Rodeo clown to bring laughs to Helena rodeo
July 6, 2017
Helena, Mont. (July 3, 2017) – John Harrison has made a career out of his school troubles
The Soper, Okla. man will clown the Last Chance Stampede and Fair in Helena later this month.
He got sent to the principal's office regularly, often for his wise-cracks, and when he was there, he was still cracking jokes. "Every time the principal busted me, I'd shake his hand and say, 'Thanks for making me a better person,'" John remembers. "It aggravated him when I did it."
Now Harrison, a six-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) specialty act and barrelman, will entertain during each night of the Last Chance Stampede, July 27-29.
“I like to have fun with what’s going on. Somebody on a cell phone, talking during the rodeo, everybody can relate to that. I do a lot of off-the-cuff stuff, and ad lib, and it keeps it fresh for me, as well.” John Harrison, rodeo clown
When he was six years old, he saw rodeo entertainers Leon and Vicki Adams at his hometown rodeo, and decided that's what he wanted to do. His dad bought him a trick rope, and taught his son how to use it – in the family living room. "We tore up everything," Harrison recalled. "I broke lamps, hit the ceiling, knocked plaster off the wall. Mom was always cussing us.
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Harrison learned how to trick ride as well, and practiced every night after school with his dad's help.
After high school, Harrison attended college but the rodeo bug bit. He ventured into the rodeo world, doing the trick riding, trick roping and roman riding at rodeos in the Midwest, then branching out into California and across the nation, and adding rodeo clowning to his repertoire.
Now, nearly two decades later, he's recognized as one of the best in the nation.
His acts range from trick riding to his magic act, to being "Miss Rodeo Universe" and jumping an old-time car on horseback.
He loves bantering with the crowd, using current events as topics. And he loves to point out people in the crowd. "I like to have fun with what's going on," he said. "Somebody on a cell phone, talking during the rodeo, everybody can relate to that. I do a lot of off-the-cuff stuff, and ad lib, and it keeps it fresh for me as well."
Harrison met his wife Carla at a rodeo in Iowa and married in 2006. They have four children: daughters Addison (nine), Billie (who passed away from kidney failure in 2014 at seventeen months of age), and Charlee, who is one, and a son, Cazwell, who is six. The family is on the road with him as soon as school is out, till it starts back up, and he's working on putting together an act that the kids can do with him.
Caz, who is in second grade, has worked with his dad twice at the WNFR. John has been selected to work the WNFR six times: three times as a specialty act (2001, 2002 and 2008) and three times as a barrelman (2013, 2015 and 2016). Caz, dressed in a matching yellow shirt with red fringe, like his dad, rolled out a mini yellow barrel. At the last WNFR, they did backflips, cartwheels, and the "worm", and the pressure of being at the "super bowl" of pro rodeo never bothered Caz. "He doesn't get nervous," John said. "He's so calm and chill." Being in the spotlight in front of 18,000 people didn't make him anxious. "He told me, 'Dad, (the WNFR) isn't even that big of a deal. They don't even have mutton bustin' at this rodeo.'"
The two joke about his profession. "I remind John all the time," Carla said, "this is real love. No girl gives up everything she wants to marry a clown. This is the real deal," she laughed. "My dad used to tell people I was marrying a man who wore more makeup than I did."
The Harrisons are affectionately known across the rodeo world as the "Clown Family," and Carla started using the name on Facebook in a tongue-in-cheek manner. But it's grown. Last year, in Las Vegas during the National Finals, people she had never met recognized them. "I love it, and welcome it," she said.
John occasionally runs into his former high school principal, and when he does, the principal shakes his head and laughs. John realizes the grief he might have caused his teachers. "I see my (former) teachers now, and I apologize to them. And if they're at a restaurant, I buy them lunch."
It's a small price to pay for success.
Harrison will entertain during all three performances of the Last Chance Stampede in Helena. The rodeo runs July 27-29 at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the fairground's website at LastChanceStampede.com or call 406.457.8516.
Cutline: One of John Harrison's acts is Miss Rodeo Universe. The Soper, Okla. man will be "clowning around" at the Last Chance Stampede in Helena July 27-29. Photo by Ken Stein.
–Last Chance Stampede & Fair