Rodeo Clown

by Flint Rasmusen

After a long red-eye flight and two connections somewhere in the middle of the night, I woke up in St. Louis, Missouri. Sunday morning was day two of PBR’s (Professional Bull Riding) U.S. Border Patrol Invitational, and this event was held at The Enterprise Center located in downtown St. Louis. PBR started in 1992 and was officially declared the fastest growing sport in America. Unlike most rodeos that include the seven traditional events (bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, tie-down and team roping), PBR is strictly bull riding. As they’ve stated, the concept is simple enough… “Match the World’s best bull-riding athletes against the toughest animal athletes on the planet in an 8-second man versus beast duel.” That’s the time they need to hit, 8 seconds. Sounds quick until you’re watching the rider being thrown in the air and jolted in every direction, 8 seconds suddenly never felt so long. The cowboys compete against one another all season long in hopes of attaining the year-end title of PBR World Champion. This is America’s original extreme sport.

I arrived at Enterprise Center a few hours early where I had the pleasure of meeting bull riding’s most famous rodeo clown, Flint Rasmussen. At 52 years old, he is still known for putting on the most entertaining and engaging show full of dancing and singing. But before he steps into the arena, I got the chance to sit down and talk to the man behind the makeup. No costume, no clowning around, just Flint.

“Don’t leave that jacket anywhere. Someone will take it.” On my way to the stadium, I had thrown on a white oversized bomber I found at a little outdoor market in Italy over a year ago. I have no idea why I even bought the thing. It was three sizes too big, and across the back read “NFR 1985 NATIONAL FINALS RODEO, Las Vegas, Nevada.” I had no connection to it, but I figured what better time to break this bad boy out. In hindsight, I’m convinced this jacket is the only reason Flint and I are still friends today. Everyone that passes me stops to look at my jacket and explains to me the importance of that particular rodeo to their career. Some- how, is resonates with everyone. Come to find out, 1985 was the first time the NFR was held in Las Vegas, Nevada (at The Thomas
& Mack Center) 
and this rodeo has since been an integral part of the success story for Las Vegas. Over time the city has changed, and along with it, the population has grown enormously. That first year was special, every rider of the 1985 World Champions went on to become a ProRodeo Hall of Famer. The riders and cowboys still reminisce how incredible that year was; everything was new and different and exciting when they moved to Vegas. Seven Time World Champion Team Roper, Jake Barnes, recounts, “When we went to Vegas, they treated the cowboys like stars. They made a big deal out of us. The different hotels hosted the cowboys in different events. The hotel rooms were free, and the prize money was incredible compared to what it had been.” It was the beginning of a
new era when the Finals moved to Vegas in 1985. A new page, a new chapter in rodeo history. Soon, Flint and I make our way to the locker room so he could get ready for today’s competition… “Well Ash, you sold me with that jacket…”

“So, my family was in rodeo. My dad was a rodeo announcer, my brother is a rodeo announcer… I grew up kind of behind the scenes of rodeo. I didn’t grow up as a ticket buyer, I grew up on the steps of an announcer stand… which means I looked at everything from backstage. I knew the people that put on rodeos. You know… it was small you gotta understand, not like this!” Flint looks around, gesturing at the room we were sitting in. The stadium is pretty impressive. Enterprise Center is an 18,096-seat arena, and is usually occupied by the likes of the NHL St. Louis Blues, NCAA basketball, concerts and more. To be here, seeing the stadium before it fills with a crowd of fans, feels pretty incredible.

“I grew up going to small rodeos in Montana,” Flint continues, “that’s where my dad was working. In the dust and the mud. I grew up watching and listening to my dad, to the timing of shows, and watching the rodeo clowns. I never really wanted to do it…. but it was ingrained in me! So, I knew everything about it. I competed for a little in high school, just because my family did it… roping and such. I was actually an athlete. I played football, basketball, and track… but at the same time, something unusual, especially in today’s high school world… I was also in the all-state choir… and I was in school musicals! Now, I was at a small high school in Montana you know, but still! I was an athlete and also into music and drama. My brother, sister and I sang. Music was a big part of me. So I had the athletic deal but loved to be on stage at the same time…. Now, all that has done this! I took things I was okay at and combined them!”

“When I was about 19 years old I was sitting around with my dad and brother, and I was talking about rodeo clowns (the funny ones, not the bullfighters). There was this template, this blueprint, of what rodeo clowns did… jokes they told… and I was just like, I think it could be different. They kind of dared me to do it… so there was a little rodeo in Montana my brother was work- ing… he called them up and said Flint wants to do this, he wants to come to entertain the crowd! They knew us, they trusted our fam- ily, and they knew me. So I got hired and started to do little rodeos. Anyway, it developed into my summer job through college. Then I got a teaching job after college and it was still my summer job! I could be a school teacher and then work rodeos in the summer. I did that for two years and was just getting more and more phone calls. So I tried it full time, which was pretty lean for a few years,” Flint says laughing. “Then it took off! So I had a career in actual Rodeo! I did everything I wanted to do in rodeo. But this isn’t rodeo you know… this is PBR. A rodeo is all the events but this is just bull riding. PBR was just getting started at the time…. so as far as ground floor production, I was doing a lot and involved in a lot of it. Being involved in the production side of things here at PBR, I can really speak up. You’re ingrained in the production, instead of just stepping in. Well, it has really grown! So in 2006, I signed an exclusive contract with PBR, and I don’t do full rodeos anymore.”

CAYENNESo what has been the big difference for you between doing PBR vs Rodeos?

FLINTI fly everywhere now… instead of driving. I used to drive. My family and I and a big motor home. You’re in one spot for a long time, then you drive to the next one. The difference is that summers were on the road. We’d be on the road a month at a time, but the whole family was there. My kids were little, so it was fun! We never went on vacation because we travelled all summer. With this, it’s different. I fly here on Friday, I’ll fly back out on Monday, then I’ll go home to Montana and do it all again. Which sounds…. easier? But it’s completely different. So… yeah, it’s just different.

CAYENNEHow is it being out of town so much?

FLINTI always say… it’s the best part and the worst part of my job at the same time. I always thought it was okay and that things were good… Well, until my wife and I went through a divorce. I was married 22 years and my wife and I got divorced, so it’s hard… it’s really hard. The really hard thing, these past few years, is to go through personal stuff and still have to be the happiest guy in the room. I mean, I’m going through stuff right now… I dated a girl for a year and she just dumped me. So it’s just hard. And I think that’s why entertainers and comedians have depression. I get that… you’re all go go go… and then you go home to a hotel room… it’s just strange. But at the same time, we get to come to the nicest arenas in the country you know? Staples Center… Madison Square Garden… this, The Enterprise Center… we’re in all these cool arenas. I know a lot of people even in Montana, my hometown of 1,700 people, don’t really understand what I do… they think everything looks like the little one-day local rodeo… but here we have concert sound, lighting, video recordings… it’s very contemporary! Its a professional sport wrapped in a show… we always used to say… are we a sport or are we a show? What are we?

To the crowds in LA or New York, we’re a show. People in Oklahoma City or Billings, Montana it’s bull riding. And the show is a bonus… because they know bull riding! Which effects me, because I think the reason I have the job with PBR is that this is kind of the elite tour in western sports. I think maybe the reason I have been successful and have had this job for so long is that I understand that I can’t do the same comedy or show in New York and LA as I do in Billings Montana or Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In New York City it’s like, ‘Ok we’re gonna play Piano Man and sing as loud as we can’…its all audience participation, not so much one-liner comedy. Whereas Montana… that’s my home turf! I got the small-town humor, I know if that person in the crowd is from Billings or if they’re from Bozeman and drove through Livingston or this city or that city. I know all the towns and all the school mascots, I played football here and these people knew me when I was in high school … so that’s fun. Whereas, you go to LA and it’s like ‘Okay let’s stimulate these people!’ Every week is a different sort of fan. I tell ya… St. Louis and Kansas City is kind of a mixture… it’s country and city. Those are the best crowds. They love bull riding but they’re also here to party.
That’s the best.

CAYENNEDo you ever get scared out there?

FLINTOh they make fun of me, I’m scared all the time. I mean I don’t live in fear… but I don’t mess with the bulls. You know the other three guys protect the cowboy. The thing I don’t think many people understand is how much is going
on out there… so I’m entertaining. I wear a microphone, an IFB, I can hear the announcers and music mark. Our producer can tell me ‘Hey after this bull we have a commercial break’… so that’s all going on… at the same time, we’re having a bull riding competition. I have a lot of people who have been to only two bull riding shows saying “I could do what you do, I could do this!” “My son could do what you do, he’s a big screw off too!” Well, that isn’t how it is! A lot is going on! I mean I’m entertaining but if I lapse and kind of forget what’s going on, I could get killed!

CAYENNEWow, so you have to be aware at all times.

FLINTYeah, and you know I think that gets lost. I think probably a strength of mine is that it does look easy… With the good ones, whether you’re an NFL quarterback, a point guard, a singer! It looks easy. That means you’re doing something right. But yeah, there is a lot going on out there. What’s this bull rider doing? I can look and see on the big screen where he is in the process of getting his rope situated and know when it’s time for me to stop because he’s almost ready. My strength is, I really know the sport… and I’m also an entertainer. Well, I wanted to be a rockstar! This was the closest I got. This was my avenue to becoming a rockstar.

CAYENNESo, we touched on how you kind of always have to be “on” in this job. How do you hype yourself up before each show?

FLINTI intentionally have to…. because I am getting in a stage of my career where it’s hard to get excited. Here we are on a Sunday, after a long Saturday night… and you’re worn… I’m 52 so you know my show used to be a lot more physical with running and jumping…. I still do dancing and stuff. But now, it’s like my feet hurt, my knees get sore. With our show… people who do things like this know when I go through that gate and it’s still dark and the music’s loud, lights start flashing… there better be something in you that’s going [Flint rhythmically taps his chest quick, thump, thump, thump!]
And if I don’t feel that, I do something to make myself.

He instantly laughs.

I don’t DO something. I mean I’ve never, believe me. But I get the concert tour thing… the drugs… they can’t get up anymore… because it is exhausting! So they take something to get up, then you can’t sleep at night, so they take something to get down. I mean, I get it! I’m not doing that, but I get it. That’s the issue right? How do you get up for a show?

CAYENNEIf you weren’t doing this, what would you want to do?

FLINTThat’s a good question… Well I got a degree, I taught school for a couple of years, I taught math and history. I coached football and track. And I remember just thinking, am I really just going to be doing this every day? Driving to school at 7 in the morning? Something was missing.

But this… I probably won’t do this much longer. No…. mentally and emotionally
I’m wearing out a little bit…. And physically, I’m starting to…. It just hurts. I can’t afford to retire… I can transition! I’ve done a lot of radio, I had my own radio show for a bit. For a couple of weeks out of the year, I do a late-night format talk show, but it’s centered around western sports and country music. So I’m comfortable doing TV. I’ll hopefully transition into some stuff like that. My name is known in this industry, which is good.

CAYENNEDo you have any words to live by?

FLINTHmm… my dad taught me when I got a teaching job… Be good to the janitors, be friends with the custodians… they can do more for you. So be good to everybody. Here you know, we have a crew…we have seven semi-trucks! That crew drives everywhere, so we have the same crew all the time… and they work their asses off! People clap for me… but our crew really works their ass off so I always go visit with them.

“Be careful of whose toes you step on… they might be connected to the ass you have to kiss someday.”

Flint Rasmussen in St. Louis, Missouri, by Ashley Wilhardt