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Side Hustle Series: I’m a Bouncer

by J. Money on Thursday, March 29, 2012

bouncer - bar

(Guest Post by fellow bouncer, Ryan, as part of our Side Hustle Series)

“Let’s go guys…drink ‘em up!”

For you social butterflies out there, I’m sure these are words you’re used to hearing at the end of the night when you’ve tied a good one on.   For bouncers like me, these words generally mean the end of a 50-60 hour work week.

This “side hustle” of mine has led me to all kinds of places; from hole-in-the-wall corner bars to busy and bustling clubs. What I’ve witnessed would have most people running for the hills, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed very much over the years.

My Background

Here’s a little background:  I’m a 28-year-old, single male who stands 6’5” and comes in at 240-245, depending on whether I had a protein shake or waffles for breakfast. (Yes, that was a shameless plug for a bachelor.)  After getting a liberal arts degree, I found myself hungry…not hungry in the sense that I needed to eat, but more in the sense that I wanted better than what I knew growing up.

My parents were (and still are) hard-working, industrious people. They are loving and fantastic providers. However, with not a college degree between them, there’s only so much they could do with two young children.  So after interviewing and being hired onto my first “big boy” job, I soon found myself looking for ways to supplement my income and earn some extra jack.  A friend took a look at me and said, “How would you like to bounce?”

How to Become a Bouncer

Every bouncing job I’ve ever come into has been through word-of-mouth and relationships. From what I’ve learned, this seems to be the case across the board. “Hey, I have a friend who runs a bar and he needs some security. You look like you can handle it. Whattya’ think?” If you don’t have any contacts starting out, you can usually find jobs by checking out online job boards too like Craigslist, or even just asking around the next time you go clubbing.

(Of course it goes without saying that you gotta have the guns. It also helps if people feel a bit intimidated just by looking at you.)

Some states also require training to obtain gainful employment in the field.  Both California and New York require all bouncers to be registered with the state and have taken the proper training courses.  I can’t say that I’m entirely informed as to what they entail though, as working in Ohio we just don’t have such a thing.   As long as you do not have a criminal past or any felonies, finding a bouncing job isn’t very difficult with the proper connections.  Aside from these connections, or simply being flat out asked, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of someone getting a bouncing job through any other avenue.

Bouncing Basics

So, what with crying girls, pumped up dudes and wacky waitresses, the world of bouncing can get pretty hairy. Bottom line, the job of a bouncer is to protect interests of the bar or establishment you work for.  It’s a pretty vague job description – and that’s on purpose.  Though there’s a list a mile long of unsafe behaviors that happen, what’s “against the rules” is pretty much up to the bouncer.

Successful bouncers are usually “big boys,” though I’ve worked with and seen men (and even a few women) that don’t fit the mold.  I’ve seen everything from amateur bodybuilders to a few “fat slobs.”  And as you might suspect, steroids are a bouncer’s drug of choice.  Generally I’ve noticed that unless you’re a needle-dicked meathead with no self-esteem, steroids add nothing to your abilities in the profession and usually do more harm than good.  Roid rage is real. I’ve seen it and it isn’t pretty.

I would strongly recommend that every bouncer have some type of training in hand to hand combat or martial arts.  The second week on the job I was involved in trying to break up a fight in the parking lot in which I was punched in the back of the head, tackled to the ground from behind, and as result fell victim to 3 or 4 lovely lads trying to kick my head into the pavement. (Believe it or not, aside from a wicked headache, I didn’t have a scratch on me!)  At that point I made the decision to join a local mixed martial arts gym and now have belts in judo, jiu jitsu, muay thai and have boxed with golden gloves and Olympic qualifying level boxers.  Needless to say, there have been very few situations since where I have found myself on the short end of the stick.  It’s an expense, but  a worthwhile one as you can absorb it into your normal budget for health and fitness needs too.

In addition to the physical chops, a firm but friendly, demeanor is best.  More often than not, I’ve found that if you can properly remind someone that what they are doing is outside of the acceptable rules and behavior of the establishment, they are generally pretty responsive and apologetic (and you won’t have a problem with them for the duration of the night).

Come Hell or Hot Chicks

hot chicks at bar
The ability to say no to a pretty face comes in handy when you spot a fake ID and a good looking girl says they would do “anything” to get in the bar. Lesser men would use their power to allow the babe to “do anything” to get into that bar, but I guess mama taught me well. You give an inch – and it’s a slippery slope from there.   So, I guess here’s where the ability to not think with your wiener comes in handy:  I can’t even count how many times I’ve turned away a hot chick (aka “kryptonite”)  who – had I not been working – would have been the first girl I would have hit on myself.  It’s a regular occurrence and it happens to me almost every shift!

Bouncing is all about clear boundaries. You gotta’ have a clear code of conduct and stick to it, come hell or hot women. And you need to be a man of action. It’s a yes or a no; maybe doesn’t cut it.

You also have to be a super hero who can see what others cannot. (It helps that they’re all drunk and you are as sober as a priest. Errrr, make that a nun.) The ability to judge and read people is an essential characteristic that every bouncer should have.   Personally, this is an ability that I had to learn.  The more I worked, the more I’ve learned what to look for in people in regards to body language and disingenuous bull$hit excuses for things.

The Evil-Demon Alcohol

Most people in a bar have had too much to drink. So, how do you identify someone who is over the top and heading for trouble?  Your “drunk-o-meter” becomes well -tuned. If someone can’t even stand in a line, or walk/stand up straight (or their head is down and most obviously vomiting), they are probably too drunk to continue safely staying in the establishment, and need to be escorted out.   What it boils down to is this: you have to have an uncanny ability to stay observant and sharp.  Not only will bouncers need to be able to read people, but they’ll also need to be aware of a myriad of other things, such as noticing people sneaking alcohol in from the outside, or little ladies passing out in a corner.

While I am a firm believer that every person has a right to defend themselves, and those around them, bouncers really do not have any more rights to physically engage with people than others do.  I’m sure there are a lot of you out there that instantly envision scenes from Roadhouse with Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott beating the $hit out of everyone in their paths, but that’s generally not the way those situations work in real life.

The ability to ignore and brush off insults is another absolute key for the job.   I have literally been called ever insulting and degrading name in the book, from f**king f*ck head, to asshole, to d-bag bouncer, to straight up being told I’m a terrible person. It’s amazing to me how incensed some people become when asked to show an ID to come into a bar that legally requires it. I find it comical that if you throw someone out of a bar for whatever reason, they stand outside the door of the establishment and talk trash to you and try to bait you into something further.  The best thing to do once you’ve escorted someone out is to turn around (as long as you’re sure you’re not going to blasted on the back of the head), and go back inside.

In all the times I’ve been around the block, I find that patience pays off most at the end of the night.  Whenever I go out, I certainly don’t make it a point to be the last one out the joint.  For some reason, a lot of today’s young party goers always seem to want to be the last one to leave, like it’s hip or trendy.  People generally get pretty mouthy at this point and when you tell them they need to drink their booze and leave, they tend to react pretty negatively – regardless of how nicely a manner it’s done in.  It’s a long and drawn out process to get people out of the joint.  Sometimes it ends up with having to literally pull drinks out of people’s hands, and other times everyone walks out shaking your hand, so you never know which way the chips are going to fall.

After midnight is when both your drunk-o-meter, and patience, needs crank up a notch and you need to become a little more tuned in to what’s going on.  Most bouncers that have been around for awhile know that this is a magical hour.  People don’t turn into pumpkins, but instead vomiting and rambunctious jackasses.  After midnight I have seen tons of things happen.  The very first person I ever threw out of a bar was because I found him urinating in a corner not too far from where I was posted up. In his barley pop induced haze, surprisingly he was extremely calm and understanding as I walked him out of the place with urine dribbled all over the front of his cargo shorts.  I’ve also seen domestic abuse, fights between patrons, and most recently have been assaulted by a woman after being an absolute sweetheart to her.

How Much You Can Make Bouncing

neon alcohol money
As many of you would imagine, a lot of how much you can make as a bouncer depends on the establishment, and the owners of the establishment you work for.  Many places you work are most likely going to pay you only in cash. I’ve made anywhere from $7.75 an hour to work at some crazy and dangerous nightclubs, to making a good $90 a night at the current bar I bounce at now – which actually has me on payroll due to insurance reasons. So I get paid $180 every two weeks, and I don’t have to worry about the taxes either since they’re automatically taken out.

Up until September I had an additional job working for another bar too, where they paid me nightly in $50 cash, including tips… not much considering I would drive there after an eight hour work day at my full time job, and then stay until closing time (which was usually about 3am). I’ve since stopped this 2nd bouncing job of mine, and now usually only work on Saturdays and the occasional Thursday or Friday.   Based on some rough estimates I’ve done, I’d say I’ve cleared about $6,200 last year.

There are certainly plenty of other ways to increase the amounts you make each night too, but 99% of them are both immoral and highly illegal – so we won’t get into them at all here (And I can honestly say I don’t participate in them anyways, not worth the trouble).  I will say though, that at the end of the night there’s generally an opportunity to comb the floor for bills dropped by drunken patrons.  I once found a $100 bill which was great since I had been in the midst of an 18 month stretch of unemployment! So if you’re lucky, maybe you can scrounge up some extra cash that way too…

In Closing (Time)

All in all there are both good and bad sides to every bouncing job you’ll come across. How many of you can actually say that you’ve drank on the job or gotten laid as a direct result of being at work?  On top of that, there’s a ton of earning potential as there are constant needs to fill shifts and pick up extra work – which also means plenty of late hours, hassle, and personal sacrifice. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to turn down invitations to go out and have fun with friends because I had to go into work last minute. Some nights you’re a rock star, and others you’re the absolute most hated man in the establishment.  Either way it goes, you have to be ready, willing and able to embrace it.

For the most part I’d say that my bouncing experience has been a pretty positive one as I’ve never been hospitalized or sued.   Some might say I’m lucky, but in my humble opinion, I feel that this is reflection of both my people skills and my abilities as bouncer.    I welcome all of you who think you have the stomach, fortitude, and personal motivation to perform this job and give it your best shot!

————–
Guest Post by Ryan – a 28 year old male, living and working both full and part time in the Greater Cleveland area.  He has been a bouncer for the past 6 years.  The job has seen him through life’s highs and lows, and at one point 3 bouncing jobs were the only thing keeping him afloat. You can check out his weekly encounters at his new blog, Bouncer Manifesto.

If you’ve got an interesting side hustle to share, let us know!

(Photos by amatern, Mixxula, and sebilden respectively)


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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Frugal Fries March 29, 2012 at 6:55 am

This is the coolest side gig ever! Too bad for me, I’d be the worst bouncer ever.

Do ever get pooled in on the bartenders tips? I feel like you should be making more for such a risky job! Not through immoral means, of course, but a higher hourly wage or bonus or something.

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2 Ryan March 29, 2012 at 7:32 am

@frugalfries….thanks for being the first one to leave a comment my friend. : ) Getting tips really depends on where your working at and what your doing. For the most part you won’t get tipped out being a bouncer. Some places I’ve worked did so though, but of course you have to do things like clean tables and take out trash. Being under payed is a sad reality that most bouncers face for going out there and putting our *sses on the line weekened after weekend.

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3 Marianne March 29, 2012 at 7:54 am

‘You gotta’ have a clear code of conduct and stick to it, come hell or hot women.’ Now that is something to live by!
:)
Great article- we’ve had friends that were bouncers and my husband had considered it at one point but now that we have more of a family life the hours wouldn’t work out so well. Pretty cool way to get a bit of the bar scene while being paid instead of spending though!

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4 Rachel March 29, 2012 at 8:15 am

Great article! I have no interest in bouncing, and I was captivated! I found that you gave great life advice too- I was really impressed by your strong code of ethics. Awesome post!

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5 Christopher @ This That and The MBA March 29, 2012 at 8:41 am

That is awesome. I am 6’4 and have always wanted to get into the bouncing profession. I even know some bar owners but never took that initial step. Interesting from the perspective of a bouncer aound my age.

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6 Brian March 29, 2012 at 9:30 am

Pretty sweet article… How do stay awake after working a normal full time job? I have a second job and there are days it is a struggle to work those extra 4 hours and that job ends at 9!

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7 Einstein March 29, 2012 at 9:49 am

This is really cool for people with the build to do it. I’m afraid I might be too short and thin to be a bouncer. Dreams are crushed!

I’m curious about the insurance purposes that you talked about. Is that just for their general liability (ie, not losing their shirt if someone sues you for breaking up their fight) or is it intended to cover your health, too? You know, the pay sounds pretty good at the higher-end places, but not if you risk $10,000 medical bills every time you go to work. How does this work out?

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8 Jon B March 29, 2012 at 10:02 am

This was really well written; good article!

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9 Ryan March 29, 2012 at 10:02 am

@Brian- it’s a struggle some nights sir. Generally a tall sugar free monster and a tin of dip gets the job done my friend (yes it’s a terrible habit I know haha). Making the extra jack and the fact that I was to a point where I didn’t know how I was going to feed myself due to unemployment a little over a year ago is pretty motivating too ; )

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10 Ryan March 29, 2012 at 10:18 am

@Einstein- its for liability purposes only, so bars/bar owners/employees can be covered in case some type of jackassery occurs and someone gets sue happy. In regards to the risk; any and every bouncer needs to realize that there is some involved….this is why you can’t go hauling off and hitting people on a whim. If you have the proper training, chokes and joint manipulations will not leave marks……..just sayin

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11 B. (Below Her Means) March 29, 2012 at 10:46 am

Love this post and the personality behind it. He seems like a solid guy who never abuses his power.

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12 jeff@bailout March 29, 2012 at 11:31 am

As I’ve almost always been on the other side of the bar, I’ve developed quite a distaste for bouncers over the years. Maybe its only a hallmark of the seedier clubs but I’ve seen more than a few bribes offered and accepted by bouncers over the years, both sexual and monetary. In an attempt to make money without turning away affluent customers from a crowded club, owners will often order their bouncers to arbitrarily show none drinking club-goers to the door to make way for drink-buying customers. Because nightclubs and bars are self-policing for the most part, bouncers have the perfect excuse to be a bully if they are so inclined. A friend of mine was thrown off the roof a nightclub, shattering his left leg, for no other reason than that he drunkenly stumbled into a bouncer.

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13 jefferson March 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

Really great article, Ryan..
You seem like a great dude.

I am surprised at how little the pay is, really.
I would think you would want more to put yourself in harm’s way, night after night.

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14 Ryan March 29, 2012 at 11:47 am

@jeff- sorry to hear about your friend bro. It’s more or less my nature to give everyone a fair shot and use words before I lose my temper. It sounds to me that your runs ins are with bush league, amatuer morons who feel they’ve got something to prove by beating on people. There’s definetly a fair amount of guys out there who will let people slide if the price is right….. they’re idiots and should have they’re @sses kicked themselves, because its a total dereliction of their duties and not right either in my opinion

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15 Christa March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Very interesting, but I’m sorry to say I’d be a terrible bouncer. I’m a 5’5″ pregnant woman…not usually the makings of a sucessful bouncer. Although, depending on who you ask, pregnant ladies can be super-intimidating….I think I found my new side hustle!

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16 J. Money March 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm

HAH! I bet, Christa ;)

@jeff@bailout – I’ve gotten pushed around too before from nasty bouncers – mainly cuz I “looked” like a trouble maker sporting the ‘hawk ;) For the most part though as long as I just walked away or didn’t talk back, it never got TOO bad at any point in the night. But yeah – some bouncers are complete dicks.

And Ryan, thanks again for spending the time to write this up and share it with us today – really enjoyed it :) No one really knows this, but this post was a page or two even longer and had some pretty juicy stuff in it, haha… Hopefully Ryan shares it on his blog so y’all can get an even DEEPER feel for some of the craziness that comes about from bouncing… if this site weren’t so family-friendly lately, I’d have left a cple of the bits in! ;) But big thanks again man, was super interesting getting a more inside look at bouncing here. Keep on making that money!

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17 Ryan March 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm

J$- Anytime brother…..I can’t thank you enough for providing me the opportunity to get some of my story out there. There’s alot more to it too, so anyone interested in knowing more, please don’t be shy

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18 Rachael March 30, 2012 at 8:13 am

This was really interesting! Here in the UK bouncers have to be accredited and have background checks, and I believe the pay starts at £10 an hour. Working as a barmaid I’ve seen at least two bouncers get arrested for losing their temper and getting a bit too rough with drunks, it definitely depends on the bouncer’s personality though and they do a really important job.

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19 Lauryn Doll March 30, 2012 at 9:32 am

This was a great post!

My brother was a bouncer and I heard he had some interesting stories after the club closed as well. My overall frame (5’4″ and even at my heaviest, I’m not “BIG GAL” intimidating) doesn’t set me up to make a good bouncer. He’s like 6’2″ …

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20 Ryan March 30, 2012 at 11:18 am

Size most certainly does not add up to one’s entire ability to be a bouncer…..assertiveness, personality and people skills will go alot farther in my humble opinion. The ones who act like idiot bullies are ones who end up in trouble

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21 Evan March 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I would literally make the worst bouncer…I would probably drink too much and fall prey to the hot chicks who would want to get in despite being under 21…

Coolest part about the post is that you see it as a means to an end, not as a full time gig. I could see it being easy to get stuck in the rut despite the low pay (albeit a lot in cash) and off hours.

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22 Ryan March 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Haha Evan they most certainly are easy to fall victim to and admittedly I certainly have before. However, I’m past that point and it’s more to a point where I just tell them gtfo out of the bc thy’re holdin my line up

There most certainly is an end to all of it for me, and I’m hoping that it’s sometime before I turn the big 3-0. It’s the hand I’ve been dealt right now, and if it’s the only hand I’ve got, then I’m gonna play it

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23 Darrell @ Debt and Buried March 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I would end up owing the bar money, too.UnlessI just drank the remnants from peoples glasses on the easy out.

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24 Ryan March 31, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Lol Darrell that’s why it pays to have people skills……you can drink free and make money at the sametime (depending on where you work) . However I most certainly would not recommend that it become and every shift occurrence bc it will interfere with your judgement. I get offered drinks just about every time I work, but usually politly turn them away : )

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25 David Hunter April 1, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Cleveland Rocks!! I guess I’m a little bias since I live in greater Cleveland.

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26 Bret @ Hope to Prosper April 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm

That was a great post Ryan. Thanks for sharing.

A man with your talents should be making a lot more money than you do bouncing. I’ll bet you could get a private security detail and make a good living, without babysitting drunks.

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27 J. Money April 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Ooooooh I like that idea… Have you looked into that before, Ryan? I bet you could make a lot more that route, and even work for some pretty awesome celebs too.

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28 Ryan April 2, 2012 at 10:55 am

David- Agreed sir!

J$ and Bret- It is a great suggestion and I most certainly have looked into it. It usually involves a concealed carry license, something which I don’t currently have. Unfortunatly I haven’t been able to work that cost into the budget : /. I know guys that have done it and talked to them extensively about it, and it has it’s ups and downs just like working at the bars does

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29 Ryan April 4, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Hey guys I just wanted to say thanks so much for all the feedback and kind words. This has been such a fun and uplifting experience and J$ is probably one of the best and most positive dudes I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across my life.

J- thanks again brother, through your encouragment and providing me a platform you’ve inspired me to move forward with the book idea I’ve been tossin around for a little while. Keep an eye out for it guys…I’m not finished just yet. : )

Keep stackin that change and don’t forget to tip your bartenders and waitresses this weekend

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30 J. Money April 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Awesome!! That’s wonderful man, you better let us know when it’s published so we can go out and buy it! Can’t even imagine the stuff that’ll go into it considering we cut out a lot of the more juicy stories, haha… keep on giving bouncers a good name! :)

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31 Tyler Kontakos March 24, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Really cool article. I’m 18, and about to get out of HS. After five years of wrestling and a year of boxing, I think a job as a bouncer would be really convienient for my plans for future training and maybe a career in MMA– ya know, training during the day and working at night– and this was a very informative read. Thanks!

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32 Tyler Kontakos March 24, 2014 at 5:11 pm

I just noticed… my former comment may sound a bit off-putting. I didn’t list my training credentials as a way of strutting and sounding tough, just tossed them out there as to show I’d be capable of defending myself. I’m honestly a very calm and relatively personable guy,and I think those qualities would help me on the job more than anything.

Also, after reading this, I would almost definately pick up a book written by the author of the article on the subject.

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33 J. Money March 24, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Haha…. no problem at all, brotha – your comments/thoughts were perfectly sound :) You should like you’d be great at this gig!!

I should actually ping the author of this and see how he is… haven’t chatted with him in years and also interested if he pushed out a book.

Thx for chiming in.

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34 Ryan March 24, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Tyler, you basically fit the mold of everything that a bar owner/manager would look for in security staff. So attitude and self control do play a large part in it. Law suits in the biz are real, and they aren’t pretty either

I can only speak for Ohio, but as far as I know, bouncing isn’t like serving at a bar. You need to be of legal age in order to work the doors. If you’re training at an MMA or boxing gym, my suggestion is to ask around there. You’ll usually find a bouncer or 2, hanging around, honing their craft. Maybe someone can pull some strings for ya. Thanks for taking the time to read, and best of luck brother.

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35 Bryce August 30, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Hey, I’m kinda of big and my martial arts come out when i get angry and they usually shock te hell out of people when i do it, even by accident. All self-taught ;) and I was curious as my talent is to be in the way, physically and mentally. People say I’d make a great linebacker or a great salesman. At my job today I got said that I’d be a good salesman. So, I was curious as I weigh 230 lbs, half fat/half muscle and can punch through a stud through a wall. lol. Would I be good at a bouncing job?

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36 Ryan October 8, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Sorry man….I don’t get out and read like I used to. I’ve been cooped up writing this memoir. I’m not a man to tell anyone they should or should not do something. However, my advice to you is that is If your first reaction is punch, kick or incapacitate someone with some kind of choke or joint lock, I’d say no. Stay at home on your couch, you’ll spend more time filling out police reports and running to court dates because your being sued.

If you think you can talk more people down with words than with actions, then give it a shot. What do you have to lose?

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