Life of a rodeo clown: A barrel of laughs

by Adam Kemp Modified: July 20, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: July 20, 2013
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Tucked down inside a barrel, all Shane Parli can do is wait. If everything goes right, a 2,000-pound bull should be crashing into him any second, sending him rolling away wildly to the delight of thousands of cheering spectators.

With his arms and legs bracing himself against the inner wall of the red and blue barrel, Shane holds on as the massive animal's charge sends him and the barrel somersaulting through the air only to be hit again by the bull and pushed across the arena like a marble shot by a giant kid.

“It's a big adrenaline rush,” Parli said. “Once you drop down in there, you don't know if he's going to hit it or kick it or run by you or what's going to happen. You're just kind of braced for anything.”

Parli, 41, is a second-generation rodeo clown and barrel-man for many different rodeos across the country. Shane, his wife, Amanda, and their two children Bailee, 13, and Cole, 9, travel the country entertaining crowds with their act while also trying to help keep the spirit of the rodeo clown alive and well.

Parli said that from an early age he learned the life of clowning from his father, Gary Parli.

The two traveled the country together, and Shane was able to glean the fine details of his dad's work by getting in the acts himself.

“Dad hauled me around everywhere, and I would play the helper roles in all the clown acts,” Shane said. “It was always such a thrill to see and hear the crowd reactions to our act.

“It just gets in your blood.”

The purpose of the rodeo clown has shifted over the years; the original purpose of the guys in the clown makeup was to distract a bull away from a fallen rider.

Now, they are used more to entertain the crowd during breaks, and cowboys do the distracting.

Gary's rodeo travels also afforded unique opportunities to see the country.

“Got to see a lot of things that a small time Oklahoma farm boy normally wouldn't have gotten to,” Shane said. “Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful, Yellowstone. Those are some of the memories I still hold most dear, and now I'm getting to do some of that with my kids.”

A family tradition

Gary, 67, said he's tickled to see his grandchildren taking up the family legacy.

“I was glad to see Shane carry this on,” he said. “He's keeping things alive, and I saw Cole get into one of Shane's acts, and you can see he's got good dance moves and funny facial expressions. He gets the laughs.”

Shane leaves his trailer packed up at all times during the summer months, or as most cowboys refer to as “Cowboy Christmas,” because of the high number of rodeos going on at any given time.

The Parli family attends a rodeo just about every weekend between April and October.

The back of their trailer is filled with different props, barrels and cowboy hats. But the big showpiece is the red Ford Model T that Gary purchased for the act nearly 30 years ago.

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by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Newsok.com. Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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