Justin Rumford

by Siri Stevens
Justin Rumford

Justin Rumford is the same guy in the arena as he is out of the arena. “I’m just dressed different,” said the 32-year-old rodeo clown from Ponca City, Okla. After only three years as a rodeo clown, Rump won the prestigious 2012 Clown of the Year Award from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “I never thought I’d get into this part of it – I steer wrestled pretty hard in 2004 and blew my knee out in Reno and that set me back pretty good – that’s why I went to work for Bennie Beutler driving trucks – I could have a job and still steer wrestle.”

Longtime family friend, Mike Greenleaf, got him started clowning. “We steer wrestled together and he told me I’d be good. He asked me to clown the Kansas Pro Rodeo membership rodeo for him. I had a weekend open and I borrowed a barrel and an outfit. My second time was Pretty Prairie at the bull riding and it was fun and I got a check – that’s one thing that’s great about clowning – it pays.”

Rump grew up on the rodeo road. “That’s the only thing I can remember is rodeoing.” His family has been in the stock contracting business since the 1950s and Justin, along with his sister Haley and brother Ty grew up in the trailer. All three have continued their careers in rodeo. Haley is married to Jerome Schneeberger and has won PRCA Secretary of the year for six years straight. Ty is a pick up man at Ft. Hays State University. He’s been picking up for the Worlds Toughest Rodeo for ??? years.

He competed in saddle bronc and steer wrestling and fought bulls in high school, making the high school finals three out of four years. He went on to college at Northwestern Oklahoma State where he made the College Finals in both events three years (2001-2004), and one year in the bulldogging. He graduated with an Ag Business degree and kept on rodeoing.
Rump met his wife, Ashley, Wife, 2005 Miss Rodeo Oklahoma, through mutual friends and after two years of dating, they married in 2007. She has put her profession as a registered nurse on hold and is an integral part of Rump’s success. “She’s on board, she’s great – she goes with me full time and does a lot of the work. A lot of people don’t understand the clown business; the easiest part is in the arena. It’s the travel – I fly in and out and we have to do our own taxes, plus expense out everything we do. Ashley does all the business part of it, all the contracts.” The couple rodeoed hard last summer, spending about 10 months straight on the road in their Road Warrior Toy Hauler. “There’s no possible way I could do this without her. She’s loved rodeoing as long as I have. She times at a lot of the rodeos that I do and we talk about it all the time about how happy we are to do this. Every rodeo we go to, I have to be my best and it’s hard to do that and do all the driving too, so she does most of the driving and the cooking too.”

Rump considers himself to be a normal guy. “You can’t make yourself be funny – you just have to let it come. I don’t hardly do jokes at all. I think people don’t want to hear them. They want to laugh and it’s better to make them laugh at themselves.” One of his current acts involves a spectator’s cell phone. He takes it and actually reads the text messages. “I’m actually reading the texts that they are sending. People would rather laugh at the crowd than at me, so I’m the middle man.”

Rump spends a lot of time talking to people off the mic while the events are going on. “You get to know your crowd and you can gauge what you’re going to do. Rodeo comedy is not a one size fits all, everything has to be tailored.”

He is continually changing his acts. One of his acts, Spiderman, was the result of watching the Spiderman 3 movie. “During the perf the announcer asked me what I did that day – and I told him I went to Spiderman, and then showed him what I learned. It worked the first time and not the next ten, but I’ve got it down and it’s a crowd pleaser.”

“You can’t have a canned product. It would be so easy to find something that works, like the cell phone, but you have to keep finding the next thing. I find them from current events. There’s so many kids here- everybody knows Jersey Shore and Duck Dynasty. You have to keep in the know of what’s going on. Fist bump to the music – those kids know how to do it and I’m part of what connects them to the rodeo.” Rump stays up with pop culture and what’s going on in the world. “You can find so many things to laugh at in our world – 50 shades of grey, driving a Prius…” He also spends time laughing at himself and his weight. “I grew up watching Chris Farley, the fat guy on Saturday Night Live.” Even though he’s slightly overweight, Rump is in great shape. “I do about 130 perfs a year and I run over every inch of the arena during each perf. By the end, I’m worn out.”

He is very careful not to do anything that would hurt anyone or offend them. “With the age of technology you have to be very careful.” The challenge for him is to perform good every time. “There’s a big difference between being a contestant, which I’ve been, and being a clown. If a contestant has an off day, he can go run another one. If a clown has a bad perf, people remember.”
For now, Rump and Ashley are very content going down the road. When they start a family, no doubt their kids will do the same thing he did when he was growing up. “We all grew up rodeoing and playing together and most of those people are still my friends. So when we have kids, they’ll be just like us, get in the truck and go down the road.”

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