During a professional bull riding competition, one of the few people standing between a cowboy and an angry 1200 pound bull is a man known as a rodeo clown, or bullfighter. It is the rodeo clown's job to distract the bull by any means necessary after a rider has been bucked off. A rodeo bullfighter often wears brightly colored clothes and clown make-up as part of his costume, but most of his duties are very dangerous and are taken very seriously by others. A good fighter uses his athleticism and quick reflexes to assist the cowboys, while simultaneously using his physical comedic skills and timing to entertain the audience between competitions.
Originally, a rodeo clown's main duty was to entertain the audience during the rodeo's downtime, not necessarily protect the cowboy during bull riding competitions. A rodeo clown might have performed slapstick comedy routines, or set up controlled confrontations with one of the bulls. An original rodeo clown learned many of the same stunts and trademark sketches as a regular circus clown.
Eventually, however, the role of a rodeo bullfighter shifted from that of entertainer to protector. A rodeo bullfighter might still perform routines for the audience between rounds, but his primary focus is now on the safety of the riders. Whenever a rider falls or becomes trapped, a rodeo clown is often the first person on the scene to come between the bull and the cowboy. It is not unusual for the bullfighter to be gored, trampled or otherwise manhandled by an agitated bull after a rider has been bucked off. An experienced bullfighter generally knows the disposition of every bull he works with, and how best to distract the animal without being seriously injured.
Because the job responsibilities have become much more serious in modern rodeo competitions, a number of professional rodeo clowns now prefer to be called "bullfighters" instead of clowns. It is not unusual to see modern "rodeo clowns" wearing regular clothing and little to no clown make-up. While a modern rodeo clown may still perform routines for the audience, his role as a protective bullfighter often takes precedence.