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Everybody loves a clown

And rodeo performer loves every minute

John Beck of Sandy literally gets a kick out of his job.

The 21-year-old professional rodeo clown never knows if a bull is going to kick him, charge at him or even jump in the barrel with him.

But Beck knows that he loves every minute of it.

"I love the people and to make them laugh, and I love to be inside the barrel when the bulls are hitting it," he said. "That's a pretty big rush."

Although Beck has performed at rodeos across the nation, he has never worked the Utah State Fair rodeo, until now. He will be the crowd-entertaining clown Sept. 8, 9, 10 and 11 during the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo.

"It's a pretty cool experience," John Beck said of the chance to work at the fair. "I'm looking forward to it. I've grown up going to it and it's exciting to be able to work it."

When he was 13 years old, Beck went to a rodeo school in Ogden. After just two days of the school, he was chosen by veteran barrelman Kevin Higley of Hooper to perform for the first time at the Saturday night rodeo.

"At the time we had this little rodeo that was going to go on," Higley said. "I think it was just like a performance we were putting on for some foreign visitors, but he (John) showed enough promise at the time, and had enough enthusiasm, that I thought 'This kid needs to know what it's like to perform in front of people.' "

After that first weekend working with Beck, Higley said he knew Beck "darn sure had some pretty good talent and since then he has come pretty far."

Higley also said it was refreshing to see someone with Beck's dedication.

"It's great to see somebody that has such a great desire to maintain the goals and wants and standards he set for himself and keep that passion burning and try to achieve a higher level each year," Higley said. "I think it's great."

But Beck's rodeo dreams began long before his official debut.

"I grew up around it my whole life going to rodeos, and I just paid attention to the clowns and I just wanted to do it," Beck said.

When he was younger, Beck would practice painting his face to see what clown camouflage fit his taste. He also put a bullhead onto the family wheelbarrow and made his older brother chase him around the yard. When his friends came over, he would climb into a 55-gallon barrel and make them push him around.

"They'd roll him down the hill," said Bruce Beck, Beck's father. "He'd roll down and hit a fence. He had no padding."

Beck said that's just what he and his friends would do to hang out.

"As long as I can remember I wanted to be a rodeo clown," he added.

When Beck was 8 years old, his dad said, he was able to work with professional rodeo clown and bullfighter Jerry Hurst of Grantsville.

"He started when he was 8 years old and he went on his own when he was 13," Bruce Beck said. "It was interesting, but he wasn't with the bulls until he was 13. He was just in clown acts and things."

Now Beck does 50 to 60 rodeo performances a year, mostly in the summer months. He said the dangers of being a rodeo clown still make his mom a little nervous.

"I've had a lot of close calls," Beck said. "But I've been fortunate enough to have nothing serious happen to me."

As a rodeo clown, Beck is in charge of entertaining the crowd during slow spots of the rodeo by telling funny jokes through a wireless microphone.

"He's got some quick wit or quick humor," Bruce Beck said.

Beck also does two clown acts per rodeo.

"You lay awake at night thinking of your own clown jokes," Beck said. "You've got to stay funnier than the next guy out there."

Higley said being a rodeo clown is a lot of work.

"We're in the entertainment business," Higley said. "It's not just protecting the cowboys and being in the right spot. It's almost like being a stand-up comic in the middle of the dirt with a bunch of animals around you."

When Beck is not making people laugh in his clown costume, he is working for an excavating company in Park City and attending the University of Utah.

But his real passion is performing in the arena, and he said he thinks people will always have an interest in rodeo. Beck said that if he has had any success he owes it to Higley, Hurst and the late "Flip" Harmon.

"It's a fun sport," Beck said. "I get nervous, but I think I get more nervous about screwing up on a joke than getting hurt. But, your heart gets racing when the bulls start coming."


E-mail: nclemens@desnews.com