LOVINGTON, N.M. – There’s a lot to Dale McCracken. The Missouri man has multiple personalities, but it’s not a disorder.
Like a superhero donning his cape, McCracken paints his face with greasepaint and enters the world of his alter-ego, Gizmo, a comedian who has entertained rodeo crowds for much of his life. It’s as if Dale drives and Gizmo does all the work, but it works well for McCracken.
“The guy that wears the makeup gets paid better, that’s for sure,” said McCracken, who will be one of the featured performers at the 76th annual Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10-Saturday, Aug. 13. “The name came along several years ago. I worked on a music show in Branson (Mo.) for about eight years, and there you’ve got to have a stage name.
“So with all the gizmos and gadgets I had, they came up with the name, ‘Gizmo, the Ozarks Greatest Inventor.’ So instead of selling a particular act, I sell a character.”
That character carries on several personas, but they’re all comedic. His entertainment includes the Buchin Ambulance, Gizmo’s Sir-rink-in Machine, Mustang Sally, Chicken Rocket and a golf act. During much of the rodeo, he’ll do what is called the “walk and talk,” sharing his comedy with the audiences each night of the four-performance rodeo.
“The last time I was in Lovington a few years ago, I got a phone call from the announcer at the time, Mike Mathes,” McCracken said of the rodeo, which is just part of the county’s eight-day fair that begins Aug. 5. “My wife, Janice, and I were on our way to Lovington, and Mike was calling to find out where we were. I told him we were in Hobbs, and he said, ‘You’d better hurry to get here, because we have a performance tonight.’ I could hear the music in the background, so I believed him.
“At the next stop, I jumped out and got into the trailer, and Janice started driving. Here I was going down the road in my trailer trying to get my face on, Janice’s driving bouncing all over that trailer. We get to the rodeo, and I come rolling out of the trailer only to find out that it was that special mutton busting they do the night before the rodeo. He got me, that’s for sure.”
McCracken joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1992 and has earned several honors in that time: he’s worked several PRCA circuit championships and has been a nominee for the association’s Comedy Act of the Year. He has worked the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, quite possibly the most prestigious regular-season rodeo in the country.
“Probably the hardest part of the job is just leaving the house,” said McCracken, who lives in Wheaton, Mo. “You need to read the crowd, and we change our stuff up to blend in. If the crowd is a rowdy bunch, then you have to work a little faster. If the crowd’s laid back, then we’ll slow it down a little.”
At each rodeo, there are a variety of duties for McCracken. As a comedian, he will interact with the crowd throughout each performance and put on skits that tend to leave fans in stitches. During bull riding, he continues to provide comedic relief as well as a necessary tool for the bull riders, bullfighters and others that are in the arena.
“First of all when I’m in the barrel, my best friend is Jesus, and my second best friend is the barrel,” he said. “It’s your safe haven there a lot. It also has its important part for cowboys and bullfighters to use, a place for them to go in the arena if they’re in a bind. That barrel is like that one tree out in the middle of the desert that gives you a little protection.”
And it’s also a heavy object with which some of the feistier bucking beasts love to play. So what’s it like for McCracken to be hit with that much force?
“It’s like getting into an aluminum trashcan and put into the back of a pickup going down the road at 35 miles per hour,” he said. “Then when you get up to speed, you have your buddy throw you out of the pickup, and you just bounce along down the road.
“The first time they hit you, it’s like a carnival ride. Then they hit you again, and it’s more like a car accident that turns into a carnival ride. It’s a pretty exciting tilt-o-whirl.”
So is McCracken’s life as a rodeo clown. He spends many weeks on the road, working events in several states, but he loves what he does. He enjoys the crowds and the excitement that comes with rodeo, and loves to see the smiles and hear the laughter.
“I really enjoy seeing people have a good time,” McCracken said. “Maybe there’s a guy that’s had it pretty rough, is struggling some. If we can just get him to the rodeo and use our last American heritage sport to help him forget his troubles, then he’s had a good night, and we, as a rodeo, have had a good night, too. Laughter is pretty good medicine, and the way things are right now, everybody needs a shot.”
Gizmo McCracken will be sharing his comedic wit with the great fans who will take in the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, with four performances set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10-Saturday, Aug. 13, at Jake McClure Arena in Lovington, N.M. (TED HARBIN PHOTO)