What is a Rodeo Clown?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

Rodeo clowns distract the bull after it throws a rider.
Rodeo clowns distract the bull after it throws a rider.

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.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I have the utmost respect for rodeo clowns, and not because they wear those great clown costumes. The first time I went to a rodeo, I couldn't believe how large the bulls were. These are not like the cows I see when we ride through the country on a weekend drive. The thought of intentionally provoking one of the large bulls to charge me petrifies me.


I agree with the article that the role of the rodeo clown has changed so much over the years since the position came into existence, and I think there need to be some changes made. It's time to leave the rodeo clown costumes to guys and girls who are there to entertain the audience.

There should be a second position for the people who hop into the ring to protect bull riders. Whether you call them bullfighters or something else, there needs to be a separate position for these people, and they should be trained solely for this job.

Post your comments
Forgot password?