Rodeo clown Wes “Hippie” Engelkes will bound into the Williamson County Ag Expo Center this weekend with his fresh comedic routine for the three-day Franklin Noon Rotary Club Rodeo, which starts Thursday, May 14.
Engelkes, 35, has always wanted to find himself around bulls, either riding or fighting.
“It was in 2001, I started clowning and working the barrels,” he told Franklin Home Page. “I was going to get paid for everything that sent me to the principal’s office.”
The Iowa native will dress in an elaborate costume with exaggerated makeup for his first Franklin Rodeo — one of 50 performances he will have in 2015. Part of his job means Engelkes will arrange himself into a padded barrel and watch the bulls, acting as an island of safety.
“I get to goof off and get paid for it and get the crowd involved,” he sad. “I can do this a lot longer than riding bulls. It’s a blessing.”
As a clown, he can help the bull riders by getting in the right position while they are in the ring. Engelkes said it’s not scary, but the occasional animal hind leg might come in contact with his body.
“We get tossed around and it’s a pretty good time,” he said.
That tossing around doesn’t come without a price, though. Last year, Engelkes said he injured seven vertebrae in his neck.
“You can see the white makeup around my eye and my whole head as it disappeared in the arena dirt,” he said.
He got up and jumped back in the barrel, but left the arena after five more bulls. Engelkes said he continued with the weekend rodeo until that Sunday he couldn’t walk.
“I have a high pain tolerance, but I was pretty sore,” he said. “I just I didn’t know what was wrong. But by the following Tuesday I was getting everything sorted out.
Although injuries like that don’t happen often for Engelkes, he tries to not focus on what might happen while he is in the area. In his mind, his main purpose is to entertain the crowd with different daily routines for his year-round job.
“I like doing improv comedy,” he said. “I like to feed off the crowd and see something and go with that. If people come to a three-day rodeo, they aren’t going to hear the same comedy all three days.”
Engelkes said he is a continuous learner, even though he began this gig around 14 years ago, doing what he classified as amateur work. From there, he hooked up with other rodeo clowns and gained contracts to work shows.
Through experience and watching others, he’s learned about timing and paying close attention to what’s happening inside the arena. Plus, he wants to keep adding routines to his repertoire.
“I can walk around and do stuff and also perform little antics in addition to the barrel,” he said. “I say [rodeo clowns] are always still learning. It keeps you on your toes.”
Engelkes knows his acts have paid off in the end when he can feel the vibrations of the crowd in his feet, with ground absorbing the arena’s sound.
“I felt that when I was in front of a sold-out crowd in Madison, WI.,” he said. “It was just loud and explosive. I could feel how loud the crowd was. I was in a moment of awe at how powerful people’s voices are.”
The Franklin Noon Rotary Club’s annual rodeo will run from May 14-16.