‘Backflip’ Johnny Dudley to entertain at Rodeo
By Lance Catchings
What started as a side job for “Backflip” Johnny Dudley has turned into a nearly 20-year rodeo career that eventually brought him to Liberty Hill.
Dudley will entertain rodeo fans this weekend at the Liberty Hill Fair & Rodeo at the Harvest Ranch Arena.
“When I started rodeo, it was right after I got out of the Marines and I was in college,” Dudley said. “I would do it on the side just for fun, but it got to where I started getting paid well. By the time I graduated college, I was making more money being a rodeo clown than I could if I got a regular job. I was single at the time and I was having so much fun rodeoing I just kept doing it. Later, I got married and thought about slowing down on the rodeoing, but this career is paying off way better than any degree I could have right now. Fun, money and time-wise it is better than a regular job for me.”
Although at a young age he participated in some mutton bustin’ – and some steer roping as an adult – Dudley has always been a rodeo clown at heart.
“Ever since I looked into rodeo, it was always as a rodeo clown,” he said. “When I am in the arena, it is all about entertainment. First and foremost, as a rodeo clown your job is to entertain the crowd. You are supposed to fill the lulls in the action. During the bull riding, my job gets a little more dangerous because I am the one inside the barrel. If there is a bad bull or something, the cowboy can use me as an island of safety to get away from the bull. For the most part, I am strictly entertainment.”
Dudley’s style of entertainment revolves around being family friendly and making fans laugh.
“You are pretty much a stand-up comedian that must provide comedy for a diverse crowd,” he said. “There will be people from two years old to 92 years old. The people that go to watch a stand-up comic know what to expect from them. With the type of comedy I provide, it must make a five-year old laugh and a 55-year old laugh, and it must be clean. I think it is one of the most difficult forms of comedy to do. Good rodeo clowns keep up with current events and work well with the rodeo announcer. I am just a stand-up comic or performer that happens to have my stage in the rodeo arena. I have a skit portion, clown car and a trick dog. I will also pull some people from the crowd for skits or do a contest. That is all fun, but my favorite part is the stand-up comedy portion.”
Dudley said the “backflip” in his stage name comes from something that stuck during his younger days.
“I have been doing backflips since I was nine years old,” he said. “Back when I was 16, I would do them at the local pool showing off for girls and things like that. When I started out in rodeo, I would stand on top of the fence and do a backflip off the fence. I would backflip over bulls for fun and things like that. I am 40 now and those backflips are starting to hurt. I can still do them, I just don’t do as many as I used to.”
The backflips that Dudley is famous for keep him busy throughout the year. He and his family currently live outside of Denton, but Dudley travels all year long for his passion of clowning around at the rodeo.
“I worked 42 weekends last year and did 129 rodeo performances,” he said. “It keeps me busy. I haven’t had a weekend off since early January and I have one weekend off between the Liberty Hill Rodeo and November. It is a full-time job for sure.”
In addition to his career as a rodeo clown, Dudley also has an anti-bullying program called “Backflip’s Bully Stoppers.”
“I get to go in front of many elementary school kids,” he said. “I have an anti-bullying program and get to do a lot of motivational speaking. Something I tell them is, ‘If you put your mind to it, you can do it.’ I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I was growing up. I knew we didn’t have very much money and I couldn’t afford college, so that put me into the marine corps. Once I achieved that goal, I was able to get out, support myself and go to college.”
Dudley is close to 20 years into the rodeo circuit and hopes to see another 20 if things go the way he plans.
“I stepped into the arena in about the year 2000, so I have been in this for about 20 years, and I hope to do another 20 years,” he said. “This is one of those jobs you don’t ever really retire. If you are not good enough to keep getting hired, it may put you out of business, but there are clowns that are 80 years old that still do it.”
Dudley encourages anyone looking for some family-friendly fun to come out and support the Liberty Hill Rodeo this weekend.
“The good thing about rodeo is it’s fun, family friendly and affordable,” he said. “No matter how old you are, you will have a good time. For the two hours you are in the stands, everyone is the same. There could be someone broke sitting next to a millionaire, because once you’re in the bleachers, everyone is the same. I won’t know any of the people’s problems, but for two hours, if I can make them laugh and put a smile on their face, then I have done my job.”
Dudley will be performing at the Liberty Hill Fair & Rodeo April 18-21 at Harvest Ranch Arena.