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.
Are These Clowns?
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.
are these clowns?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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!