He’s one of the funniest cowboys in the world.
Just ask anyone who’s been to a rodeo where John Harrison has entertained.
No one can deny that when John has his grease paint on in the arena, fans go home in a better mood with a grin on their face.
Many of them don’t even have a clue about the many, diverse and ever-so-serious aspects of one of the top entertainers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
First and most important above all his attributes is that John Harrison is a family man.
Just ask his kids. No. Just watch them come out of his horse-trailer-home-on-wheels and snuggle up to him minutes before he puts the clown apparel on. He gets the prize for best-daddy-of-all.
Of course to have such a prized family there’s another essential ingredient: Momma.
Carla Harrison is often an unobvious part of acts in the arena, but more-so-essential out at the trailer and behind the scenes.
She takes care of the kids, plus John, the always-kid-himself, and is a charity-fundraising auctioneer. Their children are Addison, three, and Cazwell, 18-months.
Change of topics before proceeding: Who’s the best bull rider of all times?
That might be a debatable question to some, but to many it would be Freckles Brown, and certainly there’s no contention in John Harrison’s opinion.
“He was my grandpa, and my all-time hero,” said Harrison, as he sat in the lawn chair with a child on each knee before the Linn County Fair Rodeo at Mound City.
Brown was the 1962 world champion bull rider, who became most famous when he rode the previously-un-ridden bull, Tornado of the Jim Shoulders Rodeo Company, at the 1967 National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City.
Likewise, Brown was the inspiration of renowned bull rider Lane Frost, who is buried next to Brown in Hugo, Oklahoma.
The father of Donna (Brown) Harrison, Brown retired from the rodeo arena to his ranch at Soper, Oklahoma, from where John Harrison now hails.
“I’d have to say Grandpa was and continues to my inspiration,” contended Harrison, who has not excelled in rodeo competition, but rather in entertainment well beyond being a funny man.
He’s a trick rider and roper, specialty act artist, bull-riding barrel man, Wild West show producer and more.
But, it’s all “entertainment,” which is most important to John Harrison in his rodeo career.
“As long as the crowd’s having fun that’s all that matters:” Harrison evaluated his upcoming performance with announcer Troy Goodridge before the Mound City rodeo.
“Spectators today are different than they were when Grandpa was winning,” Harrison emphasized,. “The world has changed. People have so many venues for entertainment today, and every one is competition to rodeo.
“We must provide entertainment for the spectators who come to rodeos. They must want to come back, tell others about it and increase crowds for the next performance and keep the sport of rodeo alive for future generations,” Harrison contended emphatically.
When Harrison was just six-years-old, he became fascinated by rodeo specialty acts and soon received his first trick riding lessons.
“I’m 33 years old and still doing it,” said Harrison, who competed in rodeos as a youngster, but couldn’t become as enthused about contesting as entertaining.
“My brother Cody was a better rodeo contestant than I was,” Harrison admitted. “I decided I’d rather be paid to entertain at rodeos than donate entry fees to the other cowboys.”
Harrison remembers his first paid performance for $35 when he was eight-years-old. “That seemed like a lot of money to do four minutes of work,” he rationalized.
After performing in amateur rodeos throughout the Midwest, Harrison became a PRCA member in 1999.
Traditional Roman and trick riding, including the most treacherous and awe-aspiring maneuvers ever performed, were included in Harrison’s acts. But, today’s rodeo audiences weren’t impressed, or at least not enough for raving reviews.
So, Harrison changed his show, doing similar intricate routines but in clown outfit with announcer chides.
“I’m basically doing the same routine, but the spectators are more entertained,” Harrison admitted.
Same goes for his trick roping. Harrison has had to diversify his act “making it funnier and more entertaining,” in order to get acceptable appreciation.
“Actually, most of my trick roping now is for school programs, television and rodeo promotion,” related Harrison, who still can’t help bringing his lariat into the arena sometimes, spinning it as he bickers with the announcer, contestants, pickup-men and the audience.
“Comedy is what sells best,” Harrison recognized.
Not quite your usual rodeo act, Harrison’s style of comedy falls more into the slapstick arena. And instead of telling a lot of jokes, he likes to ad lib.
“If I catch you on a cell phone, I’m going to be talking to who you’re talking to,” the rodeo clown said.
“It’s unrehearsed, live action,” Harrison said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, and I don’t know what I’m going to say.”
Today, Harrison’s walk and talk comedy is backed by his quick wit that fits right into being the barrel man during the bull riding event.
John Teagarden, longtime leader of the Mound City rodeo, contended, “Without question, John Harrison is one of the top professionals in his business. Very few rodeo clowns combine specialty acts, high caliber comedy and barrel man responsibilities to the standard set by John Harrison.”
In addition to his joke-telling and comedy trick riding, Harrison has found wide appeal for his Miss Rodeo Universe act.
Dressed as a very plump rodeo queen, Harrison rides his horse bareback and jumps over a 1934 Nash Roadster. The real rodeo queens don’t seem to mind his wacky impression of them.
“Most rodeo queens have a good sense of humor,” Harrison said.
Of course, top horses are essential. “I use Paint Horses, because color adds to the appeal,” Harrison said. “Gus is 15, and he has more personality and is very honest. Mouse is nine, and he’ll take every opportunity to embarrass me.”
This year, Harrison with his family in tow will entertain rodeo audiences in at least a dozen states the nation’s width and depth.
“”It’s a lot of fun and you get to meet a lot of great people,” Harrison commented. “It’s given me a lot of opportunities.”
One such opportunity came after a Secret Service agent visited a rodeo in Maryland.
“He was intrigued by the rodeo and horses, and we gave him a behind-the-scenes tour at the rodeo, not knowing what he did for a living,” Harrison said.
The man then asked if Harrison and his family had ever been to the White House, and they hadn’t. So, the agent got permission and gave them a private tour at 2 a.m.
“We got to see a lot of things that most people would never get to,” Harrison said.
That included viewing the situation room where the president would go in time of crisis. Harrison had his photograph taken in front of the blue curtain where press conferences are conducted and was able to kick back in the president’s recliner in the media room.
The Harrisons’ travels have taken them to Florida where they watched the Blue Angels practice and to South Dakota, where they saw Mount Rushmore.
“We’re on the road about nine months of the year doing about 75 performances. It’s like a long-term vacation,” Harrison said.
Verification of Harrison’s audience appeal is his selection to perform three times at the prestigious National Finals Rodeo in last Las Vegas, Nevada, where he’ll return this December.
Seven times, Harrison has been nominated for Comedy Act of the Year, and three times for PRCA’s Clown of the Year, as well as several times for the Coors Man in the Can title, being second last year.
It’d be remiss not to share more about Carla’s auction business. Her dad was an auctioneer, and Carla learned the trade at his side selling cattle and farm equipment.
“She still does junior livestock auctions and occasionally a machinery sale, but her specialty is benefit auctions,” Harrison said.
“Auctions should be fun, functional and raise funds,” John noted. “People pay attention and bid more when they’re actively involved in the auction. Carla makes the auction experience pleasurable.”
When not on the road, the Harrisons are involved in the family cattle business. “Dad (Wiley Harrison) actually does most of the work, but I try to help catch up with our share when I’m home,” Harrison said.
“We also coordinate the Freckles Brown Memorial Bull Riding and the Centennial Frontier Experience at the Oklahoma Sate Fair,” Harrison noted.
In conclusion, Harrison again emphasized, “People today have to have fun. I’m trying to do my part at the rodeos, so they’ll keep coming back.”