When Aisha Russell, 33, showed up to a duplex on New York City's posh Upper East Side this past year, she expected a regular three-hour cleaning job. Instead, she found herself face-to-face with Mimi, a show pig who continually scoured for food and made a mess around the areas where Russell was trying to work.
Russell is one of 55,000 active "taskers" for TaskRabbit, an online marketplace for contract labor that launched in 2008 and now operates in 18 U.S. cities and London. It is just one of many sites, including Handy, Zaarly, and Thumbtack, that help power the gig economy.
Taskers set their own hourly rates and advertise them on their profiles. They can then seek out jobs or respond when others reach out to them.
While handyman jobs, cleaning, moving and personal assistance work make up the majority of postings on the site, every so often a surprising one comes along, like the one Russell took on.
CNBC interviewed several freelance taskers around the country to find out more about the most unexpected things they've been paid to do. Below are some of those stories, as told by the workers themselves.
Davette See, 58, Los Angeles, CA
440 tasks completed
In February 2015, Davette See was hired by a woman living in the San Francisco Bay area to impersonate her at a birthday party in the Los Angeles area. The woman posting the job could not attend and wanted See to go in her place – to act as her. Though See looked nothing like the woman who posted the job (See is African-American and several years older than the client), she went for it.
As a former actor, See was enthralled with the job listing. "Oh I'm getting that one," See remembers thinking.
See prepped for the role as she had done with her former acting roles. "I learned about her and her friends and how she dressed and I dressed up as her so-to-speak," See says. "I started saying things to the birthday girl like, 'Oh my god, remember that day we did this,' and she just — she just cracked up."
Another time, See was hired by a man to drop off items belonging to his ex-girlfriend after a recent break-up. He needed to return them and wasn't comfortable doing it himself.
"I just thought, "Oh god. Don't let her be home," See recalls. Luckily for See, the ex wasn't.
These days See mostly does deliveries, video edits, and photography, but she still gets excited when unusual jobs pop up.
Katie Zechar, 29, Berlin
Worked for TaskRabbit in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2012-2015
Katie Zechar was hired in 2013 by a medium-sized tech start-up to come in and pretend to be an employee while a high-up VP was in town for the day. "A lot of people were either out sick or on vacation and they needed just more bodies in the office," Zechar says.
Zechar kept busy typing data into an Excel spreadsheet — fulfilling a completely different TaskRabbit job for a different company. "I really lucked out with that," she says.
When 5:00 PM rolled around, Zechar joined the employees for beer. She went home with approximately $100 for her work that day.
Another time, in 2015, while doing various tasks for the 2015 annual conference for New Relic, a software analytics company based in San Francisco, Zechar was tasked with steam-cleaning singer-parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic's costume before his concert at the famed venue The Fillmore.
"I steam-cleaned all of his clothes and all of his bandmates' clothes," Zechar says. "The wildest range of outfits you could imagine were in there."
For $25 per hour, she cleaned close to 100 items of clothing in around 2.5 hours.
(While CNBC didn't verify with Weird Al that his clothes were steamed, he looked very good on stage.)
Zechar also has served as a character in a scavenger-hunt marriage proposal and conducted phone surveys on behalf of a food delivery app.
Sam Ridley, 29, New York City
316 tasks completed
As a mic runner, Ridley sat inside the room where the conference was being held and listened in on the various speeches. He met international education expert and advisor Sir Ken Robinson and got to escort Robinson into the building. Ridley earned $25 per hour for the job.
One of Ridley's more bizarre tasks was playing with a five-pound Chihuahua while its owner sat nearby seam-stressing pants for a dance show she was working on. Ridley's role was to distract the dog, who was in great need of attention. For two hours, Ridley played with the pet, chatted with the owner and watched TV. "It was fun," Ridley says. And Ridley made $51.
Aisha Russell, 33, New York City
191 tasks completed
Aisha Russell is a teacher-by trade who left her nine-to-five job last July when she realized that by freelancing through TaskRabbit she could cover her rent.
In addition to cleaning a New York City apartment around a pig (which was apparently in town just for the day and normally resides in its owner's upstate country house), Russell chops vegetables for a family on a weekly basis after the produce arrives from the CSA.
Russell was hired so the parents could spend more time with their toddler. "They say the hour that I come every week just saves their lives," Russell says. She makes $30.
Through TaskRabbit, Russell has done catering work for a wedding where the groomsmen were writers on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and worked as a server at a private listening session for Andra Day.
Despite the humor and intrigue inherent in many of the tasks, the TaskRabbiters CNBC spoke to see their role's larger importance and value.
"People's lives have different — different things happen and people need a random person that they can trust to come and assist them," Ridley says.
"It's just made those types of common tasks that people don't feel like doing or they don't want to do — they are now able to hire someone at a reasonable rate," Russell adds.