The long road to clowning glory
Rodeo Clown JJ Harrison adjusts his cowboy hat in the reflection from one of his three rigs used for travel on the road. He also owns and pilots a small Cessna for some of his travels.
By Jim Buchan
November 24, 2012
Walla Walla--JJ Harrison was sitting in a rodeo production meeting in Billings, Mont., last month when his cell phone signalled an incoming call.
“It was buzzing under the table,” he recollected. “I saw that the caller was from Colorado Springs. But you don’t answer during a production meeting, so I hit ignore.”
Moments later, the phone buzzed again. And again Harrison hit the ignore button.
But when it buzzed a third time, bells started ringing in JJ’s head.
“It dawned on me,” he said. “Colorado Springs? PRCA headquarters? So finally I said, ‘I need to take this call,’ and asked for permission to step outside.”
A few minutes later he came back in, calm as can be, and sat back down.
“I kind of tried to stay composed, but inside I’m doing back flips,” he said. “And Jill Franzen, the sound technician, looked at me and said, ‘You got it, didn’t you.’
“I couldn’t hide it. I said, ‘Yes,’ and they all just erupted.”
What Harrison — whose reputation as a professional rodeo clown has been growing by leaps and bounds — got was his first opportunity to work the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Wrangler National Finals next month in Las Vegas.
In our world, it is the world championship and there is no bigger award,” Harrison said. “And it is truly humbling, especially because it is voted on by all of your peers.”
The national finals are held annually at the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus. The 10-day rodeo that determines PRCA titles in every event runs Dec. 6-Dec. 15.
Harrison will work all 10 shows. And it will be the high point — but not the culmination — of a skyrocketing career that inched off the ground nearly two decades ago in Okanogan, Wash., when a high school senior with athletic skills and a quirky sense of humor decided he wanted to be a bull rider.
JJ was an all-around athlete at Okanogan High, where he graduated in 1994.