Reflecting on his 30-year career as a professional rodeo clown, Flint Rasmussen stated, “I can tell you that to be a rodeo clown takes a lot of... patience, knowledge, and timing.”

Rasmussen emphasizes that his famed arena style is not drawn from other rodeo clowns. “The greatest influences for my comedy come from ... real-life experiences, stand-up comedians, and stage performers.”

Flint Rasmussen will be inducted into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame (ERHOF), Induction Committee Chair Ken MacRae recently announced. The Induction banquet is 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Central Washington University’s Student Union Recreation Center (SURC) Ballroom and will also feature ERHOF’s “Boxes of Fame” western art auction and fundraiser.

Montanan Flint Rasmussen ranks alongside the most accomplished clowns and barrelmen in the history of professional rodeo. He earned the title of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association “Clown of the Year” eight consecutive times and Coors “Man in the Can” honors seven times. At present, he clowns and serves as barrelman (named for the large barrel clowns use to defend themselves from bucking bulls) for Professional Bullriders Association (PBR) events across North America.

Flint was born in 1968 to Stan and Tootsie Rasmussen in Havre, Montana, and raised in nearby Chouteau. The son of a rodeo announcer, he recalls that “growing up in a cowboy household and community made me... creative, active, and appreciative of the amazing childhood I experienced.”

Flint was an All-State Football and Track star at Choteau High, and went on to compete in, and announce, sporting events and earn academic honors at the University of Montana Western in Dillon. Before graduating in history, math, and secondary Education, he worked his first rodeo as a professional barrelman in Superior, Montana, in 1987. Although he taught math and history and coached track and football at Havre High School, Flint yearned to follow the rodeo road. He became a fulltime Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) clown in 1998, working alongside fellow Montanan Loyd Ketchum (a 2004 ERHOF inductee).

There are two types of rodeo clowns. “Bullfighters” wear clown paint and costume, but their job is the dangerous business of protecting dismounted bullriders from bulls following each ride. Clowns like Rasmussen, however, work for the entire rodeo performance. They entertain the crowd with banter and specialty acts, and then serve as barrelmen, assisting the bullfighters and cowboys during the rodeo’s bullriding finale.

MacRae, retired Ellensburg Rodeo arena director, recalls, “Frank Beard introduced me to Flint (and) we ended up hiring him to clown the Ellensburg Rodeo in 2000.” Regarding his replacing the retiring Butch Lehmkuhler (2009 ERHOF Inductee), Flint recalled, “I knew the first year that Butch’s shoes were big ones to fill!”

A CROWD FAVORITE

Rasmussen immediately became an Ellensburg crowd favorite, ranking alongside the legendary Slim Pickens. Flint combined athleticism and comedy into a unique style that brought him both awe and laughter from Labor Day weekend audiences.

All rodeo aficionados agree Rasmussen revolutionized the clown’s role in the sport. One Montana newspaperman observed: “For audience members, whether they are familiar or not with Western culture ... Rasmussen’s performance is surprising because it pushes the cultural boundaries of the macho cowboy world. One minute he will get the crowd singing Bon Jovi, then he might act effeminate” or perform a dance-crawl across the arena or PBR stage.

Rasmussen’s unique style is anchored by both his athleticism and his dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Ellensburg Rodeo fans had never seen anything like the Montana All-State quarterback’s “dance moves” (emulating both Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley), or his ability to exactly replicate female high school cheerleader routines (without the pom poms). And Flint’s humorous banter poking fun at announcer Justin McKee and the arena cowboys also delighted the crowds.

Reflecting on his clowning style, Rasmussen notes, “I just thought it needed a new energy, a young guy who could relate and get young people to get back to rodeo.”

In 2005, Flint signed an exclusive contract with the Professional Bullriders Association, increasing his fame while simultaneously insuring an easier commute home to Montana and his young family. Rodeo fans who missed seeing Flint in traditional PRCA venues now turned to the PBR, where their favorite clown was up to many of his old tricks. “The one thing I know for certain about bulls,” Flint states drolly, “is that they all have different personalities, and some like to party a little.”

Flint and his ex-wife, PRCA barrel racer Katie Grasky, have two daughters, Shelby and Paige. Both young Montana cowgirls are talented riders and barrel racing competitors, cheered on by their proud parents.

Although a 2009 heart attack briefly sidelined Flint, he returned to the PBR and worked another decade outfitted with a heart rate monitor. Now, he is ready to pursue a less taxing and dangerous vocation in professional rodeo. He has produced and hosted pilot episodes of a live talk show called “Outside the Barrel,” and “after 30 years as a rodeo clown I’m ready to try... being more involved in production, and a little more talk-show hosting on TV.”

The loss for live rodeo fans is the rodeo television audience’s gain. But like countless North American rodeo admirers, Ellensburgers already miss Flint Rasmussen. Ken MacRae summed up their feelings: “Flint parlayed a natural good sense of humor and wit to become probably the most famous rodeo clown in the history of rodeo.”

Flint Rasmussen will attend and speak at the Aug. 29 induction.

Michael Allen, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Washington, Tacoma, is a graduate of Ellensburg High School and Central Washington State College. He serves on the board of the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Comments

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.