I always said we have to stop using the term “blue-collar” worker and start saying “essential” worker. If every actor and filmmaker in the world disappeared tomorrow, the families of those people would be sad, but the world would carry on just fine. Now imagine if every carpenter, plumber, or truck driver disappeared, even for two or three days. Civilization would grind to a halt.
My dad was a truck driver. The smell of gasoline to me is kind of like aftershave would be for everybody else. I grew up in a factory town, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My heroes, the people I looked up to as a kid, were people who had a function. They made things happen. If something broke, they fixed it. We never had a repairman come into our neighborhood. If you or somebody in your family couldn’t fix it, a neighbor could.
When you’re talking about the essential workers, we’re running out of them. Follow the food chain: you gotta start with the farmer. Then the truck driver. Then the front-line grocery store workers. That was one of my first legitimate jobs, working in a supermarket, so I’ve always appreciated that. I’d stock shelves, and I’m the guy they sent out in the snow and ice to get the shopping carts.
People who took shop [in school], we made them feel like a failure. Which is crazy, because your plumber makes more than your doctor. My son’s a union plumber.
I had a small farm up in Washington state. We were always doing something. My kids, when they were in grammar school, they thought I was a carpenter and that was at the height of Cheers. I was kind of proud of that.
—As told to James Sullivan
John Ratzenberger portrayed postal worker Cliff Clavin on Cheers, is the only actor to voice a character in every Pixar movie, and hosted the documentary series Made in America. Interview has been edited and condensed.