By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Ask rodeo funnyman Flint Rasmussen how much money he makes walking on rails and poking fun at the Havre wind and mosquitoes and he might answer, Were not starving.
Rasmussen, his wife Katie and five-month-old Shelby, came to Havre last weekend to take part in the PRCA Montana Pro Rodeo held at the Great Northern Fairgrounds Saturday and Sunday.
And Rasmussen brought a whole bag of wit.
About 90 percent of his show is made up as he walks around the arena and sees cowboys and what theyre doing, he said. The other 10 percent is staged.
For example, Saturday, Rasmussen brought out a Mood-o-Matic machine. This machine changed him, with just a turn of the dial, from a man who was pretty cool, to a guy who was feeling not too shabby, then into The King. Elvis himself erupted from the machine and danced and sang before the nearly-full grandstand.
The material here is easy, Rasmussen said. I know the towns and know some people. He joked about Hingham Lake, the lake that formed from the rain that fell and turned the parking area into a sloppy mess.
Rasmussen applies his own make-up, or powders his own nose, according to brother Will, and it is the same every performance. And his shirts, they are made with love by Mom; always stars and stripes and always red, white and blue. Wrangler, the pro rodeo sponsor, sends Rasmussen his jeans.
Thirty-one-year-old Rasmussen, who was born in Havre, graduated from Choteau High School and went on to receive a secondary education degree with an emphasis in math and history from Western Montana College at Dillon in 1990.
Rasmussen termed himself a jock in high school. He was an all-state football player, ran track, sang in the choir and acted in the school plays.
Thats why I think I excel at this, he said. I use athleticism, stage stuff, music stuff. I use it all.
Becoming a rodeo clown was never Rasmussens main objective in life. He grew up traveling with his dad, an announcer, to rodeos.
I just found myself asking, Why dont clowns do this and why dont clowns do that? Rasmussen said. So, dad looked at me and said, Why dont you be one, then.
Rasmussen worked his first rodeo when he was 19 years old. Lloyd Ketchum, a world champion bullfighter, worked a rodeo in Lewistown and he needed help with an act.
It was cool, Rasmussen laughed. He blew up an outhouse in the middle of the arena.
Rasmussen had different ideas about rodeo clowns and how they should perform in the arena. He was tired of seeing the same things at 19 that he had seen when he was five years old.
It was the same old thing, he said. The same old jokes, old rodeo clown jokes. I have never told a joke. My philosophy has always been, anyone can say a joke and put paint on their face.
So Rasmussen added music. He added a microphone that he clipped to his belt so the entire arena could hear what he had to say, not just the front row. He added dance. He added rock-and-roll music.
My goal is to let people escape a little, Rasmussen said. Its great to see people laugh, people can come and watch and forget something for a bit. Its instantly rewarding.
Ill tell a little story and make it real life, he added. Each night is different, otherwise, it would be like going to a real job, he laughed.
But working as rodeo clown is a real job, about 50 percent of the time, he said. In 1999, he worked 35 rodeos. He was on the road, away from home, for more than 200 days, sometimes more than five weeks at a time. He has worked more than 10 days in a row, traveling more than 1,000 miles in two days. There is a rodeo somewhere, every month of the year.
There are trade-offs, he said. As long as my family is with me, thats all that matters.
Wife Katie, a 1986 alum of Havre High School and currently a Spanish teacher at Stevensville, where they now call home, is taking a leave of absense next year to travel with Rasmussen.
The real job of teaching is not unknown to him either. Rasmussen, formerly known as Mr. Rasmussen, Havre High School history teacher, worked in the Havre school district from 1991-93.
Rasmussen taught for two years and coached football and track at the high school.
His teaching days are a long way from being the youngest man, by 15 years, to win the PRCA Clown of the Year award in 1998. He also won the Original Coors Man in the Can Award in 1998. He also won the Barrelman of the Year at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev., in 1998.
And he has been the only man in rodeo history to win all three awards the same year.
He has worked the Montana Pro Rodeo circuit finals at Great Falls during the past four years. He also has worked the College National Finals Rodeo three times.
Obviously, I started something with this act, he said. Some people really like it, some people like the old, traditional stuff.
Where does the road that a rodeo clown rides lead?
Im hoping something will come out of all this, he laughed.