Just clownin’ around

Rodeo clown, bullfighter say they have the ‘best seats’ at the rodeo

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Rodeo clown Matt Tarr, of Stephenville, Texas, riles up the crowd at the 82nd annual Dayton Championship Rodeo on Sunday night.

DAYTON — Matt Tarr, who has been a professional rodeo clown for the past six years, chalks his career choice up to being “in the wrong place at the right time.”

Tarr, of Stephenville, Texas, grew up around the rodeo, so it’s no surprise he went in that direction as he got older. But instead of being bucked off broncs, wrestling steers or being thrown by angry bulls, Tarr decided to stay on the entertainment side of the business — the show’s comic relief.

“There’s a guaranteed paycheck on this side every time,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to do with family and you know when you go somewhere, you’re getting paid. … To me, it’s funner on this side because you get the whole rodeo instead of just eight seconds of it.”

Jimmy Lee, of San Angelo, Texas, also likes being on this side of the rodeo. Instead of competing, he’s a bullfighter, distracting the angry bulls once they’ve thrown their rider. The bullfighters’ distraction helps give the bull riders a safe opportunity to scramble out of the arena once they’ve been thrown, avoiding being gored or trampled by the bulls.

“I’ve always liked to help people and kind of be there and be the guy that if somebody is in a bind, I always try to help them out,” Lee, a former firefighter, said. “That and as being one of the biggest fans at the rodeo, I’ve got a front row seat every time.”

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Rodeo clown Matt Tarr, of Stephenville, Texas, is joined by his 7-year-old son, Bransen, during a break in the festivities at the Dayton Championship Rodeo on Sunday night.

Lee has been a rodeo bullfighter for 11 years.

Both men, who are working at the 82nd Dayton Championship Rodeo this weekend, acknowledge the sacrifice it takes to have a career in the rodeo.

“I’ve been home a total of three weeks since Dec. 28,” Lee said. “And two of those weeks when I was home, I had bullriding within an hour or two of my house.”

Tarr hasn’t been home since the third week of April, he added.

But even though they’re on the road most of the year, it’s all worth it.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Briar Dittmer, of Runnells, holds tight during the bareback competition at Sunday night’s Dayton Championship Rodeo.

“What is it they say? If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life?” Tarr said. “I’m the biggest rodeo fan here and I’ve just got the best seat. I’ve got the best friend in the entire world. I get to raise my son around characters like Jimmy, and you don’t meet guys like this everywhere. It’s a brotherhood. We’re family.”

For Lee, it’s the excitement every time they pull into a new town.

“It’s the hype of it’s rodeo weekend and everybody is excited,” he said. “Every time I pull into town, I get that feeling. The sense of bringing joy to people and just being around a happy environment is always really cool.”

For his routine during the rodeo, Tarr likes to come up with jokes in the “spur of the moment.” He often uses his regular daily life as inspiration, including his 7-year-old son, Bransen, or his dog in a bit.

“I’m constantly trying to think of new things,” he said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Bobby Reynolds, of Oakland, holds on during the bareback competition at the Dayton Championship Rodeo on Sunday night.

Despite spending most of the year on the road, no two nights at the rodeo are the same for Tarr or Lee.

“The unpredictability of rodeo is what I think that draws us as much as anything,” Tarr said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”


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