The Inside Pitch ...
Flint Rasmussen has the job of his dreams - and me to thank for it. Maybe it's wasn't completely my doing, but I'd like to think I had a hand in it.
You see it wasn't so long ago, in a time where boys rolled up their jeans, girls had bangs that were bullet proof and Flint was teaching me geometry and U.S. history at Havre High, that he started seriously considering making his summer-time rodeo job a full-time career.
I'd like to think that my overall conduct in class, which included reading Sports Illustrated while he was lecturing, making smart aleck comments about his wardrobe, offering to let every cute girl copy my homework and just a total lack of any sort of ambition, pushed him that much closer to giving up teaching.
Come on, travel around the country and work for a few hours each night, or five days a week of teaching delinquents like me. That's like choosing between Ashlee and Jessica Simpson.
Sure, he had doubts, detractors only amplified them. A professional rodeo clown? He wasn't even a bullfighter. There was always a need for a good bullfighter. But Flint was barrel man and an entertainer. Have you seen what a barrel man does? He stands in a barrel and moves it toward loose bulls for them to charge when a bull rider is bucked off. Yeah, that career move ranks up there with becoming sports editor of your hometown newspaper.
For Flint, being a barrel man was just a way to get him out in front of the crowd, where he really wanted to be. You see, even as a teacher, there was that element of entertaining dying to break out. Whether it was outwitting smart-aleck students with verbal barbs of his own, an occasional impression of other school staffers or a rare dance move before football practice, he had that air about him.
Simply, he is an entertainer.
For the fans fortunate to see his performances at the Great Northern Stampede this past weekend, they will agree with broad smiles on their face and chuckles in their heart.
They were treated to a night of pure energy, laughter and above all else, entertainment. With his brother, Will, doing the announcing, Flint was a non-stop smile and laugh producer. The duo worked off each other in a Jordan and Pippen-esque give-and-take. They always seem to know where the other is going and where they want to end up
"We have no preparation at all," Flint said. "He'll say 'hi' to me before the rodeo, but that's about it."
It's tough to describe his act. For me, it has to be tiring. He never stops moving. It's like he has ADD and just drank 15 red bulls. The type of kid he never wanted to teach.
He's in constant movement - wandering the arena, dancing to the music, chasing after the pick-up men and rodeo queens, running after a loose calf, jumping over the fence to get closer to the crowd, anything but sitting still. There's even backflips, cartwheels and a boneless chicken and a battered salmon impersonation that could be on a work-out video.
After Sunday night's performance, his shaggy, sandy-blond hair that straggled out from his cowboy hat was drenched with sweat. Despite a very cool August evening, he looked like he just finished playing one of the three sports he excelled at during his prep career at Choteau High School. Still, it's been almost 20 years since those days. He is just a month off a hernia surgery, for which he gladly offers to show his scar. Each performance takes its toll a little more than the performance before.
"I don't notice it out here, I notice it at night in bed and in the morning," he said. "I've got some little back problems, but my legs are good. I've got one bad ankle from playing basketball, just some little things that at 37 start to compound."
A capacity crowd with fans craving to laugh and cheer seems to be the best medicine for anything that ails Flint.
"When I am in the arena, I still feel like I am bouncy as ever," he said. "My most relaxing time is when I get out here on stage. There is so much other stuff going on. You sit around all day thinking about what is hurting, the travel you have ahead and how much sleep you haven't had, but once I get out in front of the crowd it's kind of a release for me."
Although it may be therapeutic for him to be performing, he admits that the business ethics of his job also drive him.
"The cold answer is that it's my job," he said. "Through the years, one thing that I've gotten good at is that no matter how bad I feel physically or how tired I feel, it's still my job. Frankly, there are some people that paid and come just to see me. So, I owe it to them to give them all that energy."
Part of the paying fan's entitlement is a different show each night, at least to Flint. You may see a "Lord of the Dance" skit on Saturday, and an "American Idol" skit on Sunday. He vows to never let his routine become stale.
"There are guys out there who have done this forever," Flint said. "You knew that after the third steer wrestler that they would tell a certain joke. Frankly, I think anybody could paint their face and stand out here with a joke book and tell jokes. I know there are going to be a lot of the same people. I try to keep it different. I think that it's been a big part of my success is that I keep things different."
Working smaller rodeos like Havre's, allows him to ad-lib easily and some of his biggest laughs come at a moment's notice. He rarely plans out his show, choosing to work off of Will and off the crowd to determine where a particular joke is going.
"I've never been to a place like Havre where you can pick one person out and everyone knows what you're talking about," he said. "I miss it because it's easy. When I come out here, I don't have any material ready. I just feed off what's going on."
It's definitely been an easier summer for Flint. For the first time in six years, he has spent the bulk of his summer in his home state, performing in Missoula and Great Falls before coming to Havre. At this point in his career, he can stay closer to home. It's like the old saying, "sometimes you have to leave to get back home."
"In order for my career to go where I wanted it to go, I needed to get out," he said. "This isn't an insult to Montana rodeos, but you can't get to the National Finals Rodeo without doing the bigger national rodeos. I was able to get out and do the other shows and now I am at the point where I can pick and choose."
The point Flint has reached is the top. There is no one better in rodeo as evidenced by his seven-straight clown of the year awards from the PRCA. He has performed at the last seven PRCA National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and the last seven Professional Bull Riders Finals.
Still, his heart belongs to the place he got his start in rodeo - Montana.
"Take Cheyenne Frontier Days, there is way more material in Havre," he said. "And, truly, in the arena, there is way more fun in Havre. These last two weeks in Great Falls, Missoula and Havre have been the most fun I've had in two years."
There are rumors he will slow down a little. Not even rock stars have a schedule as hectic as his. He can be in Oregon one day and have to be in Kansas two days later. Rock stars certainly don't drive their own tour bus or have two young daughters demanding time with daddy.
Whether he does 20 shows a season or 200, the energy and emotion will be there, and so will the giggles and grins. It doesn't matter if it is a crowd of 2,000 or 20,000, they will all walk away satisfied.
Ten years ago, he could make the Pythagorean Theorem and the Treaty of Versailles seem funny and relevant. Today, he can make the way a cowboy wears his hat seem hilarious. One thing is for certain, regardless if he was teaching high school geometry and history or break dancing in front of a packed arena and a nation-wide television, Flint Rasmussen would be doing what he does best - entertaining.