“The hardest part to learn about being a rodeo clown,” my partner Gerald Barnhart used to say, “is to be a cowboy-saving bullfighter. After you do it awhile, you don’t even think about it. When a bullfighter gets in a wreck, it becomes natural to go in to save him.”
One night when we were working a rodeo, a cowboy got down. Gerald made his pass, darting between the helpless cowboy and the bull’s horns to attract the animal to him. He stiff-armed the bull’s head in passing. Swamp Rat, the bull, threw up his head and knocked the clown flying. Before I could get to him, Swamp Rat hooked Gerald once in the butt, followed by a short cross to the belly, then landed a knockout punch that sent the clown plowing across the arena. By then I was there to draw the bull away.
Other than working the bull riding, clowns also keep the audience lively and entertained. We had a monkey puppet controlled by wire. It drank beer, break-danced, and lay out in the arena and twitched whenever a bull ran over it. You always heard gasps from the audience.
“Did you see what they did to that poor monkey?”
At one show, during a bull ride, Barnhart ran up behind me with his broom and propped me up with it. I went along with the gag.
“Don’t move,” he whispered.
The bull was Old OO. While he always ran at our dummy in the arena, he had never hit it. So, I stood there like a fool leaning back on the broom with my arms stuck out. Old OO ran at me. Then he swerved aside.
“Hey-y-y, Wayne,” Gerald called out to the announcer. “Did you see that? I got me two dummies.”
We used the act from then on with Old OO. It always set spectators on the edges of their seats.
But always behind the jokes and antics, the baggy pants and the grease paint of the rodeo funny man is a serious side—the “cowboy saving” bullfighter who takes his lumps to keep fallen riders from taking theirs.
One night during a lull in the action Gerald was telling a joke about a bull being Mexican since it looked like he had sat down in guacamole. About that time the bull exploded into the arena. He was a spinner. There was a wreck and the bull jumped into the middle of the hapless cowboy.
Gerald made his pass to distract the bull. I made my pass. I could smell the bull as he got off the cowboy and began passing back at the clowns. I was going to grab his tail. Later it dawned on me. Say you grab a 1,500-pound bull by the tail, what do you do with him then?