McALESTER, Okla. – Most cowboys dream of gold buckles, while singers hope for Grammys and actors pray for Oscars.
Johnny Dudley is not an ordinary athlete or entertainer.
“All the buckles and glory and big rodeos are things that most rodeo clowns want, but I just want people to say I’m a good guy,” said Dudley, who will be the featured entertainer/barrelman during the Choctaw Casino’s McAlester ProRodeo Presented by Sam Wampler’s Freedom Ford, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Feb. 12-13, at the Southeast Expo Center.
“I’d say the first 10 years of my career, all I cared about was getting to work the NFR. Now I’d rather just be a good dude.”
That good dude is pretty talented. Known by his moniker of “Backflip,” Dudley is part comedian and part bullfighter all mixed in greasepaint. He travels the rodeo trail with a passion for entertaining folks of all ages.
“The best part of my job is the smile of a child,” he said. “I love being able to go to different towns and put smiles on people’s faces. I also like to do volunteer work, helping other people.”
That’s something he has done most of his life. Raised in Dayton, Texas, by a single mother, he began working to support his family at age 14. A few years later, he joined the Marine Corps, serving eight years between being an active Marine and a reservist. In fact, it was while he was in the Marines that he decided to be a rodeo clown.
While attending a rodeo at Marine Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina, Dudley closely watched the clown and found the showman to his liking. Once he got out of the Marine Corps in the early 2000s, he went back to Dayton and began his career. He began as a bullfighter, then transitioned into the role he carries with him from one rodeo to another.
“In 2002, I quit my job,” he said. “I was in college with some money from the Montgomery GI Bill. Once I graduated college, I was doing well enough rodeoing that I was able to support myself with that.”
It took off from there. Now he utilizes six comedy acts as he entertains audiences at rodeos all across the country. He takes lessons taught him by other rodeo clowns, including establish comedians Lecile Harris and Rudy Burns.
“I’m kind of an old school guy trying to twist new school things in there,” Dudley said.
Part of that new-fangled stuff would be showcasing his athleticism, hence the nickname. Now 37, Dudley likes to shock the audience with his gymnastics talent. When he was younger, it was part of his arsenal as a freestyle bullfighter.
“That ‘Backflip’ name was awesome when I was 22,” he said. “Luckily I’m still athletic enough to do it.”
Dudley has adjusted his rodeo schedule a little this year to stay closer to his Denton, Texas, home. He and his wife, Emily, have a 2-year-old son, Jase, and another child on the way.
“It’s a tough life when you’re on the road as much as I can be,” he said. “They love me and try to travel with me when they can. With my wife having her own tack business and juggling that with taking care of a 2-year-old and pregnant with another child, it’s just too much for them to go with me.
“Within the last couple of years, I was trying to get to the NFR. Now I’d rather stay closer to the house.”
He also gets to continue his anti-bullying campaign, which is a major part of who Johnny Dudley is. Dudley will be part of school assemblies on Thursday, Feb. 11; he will be at Will Rogers Elementary from 9-9:30 a.m., Emerson Elementary from 9:50-10:20 a.m. and Edmond Doyle Elementary from 10:40-11:10 a.m.
“I love doing that kind of stuff,” Dudley said. “I get to meet a lot of people that way. I get to be part of some really cool things. (Recently) I drove two and a half hours on a Saturday to be a quarterback at a handicapped football game. That’s stuff most people don’t get to do, and I’m blessed that I have the opportunity to do it.”