Isley’s comedy coming to rodeo

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Keith Isley is one of the most decorated clowns in rodeo.

Now Isley will bring his brand of funny to the American Royal Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, inside Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex.

Keith Isley is the most decorated entertainer in ProRodeo, and he returns to Kansas City for the American Royal Rodeo, set for Friday, Sept. 27-Saturday, Sept. 28, at Hale Arena. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)
Keith Isley is the most decorated entertainer in ProRodeo, and he returns to Kansas City for the American Royal Rodeo, set for Friday, Sept. 27-Saturday, Sept. 28, at Hale Arena. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

“I thoroughly enjoy watching people have a good time and enjoy what I do or what I say,” said Isley, 55, now in his 20th year in ProRodeo. “Just seeing people enjoy it and have a good time. Sometimes later in the year, you’ll get home and have some letters for you and have some pictures of you that kids have drawn.

“It’s the little things that really make me feel like I’m accomplishing something.”

He has accomplished much. He’s been named the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Clown of the Year six times, the Coors Man in the Can five times, the PRCA Comedy Act of the Year five times and PRCA Specialty Act of the Year three times. For three straight years, from 2009-11, he won the funnyman’s trifecta: Clown of the Year, Coors Man in the Can and Comedy Act of the Year.

“We really like working with Keith, because, for one, his comedy is second to none,” said Cody Kidd, production supervisor for Smith Pro Rodeos, the stock contractor at the American Royal Rodeo. “Keith has two sides to him that the older generation can relate to, but he’s also able to do things that reach the younger generation. He can do both aspects of it.”

That’s just one piece of the puzzle that makes Isley such a commodity. In addition to being one of the best funny men in the business, he also has some of the top acts in rodeo. He’ll bring it all with him when he arrives at the West Bottoms for the American Royal.

“I enjoy what I do, and it’s a lot of fun when you’ve got a good crowd and a good announcer,” Isley said, noting that while in Kansas City he will work with Randy Corley, who has been named the PRCA Announcer of the Year 11 times. “When you see people with smiles on their faces, and then people come up to you and appreciate what you do, that makes what we do a lot more worthwhile.”

Isley sees a lot of smiles and has for much of his professional life. Though he was considered a class clown, being a comedian didn’t come easily.

“Oh, it was natural if I knew you, but if I didn’t know you, it was really hard,” he said. “When I started the comedy, that was really hard for me to get used to because I didn’t know those people watching me.”

He has since overcome his stage fright to become one of the most sought-after entertainers in the game. There’s good reason for it, too. Part of a good clown’s job is to fill any down time that could some during the event. If there’s a pause in the action, Isley knows it’s his turn to step up to the plate.

“From a production standpoint, it’s the small things that Keith does that makes a big difference,” Kidd said. “When we have a delay, I can turn to Keith and let him know I need him to fill, and he’ll be right there. With him and a guy like Randy Corley announcing it, you know they bring the professionalism to the table that you need to make the production seem seamless.”

It’s just part of the job for Isley.

“I like to play on the crowd,” he said. “I like to have fun with people that like to have fun.”

It works, but Isley has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. He loves working with animals and allowing them to steal the show. When it’s all put together, it’s an award-winning showcase that reaches so many people.

“Back in 1999, I worked a rodeo in Belle Foursche (S.D.); during the trick riding act, I was talking to the announcer and was just looking around,” he said. “That’s when I saw the contestants standing all around the arena just watching.”

When Isley left town, he reflected on that image and still considers it one of his greatest honors. Later that year, he earned was named the Specialty Act of the Year for the first time.

“Since then, I’ve won it a few times,” Isley said. “I’ve undoubtedly been the most blessed man who’s ever bought a PRCA membership.”

The fans are pretty blessed, too.


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