Q: Overall, what did you think of the place?
A: The thing that’s stuck with me is that parents go there for a birthday party for their five-year-old kid and it’s supposed to be a magical special day. But the people in charge of making sure that happens are all teenagers who just need a job.
Some of them were there because they wanted to work in daycare someday. I wanted to be in a heavy metal band.
In general, I was irresponsible and on drugs. And I was in charge of little Timmy’s birthday party. I always found that to be a weird thing.
And I will never forget the birthday song. It will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. We sang it five times a day.
Q: Did you learn any important life lessons?
A: Yeah, I learned that your boss doesn’t know what your personal life is. My boss just saw me as a cog in the machine. I learned you can tell them anything and they’ll believe you.
Q: That’s an interesting lesson.
A: I never take the right lessons from anything.