Rodeo, theater collide in comedy routines |

Rodeo, theater collide in comedy routines

Rodeo announcer John Shipley and clown J.W. Winklepleck share a joke before a rodeo during a previous season. Shipley said getting a good repoire with a rodeo clown is key
John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo

Where: Romick Rodeo Arena at Howelsen Hill

When: 7:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights

Cost: $20 for adults/$10 for children at the gate. $18/$9 online at, or in Steamboat Springs at FM Light & Sons, Gondola General, Steamboat Central Reservations and Steamboat Springs Resort Association.

— Usually, it works, and the crowd is delighted, Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo announcer John Shipley said, considering the dance that goes into working with a rodeo clown.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work, and it’s even better.

“That’s sometimes more fun than what you were planning on doing,” he said.

And, sometimes, it doesn’t work, and it’s not good at all.

Avoiding that last result all depends on preparation and cooperation, Shipley said, and he doesn’t figure on having any problems this week as Steamboat Springs welcomes back what rodeo organizers say is a crowd favorite.

Troy Lerwill returns for both rodeo performances this weekend, bringing with him one of the most high-octane rodeo clown acts going.

The rodeo begins about 7:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights.

Lerwill isn’t quite an annual feature of the Steamboat rodeo, but he has made regular appearances, and his high-flying motorcycle act has proven popular with fans.

It’s a hit with Shipley, too, and when it comes to announcer-clown interactions, that’s important.

Rodeo clowns serve a practical purpose at the twice-weekly summer Steamboat rodeo. Officially, they’re there to keep people safe, especially during the bull riding, when distracting an angry bull could give a cowboy those precious few seconds he needs to scamper out of the dirt and up the fence.

The act is about more than that, however. In Steamboat, clowns are asked to serve as master of ceremony for a pair of children’s events — the calf scramble and the ram scramble. They usually get two segments of their own for sketches, and they’re relied upon to pop out a one-liner or some quick banter with the announcer whenever the action in the arena is stalled.

That doesn’t all come easy, either. Maybe playing off another actor comes naturally to someone who grew up training for the Broadway stage, but Shipley — Kansas born and a long-time vet in the rodeo business — said it was a skill he had to learn to perfect.

“It took me a long time to figure out not to worry so much about the script, but just to watch,” he said. “It’s good to have some notes, but it’s also good to keep your head up. Something you didn’t expect could happen, and when it does, there’s a little, ‘Whoa!’ out of the microphone and people know you’re watching it live. It’s like theater, and I enjoy it.”

Shipley will try to reach out to a new act. A phone call can be difficult, as it was last year with Mexican trick roper Tomas Garcilazo, when a language barrier initially slowed things. They soon met up, however, and when the two cowboys sat down to talk, communication was crystal clear.

It doesn’t take the same kind of meeting with Lerwill at this point.

He’s been to Steamboat more than a half dozen times, and he and Shipley have learned to play off each other and to play right along, even if someone flubs a line.

Shipley said watching someone like Lerwill perform also brings out a genuine appreciation, and that doesn’t take any practice to express.

“It’s really a great act,” Shipley said. “When I watch it, it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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