Justin Rumford is such a clown.
Proud of it, too. Rumford is the “2014 Rodeo Clown of the Year,” an honor he told me he has won three of the five years he’s been clowning. “Pretty fortunate,” he said.
I interviewed Rumford last week when the “World’s Toughest Rodeo” made a stop at St. Paul’s X.
It’s not all greasepaint and jumping into barrels. In fact, Rumford prefers minimal makeup, and he said he’s not in the line of work that involves hopping into barrels to distract angry bulls. He’s more a comedian who uses physical and verbal comedy to hold the attention of the arena.
The clown was having a diva’s problem the day of this interview. As a rule Rumford doesn’t think he does a good job with his clown makeup. So he was bummed that he did what he thought was a good makeup job for my camera, and then had to wash it off before the show. You can’t always walk around looking like a clown.
If you’re a parent checking your cell or social media, Rumford may make you pay for not being in the moment with your kids.
When Rumford started talking about the triplets who travel with him and his wife, I realized that he was the guy getting razzed last year about his big family when I was at the rodeo to interview cowboy Anthony Lucia. Having three babies is normal for him, said Rumford, who proudly showed a photo of him holding three tiny clowns in matching makeup for my startribune.com/video.
My special thanks to poet and retired clown Tim Torkildson for helping me with the questions I asked Rumford.
Q: You’re that rare person who can’t be insulted by being called a clown?
A: No! Being a clown is great. I make a lot of money and do what I want. Pretty easy going.
Q: (His phone pings) And you’re very popular because your phone keeps ringing?
A: Oh, yeah.
Q: Have you ever been called a clown when you were out of uniform, so to speak?
A: Oh, yeah. I’ve always been a joker. I’ve been clowning for years without even clowning.
Q: Tell me where it hurts. In other words, let’s catalog your injuries?
A: I haven’t any. Nope. Pretty safe, what I do.
Q: How much time do you spend doing what could be called training?
A: I don’t really do a lot of that. I’m not the bullfighter, I’m just the entertainer. I rodeo for 11 months solid. I don’t have a week off until June. After June I don’t have a week off until November. When you’re going full time you just never really have time to stop and train or to get ready.
Q: What makes you cry?
A: [Clearly not this question, as he laughed.] I don’t know how to answer that.
Q: Do you have any clown role models?
A: Flint Rasmussen. He’s in the Professional Bull Riders association. He’s awesome. He’s a great guy. Been really good to me. Taught me a lot.
Q: How did you come up with your look makeup-wise?
A: I don’t do a lot of makeup. The thing is, I feel like, if you’re a funny guy you shouldn’t have to do too much. I don’t really like clowns [who] have a red nose and full face paint. I think it looks creepy. I just go light. I just kind of do my own thing. It works out really well.
Q: Has any clown ever frightened you?
A: Not rodeo clowns. Rodeo clowns are pretty much the same people they are in the back as they are in the arena. They’re not weird circus clowns. We’re more entertainers. We keep the crowd going and make sure everybody has a great time.
Q: What made you decide to become a clown?
A: Good rodeo clowns make around $150,000 to $200,000 a year. It’s a great lifestyle. You pick where you go. You set your own schedule. You’re your own boss. You do your own contracts. You do your own e-mails, promos. Setting up different producers. At the end of the day, I’ve got a degree in business and I couldn’t make that much money if I had a 9 to 5. You’re pretty much on a paid vacation as a clown. It’s a very great lifestyle. I’m very happy to have it. There’s a lot of business in clowning. Being in the arena is the easy part.
Q: Who would you rather spend time with: Bozo or Ronald McDonald?
A: Who’s Bozo?
Q: You’ve never heard of Bozo the Clown?
A: Uh-uh. Beats me. Ronald McDonald. I like cheeseburgers, I guess. As you can tell.
Q: You’re kind of a serious guy?
A: I don’t think so.
Q: What do you learn as you become a better clown?
A: You really learn how to adapt to different situations. With everything we have in this society — Facebook and Twitter and Instagram — to keep people’s attention is kind of hard. So one thing that I’ve learned is how to channel your crowd. Here we’re going to have a lot of younger kids. High school kids. I’ve got to cater my comedy to something they can relate to. You can’t just go in there and tell jokes. I’m not a joker like that. I do my own thing. I use a lot of physical comedy because I’m a big guy, pretty agile. I’m just trying to adapt to my surroundings. I’ve got a wireless microphone. I will talk to the people in the stands.
Q: Do you like to mess with them?
A: I love it. I love finding the rowdy fan. If I do catch somebody on their phone, I like to get their phone, bring it into the arena and read their text messages over the microphone. I like to get people involved. Sometimes you see a guy sitting [as if he’d rather be someplace else] — ‘Hey you ain’t clapping.’ We’ve got to get this guy. Kind of embarrass them to the point where we’re going to make you have fun. I like to mess with the crowd.
Q: How much time to do you get to spend in Oklahoma?
A: Not a whole lot. My family goes with me. I’ve got triplets. We don’t spend a lot of time at home.
Q: How is the adjustment to triplets?
A: I don’t know. We’ve never had one, so three seems pretty normal. The first year we went to 17 states with them. Flown three times with them. They seem like they have a good time traveling. We like ’em. They are pretty funny. The girls are identical and the boy’s a single. They are just happy babies. They hardly ever get mad. They sit in the pickup when we’re driving and look out the windows. I’ve got a custom-made 44-foot trailer so they’ve got their own room. They think they’re rock stars.
Q: There’s got to be a lot of work in moving a wife and three babies.
A: It’s work but it doesn’t seem that. Plus, we’ve got everything in our travel trailer. It’s not like we have to pack every week. We pack the trailer and just go. We just make it happen.
Interviews are edited. The contact C.J. trying firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her check out FOX 9’s “Buzz.”