BELT — Most people dream of spending all summer traveling across the country with their family. PRCA rodeo clown JJ Harrison lives that dream thanks to a few jokes and a little bit of makeup.
For three hours every night, Harrison pours everything he has into keeping crowds entertained and keeping cowboys safe.
“My job is not to be the show, you got to be like salt,” Harrison explained before kicking off the Montana circuit in Belt. “A little bit of you and you make it better, too much of you and they’re going to have to throw it out.”
And Harrison has found the perfect recipe, weaving laughs and engagement into his performances. It’s earned him the reputation as one of the top entertainers in pro rodeo, with appointments at the NFR and several other major rodeos.
“What set in with me was when my act that I was trying to do would fall apart, I would just ad lib and that’s where I just realized that this is my forte,” Harrison said. “Ad lib comedy is better for me, make it relevant to the crowd, I’ve had a lot of success with that.”
But when the performance wraps up and the last trailer leaves the arena, the work continues for Harrison. He shifts from entertainer to dad, keeping his family of six entertained.
Harrison’s 11-year-old son Huck has been traveling with him to rodeos for years. In February, Harrison married his wife Bailey and they added her three kids — Trey, Ava and Trevor — to the traveling troupe accompanying him to rodeos all across the country. It’s an unorthodox lifestyle, but it’s one Harrison says all of the kids love.
“Anybody that travels for a living will tell you there’s definitely positive and definitely negative. The positive is getting to travel different locations, meet different people, see different places, interact with different people,” Harrison said. “The drawbacks are it took us 11 hours to drive here.”
“It comes down to this. You could leave them home with grandma and grandpa, but they would be missing so much, and if I’m going to have this life then I want to share it with anyone who wants to be a part of it,” Harrison added.
Harrison even includes his family in his act, allowing them to dress up in costumes and join their dad interacting with the crowd. His performances are sometimes geared toward kids, and that’s no surprise. Before making the decision to pursue rodeo full time, Harrison was a middle school teacher with a graduate degree from Washington State.
But around 2008, he decided he was too much of a goofball to stay in the classroom.
“The call of rodeo is constant, it’s such a great sport and way of life that it drew me back in,” he said.
It’s a life he wouldn’t trade for anything.