John Harrison is funny, athletic and protective.
He’s all about family.
He’s an ambitious, successful businessman.
And, for a lucrative side job, he does something not meant for the weak – he’s a rodeo clown-barrelman.
While there’s equal parts creativity/genius in being such an impact entertainer, consider Part II of that description – climbing into an open-ended 120-pound aluminum container with the selfless devotion of distracting a 1,400-pound bucking bull from attacking a thrown rider as he staggers over a fence and out of the arena.
That’s how the 38-year-old from Soper, Oklahoma, will close his four-day performance Sunday at the 103rd Clovis Rodeo.
1,400 General weight of a bull that a rodeo clown-barrelman takes shelter from while attempting to protect a thrown bullrider
A sellout crowd of 10,000 also will see Harrison’s 5-hour, walk-and-talk, award-winning comedy show while bantering with public address announcer Wayne Brooks.
Among those in attendance will be Harrison’s wife, Carla, son Caz, 7, and daughters Addy, 9, and Charlee, 17 months.
They often pile into Harrison’s dark green 1-ton Dodge pickup with a 40-foot trailer and two horses in tow and travel nationally as he pulls 30 to 35 rodeo gigs in nine months annually.
Another daughter, Billie, was once part of the family, but she died of kidney failure two years ago.
Billie would have been bouncing around the trailer in the rodeo ground’s east parking lot with her siblings as a 4-year-old today.
“Billie has the best seat of all, in Heaven,” Mom says.
Dad’s show recovered, painfully.
It’s hard to put on a face like you’re all happy and try to make everybody laugh and smile when, inside, you’re crushed.
Rodeo clown-barrelman John Harrison, who lost a daughter, Billie, at age 2
“Coming back was hard,” he says. “I canceled one rodeo, but a week after that, I came back. It’s hard to put on a face like you’re all happy and try to make everybody laugh and smile when, inside, you’re crushed.”
Unfailing support from what Harrison calls “the rodeo family” kept him in a forward lean: “I refer to the three F’s – faith, family and friends. That’s what helps you get over something like that. You never get over it but it helps you move on.”
On a windy morning in Clovis, he then looks at the children and adds: “These little kiddos; they help you keep going, also.”
She got a degree, married a clown
On the lighter side, Carla reflects on how this relationship began and, indeed, finds comedy in it.
Carla is a striking blonde with a degree in agriculture science from Cal Poly.
“My dad,” she says, “used to laugh and say he sent me to a Catholic high school and Cal Poly, and I married a rodeo clown. But, obviously, I was head over heels before the (clown makeup).”
All clowning aside, her husband has many gears.
Grandson to a former world champion bull rider, Warren “Freckles” Brown, Harrison is also a 32-year trick rider and equine massage therapist in addition to a thriving businessman. The Harrisons own 21 rental homes and a liquor store in Oklahoma.
Most of all, John Harrison is world class in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, having made six appearances at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas – the sport’s Super Bowl – and a multiple winner of elite awards, Comedy Act of the Year and Coors Man in the Can.
While paid handsomely – $2,000 to $2,500 daily during a rodeo – he’s also paid for it physically, as one might expect.
An independent contractor who choreographs his own material, often joking on the fly, he’s had both knees and a shoulder surgically repaired.
Next: herniated disc in his neck and a hip issue.
“I’ll put off (further surgeries) as long as I can,” says the 6-foot, 185-pounder, who hadn’t worked the Clovis Rodeo before this week. “Actually, I’ve been blessed as far as surgeries go. I get most of the treatment done in the fall and, in the summer, I’m ready to roll again.”
The kids are all for it.
“It’s easy,” Caz says.
“And (Dad) is funny, most of the time,” Addy says.
The question: How much longer will he paint the face, throw on costumes, trick ride a horse sidesaddle at 20 mph and jump into his personalized barrel?
“Most rewarding,” he says, “is having fun on the road and meeting people. It would be difficult to walk away from seeing friends on the road. From Hearst Castle to the White House, rodeoing has opened the door to us, allowing us to do some amazing sightseeing across the country.
“No money can buy it.”