Idaho rodeo clown brings his comedy to the Nyssa Nite Rodeo

NYSSA – During his rodeo career Donnie Landis endured broken ribs, a punctured lung and serious injuries to a foot.

Yet he wouldn’t trade one memory or experience from a career that began when he was a teen and is still going strong today.

A Gooding, Idaho, resident, Landis’ specialty is finding the right trigger to produce laughs during a rodeo and he takes his career as a rodeo clown seriously. He will carry more than 52 years of rodeo bull riding and clown comedy experience into the arena at the Nyssa Nite Rodeo Friday, June 14, and Saturday, June 15.

Landis, 64, lives in Gooding, Idaho, where he raises miniature bucking bulls but his gaze fixed on rodeo when he was a youth in southern California.

The first time Landis performed as a rodeo clown before a crowd was in California when he was 12 in 1972.

“My dad was working a rodeo and his partner was injured,” said Landis.

That’s when his dad came to him to say he was going to fill in for his injured partner.

“It was kind of like destiny,” said Landis.

Landis started his career as a rodeo clown then switched to bull fighting before he switched back to clowning.

“It is about entertainment and protecting the cowboys. Even when I fought bulls when I was younger it was to please the crowd” he said.

As a bullfighter and, in some ways, as a clown the arena could be a dangerous place, he said. He said no one wanted to “take a hook” from the horn of a bull but that risk was and is “part of the game.”
Now, Landis does not fight bulls but he will often stand by as a back-up in the arena for other bullfighters.

His stint at the Nyssa Nite Rodeo will consist of performances such as the Wild Cantbeatalope, a shaggy puppet Landis rides and then matches against a horse. Another gig is his effort to set up an oversized mouse trap to catch a 1,500-pound “mouse.”

He will also enter the arena to fight the fierce bull “Jose Jose.” Jose Jose turns out to be a 15-pound miniature bull but Landis will “fight” him all the same.

Landis said his act evolved over the decades, especially regarding jokes and measuring the sentiments prevalent in a specific region.

Recently he was performing at a California rodeo when he made a joke.

The theme of the joke was electric cars. Landis told the crowd a new survey showed 95% of electric cars are on California highways – and 5 percent actually made it home.

The joke produced no laughs at the California rodeo. A short time later, he said, the same joke told at a South Dakota rodeo ignited roars of laughter.

“I need to know what area I am in and what jokes I can get away with,” he said.

During the early part of his career Landis worked all of the big rodeos – such as the Calgary Stampede and the Pendleton Round-Up – but he focuses on small venues now.

“I do not play the politics anymore so I won’t chase, for example, the rodeo committee at Cheyenne (the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo) and tell them how great their rodeo is,” he said.

He said performing as a rodeo clown is still all about having fun.

“There could be 10,000 people there or just one. I treat them all the same,” he said.

He said he puts “his whole life into every performance.”

Landis said he is constantly crafting his act.

“I’m thinking about rodeos that are going on in September already and I’ve already worked Nyssa in my head,” he said.

Landis said rodeo is a unique sport.

He said in most other sports there are frequent pauses, such as when a referee blows a whistle to stop play.

“In the game of rodeo, you are dealing with livestock, whether it is a horse or other animals, and when the whistles blow you are not done. The game is not over. In rodeo, like life, there is no pause button,” he said.

Landis said another important part of his job is to keep a rodeo in rhythm. If there is a delay or a breakdown of equipment, he moves in to entertain the crowd.

Born in Los Angeles, he said while his early life was in the city he was raised “rural in the city.”

At one time, he said, he earned “six digits for several years” as a clown and bullfighter.

He said he used to “rodeo pretty much year-around.”

“There was a time when I would go do three rodeos in January, one or two in December. I pretty much stay home in the winter now,” he said.

Landis said he focuses on raising miniature bucking bulls when not on the rodeo circuit.

He said his life as a rodeo clown and bullfighter has been “fascinating.”

“These are all things normal people don’t do,” he said.

New tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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