Johnny Dudley to be new rodeo clown
By Basil Gist
Johnny Dudley, the Marine turned rodeo clown, will take his mentors' place as clown for the Denton Rodeo starting Aug. 18.
Rudy Burns, who has run the show for 27 years, retired and Dudley has been tapped to step in his boots.
“He’s the guy who taught me how to be a clown,” Dudley said. “Whenever he retired and they asked me if I’d come do it, it was a huge honor.”
Dudley stepped in for Burns for three nights back in 2016, while it was flooding the senior clown’s home state of Louisiana, but this is otherwise the man’s Denton Rodeo debut.
“It's exciting being that it’s my hometown rodeo,” Dudley said. “I’ll be out for nine nights at the North Texas Fair and Rodeo.”
Dudley, who grew up in Dayton and lives currently just outside Aubrey, said he discovered his career while on base in the Marines.
“A rodeo came into my base, and I was watching the clown and just how much fun he was having; what he was doing and how people reacted to him,” Dudley said. “I wanted that, so I went and talked to him and the next day he let me put the makeup on and go out with him to help with a skit.”
It's been 25 years since then, and the man said he’s been a fulltime clown since 2002, with a little hiccup when COVID hit.
“I was fortunate enough to have a friend who owns an asphalt company, [and] he asked me if I wanted a job,” Dudley said. “It's become pretty lucrative, so I do both fulltime now.”
That’s no mean feat, Dudley said, as he spends upwards of 280 nights on the road through the year.
“People don’t see all the behind the scenes in rodeo,” Dudley said. “I have a clown car I travel everywhere with full of skits and full of acts.”
He talked about the jokes and how for him talking to the crowd is all about looking for opportunities.
“I have a bank of jokes in my head, and I’m looking for the instance,” Dudley said, citing a guy with long hair or a red head as examples of targets for a gag. “I have a lot of jokes in my head, and most every joke I say out in the arena, I’ve said before.”
Voted the Coors Man in the Can in 2019, a 49-year-old award held by an exclusive 11 individuals, Dudley said he loves being able to put on the mask and let his normally quiet demeaner fade away.
“The PRCA gives out 10 gold buckles a year, they go to the world champions,” Dudley said. “The 10th one goes to the Coors Man in the Can; they 1099ed me for $20,000 for that buckle, so it’s a good one.”
He explained, like with anything, the gig doesn’t start out nearly so ostentatious. He recounted his first rodeo, making $20 a night.
That turned to $300, then to $400, then to $1,000 and so on, but it starts with getting in the barrel for pocket money, the man said.
“It's hard to get started, and it's hard to move up,” Dudley said “You start at the bottom and work your way to the top. The last rodeo I was at I worked 3 nights at 2000 bucks a night being a freaking rodeo clown, but it took 25 years to get there.”
To see Dudley in action, come to the North Texas Fair and Rodeo from Aug. 18-26.
“My job in rodeo is to fill in the lulls,” Dudley said. “We’re dealing with live animals and people, so not everything is going to go exactly how we want it. My job is to entertain right there, so the crowd doesn’t notice the lull in the action.”