Clowning around with PRCA Comedy Act of the Year Keith Isley
He’s swept the coveted Coors Man in the Can award five years, been bestowed the prestigious titles of Comedy Act of the Year and Clown of the Year at the annual PRCA Awards Banquet, and supplied audiences across the country with an arsenal of laughter. However, there’s much more to the Man in the Can than meets the eye. We caught up with Keith Isley to get the lowdown on life in the arena, plus a few 4,000 pound bulls to boot.
For Isley, his career as a rodeo clown got an early start. “When we were kids, we always had ponies we worked and played with,” recounts Isley. “As we got older, we got into horses. My brother was in the military when he got started in rodeo, and then he got me and my younger brothers started in junior rodeos. One thing led to another. I never would have imagined it would run the course it has taken, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Isley recalls December of 1999, when he won Specialty Act of the Year – his career highlight. Since then, he has continued to win one to three awards each year, having done nearly everything possible in rodeo. “I guess the next thing left is to run for President of the United States,” Isley jokes.
Indeed, Isley is a busy man both in the industry and the arena. “There’s a lot involved with what I do,” says Isley. “People come and see me performing and entertaining, but they don’t see what all it takes to get to that point, especially in working with animals.” For Isley, each event proves to be unique, testing his charisma and creativity. “You’ve got to know what kind of crowds you’re entertaining. I like to keep things clean and family oriented. I won’t ever say anything that offends anybody, or laugh at anybody.” Rodeo proves both a test of comedic chops, and even spouses. “Trying to explain to the wife why I was gone all summer was tough,” Isley laughs, though there’s sincerity in his statement.
It would seem that Isley’s wife has her share of worrying to do. As a man who’s grown up in rodeo, he’s survived his share of close calls. “I used to tell people there’s not an animal that’s come out that can catch me,” Isley says. “I honestly believed that at one time. The older I get, the more Mother Nature proved to me I was wrong.” Isley remembers a rodeo in Texas last June, when a bull stormed past two bullfighters and came rushing toward him. After having a flashback to his 20-year-old self, Isley managed to get the bull under control, much to the amusement of a roaring audience. “I did take time to think to myself, ‘what are you doing, you idiot?’” says Isley. “It’s something you really can’t think a lot about, because if you take a split second to think you’re late already. Being in the arena has to be second nature to you.”
If rodeo is second nature to anyone, it’s Isley. He’s particularly fond of the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo® and the relationships he’s made during his visits. “I’ve got to know so many people in town. During the afternoon I’ll walk through the vendors, and I know a lot of them. It’s just an outstanding event, and it seems like so many people there are like family to each other.”
Isley hopes that everyone is able to experience an event like the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo® at some point. “Rodeo is man against beast, and you never know what’s going to take place with either of them,” says Isley. “Each time a contestant gets on an animal, it could be the highlight of his career or the end of his career.” Isley especially appreciates the sense of camaraderie that occurs at the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo®. “You’ll see lots of contestants helping fellow competitors to do the best they can. You’ll see a cowboy applaud someone else’s really fast time. It’s unlike any other sport I’ve ever been a part of,” says Isley. “You could dang sure call it excitement.”
Don’t miss PRCA Clown of the Year, PRCA Comedy Act of the Year, and Coors Man in the Can Keith Isley as he shares his talent with the 2013 Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo®, January 25th through February 2nd.
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