Of all the staff members at strip clubs, managers are second to the owners for negative stereotypes. To be honest, I have had a couple of rare, unpleasant encounters with the managers I’ve worked with as a stripper. They have a tough job when it comes to keeping staff, entertainers, and customers happy—not to mention the owners. But the stereotype of the uncaring and callous strip club manager, like most stereotypes of people who work in the strip club industry, tend to be overblown or completely unfounded.
I have worked with Eric for a few years on and off during my career. He started in the same market as I did, around the same time, so we’ve worked parallel for more than 20 years. But I didn’t actually know much about him. We sometimes worked in separate clubs, and when we worked together, we didn’t have a lot of interactions. That’s indicative of a good manager, because it means he didn’t have a lot of problems on his shifts.
One of the only really meaningful interactions we had was when I had an issue with a thief in the dressing room. After I had approached another manager who wasn’t interested in helping catch the thief, I complained to Eric. He and I did some Scooby Doo work and caught and fired the dancer who was stealing. So although I didn’t know him well, I trusted and respected him.
But that trust and respect didn’t really encompass who he was as a person. Recently when I came back to the club to dance for a brief feature appearance, I overheard a conversation he had with a newer dancer. His tone and comments struck me as kind and compassionate, a complete departure from the red-faced, overbearing and scuzzy strip club managers I’ve seen depicted on TV and in the movies.
The young lady seemed to be having a rough night, and I heard him explain to her how important it was for her to look after herself. He could have told her to suck it up and get back out there, as the stereotype dictates. But instead, he offered a genuine concern for her well-being with a disregard for the entertainment needs of the club.
A soft Catholic in the club
Eric grew up in the town that we worked in together. Raised with both of his parents, he grew up a soft Catholic and didn’t go to church much. But he did most of his schooling at Catholic schools until he finally entered a public high school. He started working right out of high school for a restaurant, which was owned by his friend’s parents. He worked his way up to restaurant management by the time he was 20.
“I was born and raised Catholic,” he said, “but my parents never bible-thumped me. They were Catholic, but didn’t go to church or anything. I don’t even know why they put me in Catholic school. But I had a good experience.”
The strip club that he works for opened in 1998, and his best friend was already working there. Eric was soon hired as a bartender. But he only tended bar for about two weeks before becoming the manager of what would turn out to be the top club in the area. To this day, it is still the top club in town.
Despite the sexual aspect of it, he always looked at it as a job. Even so young, the atmosphere didn’t faze him, and some of his friends already worked at the club, so it was just a normal place to be. At 23, while still working as a manager, he and a couple of his friends opened an ice cream business. Later, he opened a Hawaiian BBQ restaurant that he still owns and operates.
But like the other male strip club staff, dating can be tricky. As he got older, the stigma of his job became more of an issue, even though he was able to use his businesses as a cover.
“When I was single it was hard to date outside of here, for sure,” he said. “Talking to girls when I used to go out to bars and letting them know where I worked. It wasn’t a done deal, but they just faded out.”
Having a business gave him a front as he got older. So he has been able to avoid much of the judgment and misconceptions that he would if he didn’t have another job. Still, he is guarded about who he talks to about his job as a strip club manager.
“I’ve always used that as a front. I don’t tell everyone my business like at my kid’s soccer practice. I represent myself as a restaurant owner. Or sometimes a nightclub manager, but that opens up questions about where.”
One of the safest forms of sex work
When it comes to his overall opinion of strip clubs, he does see it as one of the safest forms of sex work. Because it is a legal form of sex work, it offers some protections that don’t exist in other types of sexual entertainment, though he is aware that not all clubs operate like this one. He is committed to making it a safe place for women, especially young women who may lack the experience to recognize when they might be in a bad situation.
“I don’t want to see any of my staff taking advantage of the girls in any way,” he said. “Lot of girls come in at 18 or 19 years old, and I feel like our job is to protect them. But seeing what the girls deal with on daily basis, hearing stories… We are a strip club so we don’t always get the best customers, but I know they have negative experiences. So I try to make it as easy and pleasant as possible.”
As a manager, he isn’t going to hear about the good customers. A large portion of his job is to handle situations where girls are dealing with difficult customers. That experience has made Eric acutely aware of the need to make sure that the entertainers he works with are in a good place emotionally. And the conversation I witnessed displayed that concern and compassion.
Telling a dancer to take time off when she needs to is so counterintuitive to what the manager of any business might say to a worker. Or a manager in any business. So, in this context, I found his words and tone touching. It is especially meaningful when you understand that the young woman he was talking to at the time was, for all intents and purposes naked. There were no sexual overtones or innuendos. There was only the genuine concern for another human’s well-being. And for Eric, that is one of the most important aspects of his job.
Overall Eric strives to make his club a safe environment. This industry can be dangerous, but also has many misconceptions about the people that work in it. Providing a safe place, can mean a safe place from the outside world that often doesn’t understand it. Men and women that work in the strip club can feel isolated from the outside world. Sometimes the only safety and compassion they have is in the strip club itself.
“My belief in life is to do the right thing. I believe that there is good in everyone. Working with thousands of girls, throughout the years. I don’t get close to all of them, but I look out for them.”
The club that Eric has spent his career at may be an anomaly in the world of strip clubs. But strip clubs in general revolve around the performers, and it is simply good business to make sure that they have an establishment where the women feel safe and comfortable. And Eric has done everything he can to make that a reality.
If Eric has any regrets, it is the same as many other entertainers and staff: he wishes he would have saved more of his money. Because the cash can come fast and often, it is easy to forget that it isn’t consistent. And that is an issue he sees within the industry today. Whether it is the current economy or just that adult entertainment is less taboo than it used to be, the money just isn’t what it used to be. Eric still sees stripping as a viable and relatively safe profession for women who want their independence from traditional employment.
“Some girls are still making decent money, but it is becoming less. But we don’t always here about the good customers. But we still have our girls as independent contractors so that should help.”
He sees it as a good option for those who want to work their way through school or to help start their own businesses. He has known many dancers who have done just that. Still he is concerned with some of the predators that lurk in the background waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of someone who may not know better. Which is why he focuses so much on creating a safe space for the dancers he works with and providing as much protection as he can.
While the club that Eric has worked in might seem like an outlier in terms of the safety and consideration it provides to its employees and entertainers, people like him are not. In fact, what I’ve seen throughout my own career is that this kind of taboo job attracts more kindness than not. Rather than create bitter and jaded individuals, it facilitates a type of connection and humanity that is rare for any business.