The man behind the rodeo clown make-up: Kyle Bode

Kyle Bode banters back and forth with rodeo announcer Scott Allen while behind the chutes at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo on Saturday, July 3. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

The sun is sinking, turning the sky on the evening of the Fourth of July into a vibrant canvas of purples, reds and yellows.

The lights at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo arena flash on. Men begin loading the rodeo bulls into the chutes as the riders prepare behind the scenes. The bulls, some weighing nearly a ton, sporadically buck against heavy metal gates, causing them to rattle and clang.

Waiting for them in the middle of the rodeo is pro barrelman Kyle Bode, 28.

Not many people would be willing to paint their faces, dress like a clown and take on a 1,500-pound bull.

For Bode, the passion for rodeo clowning goes back two decades. He has been dressing like a rodeo clown since he was 8.

Kyle Bode dressed up liked pro-rodeo clown Flint Rasmussen at the age of eight. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Bode)

His idol then was Flint Rasmussen, the most famous rodeo clown/barrelman that has ever graced the pro-rodeo stage.

“I wanted to be like Flint Rasmussen. Everybody wanted to be him when they were little,” Bode said.

Bode’s father started taking him to the rodeo when he was just 3.

“My dad tells a story that he almost lost me at the Sedro-Woolley 4th of July Rodeo one year because I’d be running around trying to look at all the cowboys and all the bull riders and all the bulls and everything,” Bode said.

After high school, Bode attended Walla Walla Community College where he “kind of made up his own degree.” While at Walla Walla he got his commercial driver’s license, studied irrigation and animal science and learned about electrical work and welding.

“I kind of just said, Okay, I’m probably going to dairy farm and rodeo, so I thought of what I am going to use on the dairy farm,” Bode said.

The Bode family owns a dairy in Quincy, Washington, which Bode’s father has been working for 35 years. Bode took up the family business with his father seven years ago.

But it was also at Walla Walla where Bode started fighting bulls, which is much different than Spanish bull fighting. Fighting a bull at a rodeo is a fight of wits and fast foot work, where the bull fighters’ job is to distract the bull and lead them away from the riders. They don’t physically fight the bulls.

Bode joined the Walla Walla rodeo team at 19 and started fighting bulls, which he continued doing for nearly seven years. Bode then made the switch to clowning, finding himself with a headset mic inside a heavily padded barrel. Excluding 2020, Bode usually works about 15 to 20 rodeos a year.

“I heard an old clown said we’re kind of the glue, as far as holding events together,” Bode said. One of the jobs of a rodeo clown is to keep the crowd engaged and entertained when the rodeo slows down between riders.

At the Vale 4th of July Rodeo, Bode and the rodeo announcer Scott Allen bantered back and forth throughout the rodeo in style similar to the comedic dynamic between a late-night talk show host and their right-hand funny man.

But Bode’s first and most important job as a rodeo clown is keeping people safe. Bode and his barrel serve as an “island of safety” inside the arena where bull riders and even rodeo judges can find refuge from a charging bull.

Becoming a professional barrelman isn’t as simple as putting on some clown make-up and jumping in barrel either.

To work as a barrelman in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, a person must get a letter of recommendation from a rodeo announcer, a bull rider and another rodeo clown and work five non-PRCA rodeos to qualify to be evaluated.

Kyle Bode prepares to throw his hat as a distraction as a steer approaches his barrel at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo on Thursday, July 1. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

“First thing that really stood out to me about Kyle’s character was his work ethic,” said seasoned rodeo announcer Al Parsons, who has worked with Bode several times over the past decade. “Everybody knows when you’re in the dairy business there is no time off, so you have to have that work ethic first because it brings you up to another level of, we have to get this done.”

Parsons also said Bode’s “morals are extremely strong” and that he is family oriented, qualities that stood out to Parsons.

For Bode, his wife Hannah and their three boys, “90% of their livelihood” comes from working the family dairy. But that other 10% comes from clowning at the rodeo.

“Clowning is just flat out fun and easy to involve the family,” Bode said.

Hannah Bode and her three sons watch Kyle clowning at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo on Sunday, July 4. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

Kyle Bode waits for the next rider at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo on Sunday, July 4. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

Kyle Bode enjoys some rain while in the rodeo arena during a hot evening at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo on Thursday, July 1. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

Kyle Bode wheels his barrel into position at the Vale 4th of July Rodeo on Sunday, July 4. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise).