Clowning Around: Harrison brings talents to Starkville

Rodeo clown John Harrison adds his hat to the finishing touches of his rodeo costume before the Starkville Rotary Classic Rodeo on Friday. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)John Harrison laces up his shoes before the Rotary Classic Rodeo (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)Rodeo clown John Harrison gets ready before the Starkville Rotary Classic Rodeo on Friday. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)Rodeo clown John Harrison adds his makeup to the finishing touches of his rodeo costume before the Starkville Rotary Classic Rodeo on Friday. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
By: 
Logan Kirkland
Staff Writer

The crowd’s eyes are all on John Harrison.

“There’s a kid whose parents are getting divorced and they ask the kid who do you want to live with,” Harrison said. “The kid says, well, I don’t want to live with my mom because she beats me, and I don’t want to live with dad, because he beats me too,” Harrison says. “Well, who do you want to live with then?

I want to go live with the Ole Miss Rebels, they don’t beat anybody,” he exclaims.

The crowd erupts in laughter. The joke was a slam dunk.

“Any time I look up and see someone laughing, it just throws gas on my fire and it makes me want to entertain more,” Harrison said. “I love it.”

Harrison has always grown up in the rodeo environment. His grandfather was a world champion bull rider and his parents were also involved in rodeo.

One night, Harrison at a young age, watched trick riders perform under the lights. Later that night, they came by their parents trailer and they offered to give Harrison his first lesson.

He was 5 years old.

“That’s what I want to do,” Harrison said. “That’s how it started.”

Starting off, Harrison was a specialty act, which included trick riding and trick roping.

Trick riding, involves defying riding norms and contorting his body to land a trick.

As for becoming the rodeo clown, Harrison said when funding for rodeos were cut, the first thing they cut were the entertainment acts.

“They always have a clown and so, I transitioned over into that deal and started it and here I am 15 years later still doing it,” Harrison said.

Before any rodeo, Harrison said the nerves begin to settle in. Harrison’s daily routine involves him washing his horses, eating a big and early lunch and stretching before getting ready for the big night.

“I had a guy tell me if you ever stop being nervous, you need to quit,” Harrison said.”You always have that urge to want to entertain and please, and if you ever lose it, then I feel like a guy probably should quit.”

He said the part he is most anxious about is making sure the jokes he tells, has the crowd eating out of his hands. He tells prepared jokes, ad libs with audience members and other one liners.

“It’s comedy that everyone there gets,” Harrison said.

As for his role during the show, Harrison said he is involved throughout the entirety of the night. Harrison sits inside of a padded Coors Light barrel, which is also used as an island of safety for any rider.

He said that way, if a person were to get bucked off toward the center of the arena, he can grab the handles, walk the barrel toward the bull and slap it to distract the bull.

“I’ll duck down and the bull hits me and give that cowboy the extra second and second and a half to make a run for the fence,” Harrison said.

GETTING READY

Harrison scrolls through his iPhone, searching for a playlist to get his mind right. He said this includes anything related to classic rock, or 80’s cardio music.

“I’m spinning the old school,” Harrison said.

Shedding the clothes he wore during the day, he prepares to rinse off in his tiny compact shower near the back end of his trailer.

Walking out of the steam-filled room, he walks over near his bed and pulls out his socks, shoes and knee braces. Harrison says he’s not superstitious, but there are a few things he always does before each night.

“I wear a blue sock and a red sock, but I don’t know what it is, but I always put on the blue sock first,” Harrison said.

With guitar rifts echoing throughout the trailer, Harrison gathers his materials to begin painting his face to resemble the famous rodeo clown.

He said every time he’s with his wife Carla, they joke about him wearing make up as often as he does.

“I wear more eyeliner than she does,” Harrison said laughing.

Adding the finishing touches to his make up, tightening his knee braces and completing his final stretches, he takes a deep breath and exists the trailer.

PERFORMING

When the rodeo begins, Harrison said he pretty much never leaves the arena floor.

“You never know where you’re going to see me from the arena floor, to up in the grand stands harassing people, all over,” Harrison said.

On Friday night, Harrison stole a woman’s scarf and pretended to fly off like a superhero.

The crowd ate that up, too. Harrison said the rodeo is the perfect event for a family.

“We joke it doesn’t matter if you’re six, 66 or 96 there’s something at rodeo for everybody,” Harrison said. “We try to entertain at all levels.”

For Harrison, he is not only telling jokes, but he is also trick riding as a comedy act. This involves banter between him and the announcer, which eventually brings him on the horse to perform a few tricks.

This act specifically, has won Harrison Act of the Year four times.

“It’s everything your mom and dad tells you not to do on a horse,” Harrison said. “From hanging upside down to running beside the horse.”

As the crowd watches Harrison closely, he does exactly what he said he would do. Harrison is upside down with his legs pointed straight in the air. He executes the trick flawlessly.

“When you leave, you want to leave feeling like you’ve delivered,” Harrison said “You want people wanting you back.”

RODEO FAMILY

Harrison always talks about the family mentality and camaraderie associated with those involved with the rodeo. He said there are some people he won’t see for three or four weeks and sometimes even for a year.

“You kind of pick up where you left off,” Harrison said. “You get together and have a beer and you share stories.”

In 2014, Harrison said he lost an 18-month-old child and the response from those he had been around was nothing like he expected.

People came from all over the country to Soper, Oklahoma, to show their support for his family. He said they even called weeks after to follow-up to see if there was anything they could do to help, even if it were just to talk.

“When you’re at the bottom, your rodeo family is there for you,” Harrison said.

For his family, Harrison said it has allowed him, his wife and four children to see and experience places all throughout the United States. They have gone to almost every national park and have seen many landmarks like Mount Rushmore.

“Rodeo opens doors in places that you wouldn’t believe,” Harrison said.

One experience Harrison shared was when he was in a rodeo in Maryland. A man walked up to him and asked if his daughter could pet some of the horses, so he took the man and his family to the back and gave them a tour of the grounds.

When the rodeo was finished, the man asked if he wanted to “do something fun.”

Harrison obviously said yes.

Turns out, the man worked secret service for then President Bill Clinton.

“He takes about eight of us to the White House at 2:30 in the morning for a private tour,” Harrison said. “We’ve got rodeo clowns and bull fighters going through the White House at 2:30 in
the morning, it was crazy.”

With the abundant stories and experiences, Harrison said he wouldn’t trade being a part of the rodeo scene with anything in the world.

He said he beyond excited to have this piece of entertainment in his life and heart.

“Rodeo is where it’s at,” Harrsion said “It’s truly a fun job.”

With Harrison’s 8-year-old son Caz with him every step of the way, sharing laughs and rope techniques,

Caz said he loves watching his dad perform because it pushes him to be just like him.

“That makes me want to do it right after him, so I can carry rodeo on,” Caz said.

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