When most people think rodeo, they think of bucking bulls and courageous cowboys. But there are also funny faces in the arena that the crowd always recognizes, the clowns.
During the 10 weekends of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, there will be eight different clowns/barrelmen entertaining the crowd, telling jokes, and performing during the rodeo.
The clowns vary in age from 32 to 56 and come from Utah, Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas. Most of the clowns have college degrees and other jobs in addition to making people laugh for a living.
John Shipley, president of the rodeo board, said the clowns are there primarily to round out the entertainment portion of the rodeo. Some clowns also act as barrelmen and help to divert the bull's attention away from the bull rider so he can get to safety.
"A good clown is someone who is aware of the crowd and situations around him and has some originality," Shipley said.
Originality seems to be the name of the game when it comes to a clown's moments in the arena.
"If you're just telling the same 1,000 jokes over and over, people begin to ignore you," Shipley said.
Troy "The Wild Child" Lerwill, a clown from Payson, Utah, knows just how to be original. Lerwill is nicknamed "The Wild Child" for a reason. Part of Lerwill's act includes a motorcycle stunt where he jumps a 60-foot ramp going about 50 mph. This act won Lerwill the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Comedy Act of the Year in 2003 and 2004. The award is the biggest achievement a clown can earn.
"It's a fun, out-of-control comedy thing," Lerwill said. "I love it."
Lerwill has been in the business for 14 years and enjoys being able to travel all over the country with his wife, Rebecca, and their dog.
"That dog has swam in three oceans,"
he said, "that's more then most people can ever dream of."
Jerry Hurst, a clown from Grantsville, Utah, is the first and last clown the crowds will see at this summer's rodeo series.
Hurst thinks the best part of being a rodeo clown is the children he meets.
"I love the kids because they are so easy to entertain and they make my job a blast," he said.
Usually after a performance, Hurst said the kids will rush him for autographs and to get involved in his performances.
Hurst has been wearing the same outfit and the same face makeup for 30 years. Hurst does his own makeup and has gotten so good he can do it in about five minutes.
"I don't like to admit that," he said.
Much of a clown's performance revolves around being funny, and most clowns get inspiration from comedians, magicians and day-to-day life.
Hurst gets most of his inspiration from circus clowns, even though the two clowns are different.
"Sometimes I'll get an idea, get out of bed, and write down my ideas hoping they'll work," Hurst said.
Being funny isn't usually enough when you're trying to appeal to a whole crowd of people.
Clowns have to be able to make a 5-year-old laugh and a 70-year-old laugh.
"The best comedy is true comedy," said Mark Swingler, a clown from Austin, Texas.
Swingler always has wanted to perform in Steamboat Springs, and this summer was his lucky season.
The last time Swingler was a ski trip in 1987.
"I imagine things have changed," he said.
Swingler estimates he will do 25 to 30 rodeos a year with a total of 150 performances.