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The Good Clowns: Lecile Harris, Pro Rodeo’s Master Comedian

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In light of the recent “clown scare” involving shootings and multiple arrests throughout the U.S. and in Texas, many people are afraid of running into a clown lurking in their neighborhood, a public area, or on a college campus. Scary clowns have widely been portrayed as villains since the Joker first appeared in the debut issue of the comic book Batman on April 25, 1940. Then, when American author Stephen King released his horror novel “It” in 1986, the clown once again got an evil villain persona. Only recently, however, the vilified clown has taken its bad rap to a whole new level…a ridiculous level causing mass hysteria. And, unfortunately, these criminal jokesters are giving all clowns a bad name — which is far from the truth.

Recently, we reported on the arrests made in Texas involving these creepy clown “pranks”. In a twist of fate, it caught the attention of famous rodeo clown, Lecile Harris. Our reporter unknowingly used a Flickr-shared fair use image (not shown) of the famous rodeo clown as the featured image of the arrest story, causing quite the stir. It was by complete accident; however, our fans, Mr. Harris’ sponsors, and even Mr. Harris himself contacted us immediately requesting urgent correction. Needless to say, we got right on it! As the Editor-in-Chief of our website and print magazine, I was shocked and horrified, left feeling terrible. The Flickr photo was a multi-image compilation made to look distorted, so I didn’t immediately recognize it as Lecile. But, once pointed out, I immediately and apologetically changed out the photo. Mistakes like these often occur in the news and on media sites, and it’s important to address them as such and tell the “other side of the story” immediately.


Photo: Facebook/Lecile Harris

The “other side of the story” is one of great importance during these recent, strange days of clown “pranks”, shootings, and hysteria. After speaking with Mr. Harris, I was intrigued by his stories of the years he’s spent dedicating his life to protecting those cowboys and entertaining the crowd. He’s hugged hundreds of children throughout his career, and recently, was asked to hold and pose for a picture with a 6-month-old baby. Naturally, he was delighted and gentle with the infant. As he stood there, a woman in her mid-to-late twenties standing by observed him and began screaming, causing a scene, and ran out of the building. Lecile was in complete shock.

“In my 60 years of doing rodeo, I have never experienced anything like that,” Lecile sadly stated.

So, when did this clown-fearing begin? Even today, Stephen King spoke out against this recent mass hysteria. What has our society come to believe? Do we react to a “viral” trend, and it just keeps perpetuating a ridiculous theory or stereotype? Yes, unfortunately, I think that’s what has happened in this case and many other cases. My question to you is “What do you really know about clowns?” I urge you to read this side of the story.

Image result for rodeo clown
Photo: Flickr/Ed Schipul

Rodeo clowns are famous for their fierce protection and ability to make the audience laugh. According to Wikipedia, a rodeo clown (also known as a bullfighter or rodeo protection athlete), is a rodeo performer who works in bull riding competitions. Originally, the rodeo clown was a single job combining “bullfighting” — the protection of riders thrown from the bull, as well as being an individual who provided comic relief. Today in the U.S., the job is split into two separate functions: (1) hiring bullfighters who protect the riders from the bull, and (2) entertainers (clowns) who provide comic humor. However, in other parts of the world and at some small rodeos, the jobs of rodeo rider protection and comic remain combined.

As a professional, award-winning rodeo clown, Lecile Harris is no stranger to the dangers of his job as well as the entertainment that goes along with it. According to his website, Lecile seems to have been blessed with all the essential parts of a rodeo clown: his walk, talk, and actions seem to effuse comedy. He is tall, thin, gangly, and awkward-looking, yet athletic even for his age. Lecile is enormously creative and spontaneous; his arena character and antics combine a blend of magic, slapstick, and stand-up comedy in a curious way that leaves his audiences wanting more.


Photo: Facebook/Lecile Harris

But, Lecile wasn’t always a rodeo funnyman. Like many rodeo clowns, he got his start at a rodeo when the bullfighter failed to show up, where Lecile was then entered in the bull riding competition. Lecile stepped in to fill the void, but that’s where any similarity to other rodeo clowns seems to start and end. At his peak, Harris performed at more than 100 rodeos each year; his timing, inventiveness, and classic style the envy of his contemporaries. He became well known for his signature end to a performance as “The Original Bulldancer”, in which he would dance with a bull from the bucking stock. Some of his wrecks and antics are now legendary.


Photo: Facebook/Lecile Harris

Today, his experiences are put to good use as he works with and advises the new generation of bullfighters. In his 35-plus years of fighting bulls, Lecile has been a major contributor to taking bullfighting from a thrill show to the skillful art form it is today. Though Lecile’s primary job in those days as a bullfighter clown, was to protect the cowboy and thrill the crowd, his natural tendency for comedy began developing more and more. Today his catalog of acts, skits, and characters are legendary, some dating back more than 60 years, but still timeless today.


Photo: Facebook/Lecile Harris

And, to boot, Lecile is multi-talented. Rodeo isn’t the only place he was able to show off his talents. In the 1950s and ’60s, he was a session drummer at the now famous Memphis Sun Studio and Hi Studio, playing on many hits of the era. He landed a regular role in the early years of the TV series, “Hee Haw” remaining on the show for over five years. He also had parts in the movies, “Walking Tall, Final Chapter,” “The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James,” “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings,” the TV series, “Elvis,” as well as other movies and television shows. Lecile’s style was influenced by the work of several comedians he grew up admiring, including Emmett Kelly, Red Skelton, W.C. Fields, and Laurel and Hardy. The painted face he uses in his act has been part of his persona since 1955 when he was asked to serve as an emergency replacement at Sardis, Mississippi, and used shoe polish and lipstick from the local drug store to prepare.


Photo: Facebook/Lecile Harris

Lecile is at the pinnacle of his career. His comedy mannerisms, acts, and jokes are copied by clowns and showmen everywhere in the business. Rightfully so, comedy has become his trademark to such a degree that he was recognized as the best in the business by being named PRCA CLOWN OF THE YEAR in 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1996. On July 14, 2007, Lecile was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, the highest honor you can get in the world of rodeo. He is one of those that you can count on one hand, that went into the Hall of Fame voted in unanimously. He is one of 198 honored by the Hall of Fame and some of that number are famous rodeo stock. Rodeo has been good to Lecile Harris. He will tell you much of what he has, he owes to rodeo and his wife Ethel. But he has given much back too. Since 1955, his bullfighting and comedic ability have saved many a cowboy and brought smiles and laughter to literally millions of people.

Lecile: This Ain't My First Rodeo by [Harris, Lecile, Jones, Rex]

For more information and to read the whole story of Lecile Harris, check out his new book Lecile: This Ain’t My First RodeoYou can order his book at:

Clowning Around Enterprises LLC
PO Box 1291
Collierville, TN 38027

References:

www.lecile.com
www.prorodeohalloffame.com
Facebook/Lecile Harris