Penny hasn’t had too many jobs on The Big Bang Theory. She started as a woman on a mission trying to become a professional actress. While she was going on auditions, she was a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory to make ends meet. There have been plenty of jokes and plotholes about Penny’s ability to pay her bills, but things got better for her when she became a pharmaceutical sales representative.
Penny didn’t love “flirting with doctors for money” but it was a job that could get her out of debt. After working in sales for a few years, she switched to a public relations position before being promoted to Head of Sales (with a little help from Bernadette). Penny quickly became one of the highest-paid characters in the show after being one of the poorest.
The Lead Role In Serial Ape-Ist (1 & 2): Under $10,000
When viewers first meet Penny, she’s a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory. She’s had a few minor acting roles under her belt, but none that launched her off to stardom. One of her only acting roles — and one she was humiliated by — was in a low-budget movie called Serial Ape-ist. In the film, Penny is the lead actress who is on the run from a killer gorilla. A few years later, the director decided to create a sequel called Serial Ape-ist II: Monkey See, Monkey Kill.
It’s unclear how much Penny was paid to do the first movie but she told Leonard she was getting paid less than what she made at The Cheesecake Factory. Pay in low-budget films can vary from a couple of hundred dollars a day to thousands. However, knowing how bad the movie was, and the fact that Penny was fired, there’s no way she made more than $10,000 from this role.
The Lead Role In A Hemorrhoid Commercial: $1,000-50,000
After years of living in California and working as a struggling actor, Penny was ready to drop everything and move back home to Nebraska. But as luck would have it, her agent called her to give the news that she landed a national commercial for hemorrhoid cream.
Penny truly thought she was on her road to stardom. Different factors contribute to how much an actor gets paid for national commercials (how long they’re on set, the residuals, if they have to travel, if they have speaking lines, etc…). Some actors are paid $1,000 for their time while others can be paid up to $50,000 based on how often the commercial is played and what brand it is. This commercial didn’t make Penny’s career but it appeared to help her financially.
Waitress At The Cheesecake Factory: $27,000-33,000
Penny was a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory for seven years. She finally made the decision to quit in “The Occupation Recalibration” to spend more time focusing on acting. Sheldon supported Penny’s decision to put everything she had towards her passion while Leonard thought it was low-key foolish. How was she going to pay her bills?
Penny was likely making anywhere from $27,000 to $33,000 based on her hourly wage, tips, and how many shifts she worked. Living outside of Los Angeles is not cheap. It’s safe to assume that most of Penny’s paycheck went straight to bills. After all, she was living in a beautiful apartment building where senior scientists at Caltech lived. She wouldn’t have had the money for much else.
PR For Zangen: $55,000-100,00
While Penny was doing pharmaceutical sales for Zangen, she didn’t love her job and wanted to do something more. When a public relations opportunity opened up within the same company, Penny was hoping to merge from pharmaceutical sales to PR. She even had the opportunity to tour around Bill Gates!
If Penny decided to stop doing sales and focus on PR alone, she would take a pay-cut. In sales, Penny would have made commission and bonuses for hitting her goals while PR doesn’t work the same way. However, doing PR for a popular pharmaceutical company like Zangen could still come with a sizable paycheck. PR professionals make anywhere from $55,000-70,000. However, working for a pharmaceutical company could come with an even higher salary.
Pharmaceutical Sales Rep. For Zangen: $100,000+
In “The Fortification Implementation,” Penny and Leonard take park in Wil Wheaton’s podcast. While on the show, Penny and Leonard get into a disagreement over Penny quitting her successful job as a pharmaceutical sales rep to go back to acting. In the midst of the argument, Penny told Leonard that she made “twice” what he was making as an experimental physicist at Caltech.
If that’s true, Penny is likely making anywhere from $100,000-300,000 thanks to her commission and being one of the top salespeople in the country. This job also comes with incredible perks like paid vacations, bonuses, and free goods.
Head Of Sales For Zangen: $173,000+
Penny didn’t like sales but she was a natural at it. With her good looks and charm, she was able to sell anything. Knowing how good she was at her job, Bernadette promoted her to Head of Sales for a drug she was creating. It took a few days for Penny to accept the job but once she did, she realized it was a natural fit.
Being in charge of sales for a medication created by a big-time pharmaceuticals brand most likely came with a hefty salary. When Penny’s team did well, she did well. The head of sales in pharmaceuticals can start around $170,000 a year. And that’s not including any bonuses. Penny may have wanted to do PR, but her best earning potential is sticking with Bernadette as head of sales.