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Rodeo clown loves entertaining crowd with self-deprecating jokes

July 14, 2017 Updated: July 16, 2017 at 8:12 am
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Rodeo clown Justin Rumford jokes with the crowd during the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Friday, July 14, 2017, at the Norris-Penrose Event Center. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette

Hiding in an aluminum barrel while a 2,000-pound bull is charging may sound like a horror story to some. But for Justin Rumford, it's a perfect night.

That is because Rumford is a professional rodeo clown.

"A couple hours a night, the world is perfect because you have your adrenaline pumping and you are doing something that you love," Rumford said. "There is nothing like it."

Nearly all year - 11 months to be exact - Rumford performs hundreds of shows around the country. He returned to the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo for the second time in his career, the first being 2012.

While Rumford is only in his sixth year as a clown, he has lived and breathed the scene for his entire life.

Rumford was born into a rodeo family. His grandpa opened a rodeo company in 1948. His father is college rodeo coach and his sister and brother have earned accolades as pro rodeo secretary and roping expert. Rumford earned some honors himself as a rodeo contestant as well.

Once Rumford began high school, he became a steer wrestler and he went on to the high school and college finals. But he never expected he would end up working as rodeo clown.

"I didn't know you could get paid for it," Rumford said.

Originally, Rumford attended graduate school studying business finance. While in graduate school, he started working for a guy who owned and raised rodeo stock - primarily bulls.

He attended a rodeo in Pretty Prairie, Kan., with his boss.

"The guy who was supposed to be the rodeo clown had a family emergency," Rumford said. "So, someone asked me if I wanted to try it and I said yes."

Rumford took quickly to roping fans and cracking jokes about himself. He made $1,000 that night and was hooked. So Rumford and his wife hit the road as he became a professional rodeo clown.

As a clown, your primary job is to be an entertainer after keeping cowboys safe. Luckily for Rumford, he was known to be a guy who busted jokes and loved to have a good time. People have compared him to the likes of Chris Farley and Kevin James.

"Oh, it's a fat guy," Rumford said jokingly on being compared to them.

But being a rodeo clown is one of the toughest jobs in the world, according to Rumford.

Rumford believes it is a difficult job because he is trying to make thousands of people think he is funny. There are thousands of different opinions on what is funny.

"I pride myself on not being too controversial," Rumford said. "But it doesn't matter what you do, wherever you go there is going to be someone upset about something. ... That's why I just try to make fun of myself. That way, it keeps everything on me and allows everyone to have a good time."

Since his career has expanded, Rumford schedules a year or two in advance.

During his six years as a clown, he learned his position is kind of like defensive coordinator of the event.

"There is a lot of play-calling," Rumford said. "Most of these bulls have a style just like how LeBron James has a style. Some of these bulls turn back left, some of them turn back right. Some of them are mean, some of them are not. You have to come up with a game plan for every bull."

Rumford knows this job won't last forever. But until he takes off his face paint for the final time, Rumford will enjoy and love what he does.

"If I could go back, I wouldn't go to college," Rumford said jokingly. "I love this job."

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