Dream Job: Rodeo Clown

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Dream Job: Rodeo Clown
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It may look like fun and games to the people in the stands, but this is serious business, and not just any clown can do it.
Who Are These Clowns?

They put themselves in the line of danger every time they go to work. With names like Shane, Flint, Cody, Scooter, and Tex, they evoke the nostalgia of the old west. If you're lucky, you might get to see them do the Ostrich Jockey, or Devil in My Barrel, or maybe Crazy Ambulance. They wear painted-on smiles and baggy britches. And they actually like it when people laugh at them, even as they risk their lives to protect others.

Who are these clowns?

The double life of rodeo's unsung heroes
It may look like fun and games to the people in the stands, but this is serious business, and not just any clown can do it. Between rides, the barrelman's job is to keep the crowd amused by bantering with the announcers and performing comedic skits that can include props, explosions, fireworks, clown cars, and sometimes lucky members of the audience. This part requires charisma, creativity, comic timing, and boundless energy.

But the real work - cowboy protection - begins the minute a bullrider enters the ring, hanging on for dear life. And this part requires nerves of steel, lightning reflexes, and a selfless devotion to someone else's well-being. It falls to the rodeo clown to distract the angry bull from its toppled rider so the cowboy can get to his feet and make it to the safety of a fence.

Into the barrel
Nowadays rodeo clowns have a little more technology in their corner, by way of an invention some years back by a bullfighter named Jasbo. The "clown lounge," as some call it, is made of heavy-gauge steel, weighs 175 pounds, and is lined with industrial foam rubber.

But just because a barrel protects the man inside doesn't mean it's invincible. Remember, these are 3,000- and 4,000-pound bulls. With horns. "I spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour after every show pounding out the dents with a five-pound mallet," says Scooter Culbertson, a Texas-based barrelman who's been involved with the rodeo since he was 16 years old.

"Its not whether you're gonna get hurt, it's when and how bad"
The job can be brutal, says Scooter. "And there's not an insurance company in the world that'll touch you." He should know: he's suffered 24 broken bones, three concussions, a dislocated jaw, and worse. One bull, after knocking him down, proceeded to "camp out" on top of him. It took a while to get him off, and when the dedicated performer tried to continue the show, somebody told him he was hurt. "I'm ok," he said, turning toward the arena. "No, no, man," the guy shouted. "Here's your ear!" He didn't get back into the ring that day.

Scooter sums it up this way. "It's a great feeling when the crowd applauds and appreciates your efforts. But the greatest is when the cowboys come to you and let you know how much they appreciate you being there for them night after night."

Rodeo clowns make perhaps $100 to $225 for a show, usually setting their own price based on travel expenses. The real money is at the national freestyle bullfighting competitions.

Rodeo clowns - who prefer to be called bullfighters - apprentice at local, small rodeos and at youth rodeo events. They may attend clown training schools, which hold training camps across the southwest and in Colorado, Montana, and Kansas - big rodeo states. Or they may start out as cowboys first, and become bullfighters later.

Coors sponsors a Man in the Can Award, a great honor to have on your clown resume. In addition, many rodeo clowns belong to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys' Association.

So if you yearn for the adrenaline rush of danger mixed with the roaring laughter of a crowd - and you don't mind getting knocked around a bit - paint your face, pick a nickname, get yourself some baggy pants...and dream on!

- Lauren Sheppard, Salary.com Contributor

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