Most people would get fired for consistently clowning around at work.
But for Dennis Halstead, that’s the very nature of his job.
He’s one of the top five rodeo clowns in the world, performing in 150 shows a year, for 10 months out of the year. Once he puts on his white make-up, his oversized pants and trusty suspenders, topped off with his trademark yellow shoes, he’s completed the transformation into Denny.
He’s been in Regina at Agribition this week entertaining crowds and signing autographs to thousands of students.
“From my end of it I got a very unique job. I got a very serious job but I have a very fun job,” said Halstead. “There’s so much of my business that people don’t understand. It’s my job to make sure that there’s never a slow spot in a rodeo.”
Sometimes that means coming face-to-face with a raging bull.
“The thing in my business, doing as many performances as I do in a year, you’re gonna get banged up,” he conceded.
Injuries are simply a fact of life for those involved in rodeos, both for the men and women riding the animals to those like Denny who entertain and endure the force of being rammed.
“When I get hit in that barrel they estimate it’s like a Datsun truck doing 25 to 30 miles an hour, so the g-force is quite something,” he explained. “The best way to describe it is like dumping in a dryer, turn the dryer on and throw it down a flight of stairs and that’s what it’s like to ride in my barrel. It’s wild.”
It’s a special job for a special kind of person. Halstead shared that as he was working for the Calgary Fire Department 20 years ago, a charity rodeo came to town. The rodeo clown backed out at the last minute and he was asked if it would be something he wanted to try. Having grown up around animals and the farm, he accepted. That’s when Denny was born. Now retired after 30 years of fighting fires, he devotes his time solely to fighting to get out of the way of bulls.
“I was given a gift. I mean I look at stuff so much differently than everybody else and I think that’s one of the unique things about my job is, you have to be a little bit off the wall, a little different.”
“For me, if you’ve ever seen my show, I don’t know what comes out of my mouth, stuff just rolls, but I have a lot of fun. I like to involve the crowd,” he added.
When will he retire from being a rodeo clown?
“Til they bury me in my barrel.”