It's not all clowning around

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While clowns may not be the only reason fans flock to the rodeo, they certainly are crucial ingredients in a memorable rodeo experience.

During the 10 weekends of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, there will be 11 different clowns/barrelmen entertaining the crowd, telling jokes and performing during the rodeo.

The clowns vary in age and come from all over the U.S. Some of the clowns have college degrees and other jobs in addition to making people laugh for a living, while some have dedicated their lives to being a clown.

John Shipley, president of the rodeo's board of directors, 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.

Jeff "Slim" Garner began "clowning" when he was 17 after spending years watching his father entertain rodeo crowds as a clown.

"I heard too many Wild West stories growing up. It all came natural to me," he said.

Garner, who is from Nebraska, said the rodeo clown lifestyle involves a lot more than putting on a red nose, big shoes and telling a joke or two. Rodeo clowns often spend five months on the road driving from state to state performing at different rodeos.

"I've been border to border, from coast to coast," he said.

Already this summer, Garner has performed in Arizona, Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Georgia and California.

He calls being a full-time rodeo clown "a paid vacation."

"To me, it's all about the people. I really enjoy entertaining people and watching them have a god time," he said. "I'll clown until it's not fun for me anymore."

Most rodeo clowns have distinct acts and shows.

"Every clown tries to have their own identity. There are very few that will duplicate what another clown does," he said.

Garner's own act is sure to please a crowd.

"Most of the stuff I do is loud, it blows up and it keeps people watching. I've got a barbecue grill that blows 100-feet in the air. I fish in the middle of the arena and usually I catch one," he said.

Keeping people watching is the hardest part of the job for most clowns, Nebraska-based rodeo clown Barry "Boom Boom" Johnson said.

"I try to do a show that appeals to a wide variety of folks because these days you're trying to target adults as well as their kids," he said.

Keeping an act current and family appropriate can be a challenge for rodeo clowns.
Johnson finds he has the most success when he is the target of his jokes.

"When I am having fun and the crowd is having fun, then we're having a good time."

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