The Serious Side (And Serious Bucks) Of Clowning Around

By: Katie Stukey Email
By: Katie Stukey Email
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The opening rounds of the River City Rodeo were held at CenturyLink Center Omaha on Thursday night. One of the biggest stars of the show is professional rodeo clown Justin Rumford.

Some call the barrels used as protection from the bulls the "clown's lounge,” but they also incorporate it into their comedy routines, which is the main purpose of this very serious profession.

"It's funny ‘cause a lot of people say what do you do and I say well, I'm a rodeo clown and they're like, but what do you do for money and I say well, I'm a rodeo clown and they say, you get paid for that? And I say yeah, pretty good. People can't believe it, but it's a great career. You get to meet so many people and travel around the country. It's been a blast."

Justin has a business degree and tried clowning on a whim. He was sold after taking home $1,000 his very first night. Justin now works 10 months a year and makes a six-figure salary. Many think it's a silly gig on the side, but actually counts it on the short list of dream jobs. Justin says the highest paid rodeo clown in the country makes more than $1.5 million.

"If there's lulls in the rodeo, times when it slows down, rider's not ready, there's all different kinds of circumstances, but that's usually my time to shine, get in there, be funny, do a little Chris Farley action. I've got the hair for it."

Justin is traveling back and forth between Omaha and Wichita over the weekend as his wife is about to give birth to triplets. He says even if she has the babies Friday morning, he'll be back to perform Friday night.

The weekend is all about families as some 2,000 from 10 states are competing in the Ak-Sar-Ben 4H Stock Show.

Ericson, Nebraska teen Neleigh Gehl is wise and well-spoken beyond her 13 years and she has no problem putting in the extra hours to be a strong competitor.

“Early mornings and late nights, but it's a lot of fun to get up and just come out and work with them every day and when you've put a lot of hard work and time into them at home, it's really fun to see how you can do and this year. I think we have some pretty good cattle, so hopefully we can do pretty well."

Gehl will help prep and show the four feeder calves and the breeding heifer they brought from Wheeler County. Her family has a 200 cow/calf operation and they also raise show pigs.

In the animal zone you have the opportunity to see more than a dozen newborn pigs. A sow bred specifically for the rodeo three months, three weeks and three days ago just gave birth to 15 piglets.

People watch in awe while gaining a better understanding of the industry. “Agriculture people make their living from animals so they're never going to mistreat animals and they take very good care of them ‘cause their livelihood and frankly we're in this business because we love animals,” said Dennis Toalson.

Aksarben's River City Rodeo and Stock Show, proudly sponsored by WOWT Channel 6 News, runs through Sunday. In addition to the Justin Boots Championship Rodeo, other events include three trail rides, a western-themed parade, children’s barnyard, state barbeque championship and free entertainment stages and activities.

Visitors with tickets to the rodeo on Friday and Saturday night will get an added bonus - a concert. Friday, country music artist Chris Young will take the stage at 9 p.m. Young had number one country hits "Tomorrow" and "You." His third and current album, NEO, debuted at number four on the all genre Billboard Top 200 Chart.

On Saturday, the Randy Rogers Band will have the crowd rocking. The Randy Rogers Band has had seven number one hits and will provide a night for dancing in the dirt.

Tickets to the rodeo and concerts are still available. Follow the link below for details.

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