A former Marine and international business graduate seems like an unlikely candidate to be named bull riding's funniest man in ProRodeo. And yet Johnny "Backflip" Dudley, a renowned rodeo clown who will be performing this weekend at the Bud Light Bull Riding Challenge, is all of the above.
Dudley saw his first rodeo while still in the Marine Corps, admiring the event in general and especially the ability of the rodeo clown to rile up the stands as much as the riders themselves.
"I finished up with the Marines in 2002, drove a beer truck for a year, and started going to more and more rodeos," Dudley said.
Rodeos abound in Texas, Dudley's home state, and he was able to hone his clowning skills regularly. There aren't very many good rodeo clowns, Dudley explained, because opportunities to participate in the events can be a rarity, and rodeos are somewhat dangerous. Dudley himself had a life-threatening accident while performing his namesake's stunt at one of his first rodeos.
"I fell off a fence before and broke my neck. But I still do back flips at every performance," Dudley said. "Other than that, I've had a few jokes that maybe went wrong (since then)."
He wasn't interested in becoming a bull rider, though, during his first encounters with the sport. "Too dangerous," he said. At one of his first rodeos, Dudley saw a bull rider get stomped by the bull he had been on.
"He got bucked off the bull and the bull stepped right in the middle of his chest and killed him."
At a lot of rodeos, there are sports medicine teams that know how to care for the bull riders, and that know the only way the bull riders make money is if they stay in the competition. There isn't an injury reserve list like in football. They don't have guaranteed paychecks.
"They'll ride hurt 90 percent of the time," Dudley said. "But once they get knocked out - all bull riders are the same - none of them want to ride in an ambulance," Dudley said.
Since 2002, Dudley has participated in several Professional Bull Riders and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events, including in Thief River Falls and other Minnesota cities during the past few years. In addition to his back flipping skills, stand-up comedy, slapstick and other tricks - the rest of which are "a surprise," said Dudley - will round out his routine Friday and Saturday.
The Bud Light Bull Riding Challenge begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Sanford Center. Tickets range from $10-32 and will be available online at www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 800-745-3000 or at the Sanford Center. For more information, visit www.thesanfordcenter.net.