The Role and Responsibilities of Rodeo Clowns and Barrelmen
When most people attend a rodeo, they’re expecting to see cowboys in ten-gallon hats, heavily starched Cinch jeans, and plaid button-down shirts. While this image of a cowboy isn’t necessarily wrong, there’s more to the rodeo lifestyle than just the contestants. As the rodeo announcer wraps up the prayer, local queens exit the arena, and the bright lights of the arena flicker on, you’ll notice a clown, complete with a painted face and wearing bright oversized baggies, ready to go to work.
These “clowns” are either referred to as rodeo clowns or barrelmen, and they play a very important role during each performance. A clown’s sole job is to keep the crowd entertained throughout slower moments of the rodeo. Barrelmen, on the other hand, often will tag-team with the rodeo’s bullfighters, distracting the bulls after each ride to allow the cowboys to safely exit the arena.
What is a barrelman?
The official role of a barrelman as we know it didn’t come into play until the 1930s. Oversized clothes and painted faces make them easy to spot among cowboys and arena workers.
Two thousand pounds of bull was introduced to the sport when stock contractors started breeding their rodeo cows to Brahman (brammer) bulls. Brammers are known for hot attitudes, which upped the ante for rodeo clowns. Armed with only reflexes, adrenaline, and jokes, rodeo clowns were just as much at risk as the bull riders.
In the late 1930s, Jasbo Fulkerson got “tired of being run over,” so he rolled out a wooden barrel reinforced on the outside with old car tire casings. Little did Fulkerson realize, with the introduction of his barrel, he created the “barrelman” role that we all recognize in the arena nowadays. After his ingenuity, many barrelmen followed after him, creating their own barrels personalized to their height and weight. Today, on average, each barrel weighs a couple of hundred pounds!
What do rodeo clowns do?
This occupation started back in the 1900s when the sport of rodeo was starting to take form, and organizers were quickly realizing what roles were needed. Gathering stock and contestants was an obvious need, but no one considered hiring entertainment for the crowd.
During the show, there were times when workers needed to head into the arena and repair a fence or take an injured cowboy out of the arena, pausing the performance. This caused many patrons to leave the rodeo early. Committees were tired of seeing fans leave, so they began to pay cowboys to entertain the crowd.
In the 1920s the true occupation of a rodeo clown was born. They would travel all across the country toting costumes, jokes, and specialty acts solely to entertain rodeo spectators during slow areas of the performance.
How do you become a rodeo clown or barrelman?
While the premise of being a barrelman may seem fun, the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) and their sanctioned rodeos take barrelmen very seriously. Similar to bullfighters, barrelmen must have a PRCA membership card in order to work any PRCA sanctioned event.
This process includes getting letters of recommendation and having an onsite evaluation at a non-PRCA rodeo to ensure that their level of performance is up to par. The Contract Personnel Executive Council will make its decision on whether a permit should be granted. Once the permit is issued, the barrelman will be allowed to work PRCA rodeos, with some limitations attached. After working five sanctioned events, they will be reviewed again by the Contract Personnel Executive Council, at which point membership will either be granted or denied.
If they achieve their card, they’ll be considered full members with no limitations. However, if they’re denied, their membership is terminated, and they will have to repeat the process if they still want to achieve membership.
So, while it may seem like all fun and games, just keep in mind that a barrelman’s job is no easy feat and shouldn’t be underestimated. Check out our event schedule to laugh at their jokes and sit on the edge of your seat at the next Silver Spurs Rodeo!