DUNCAN, Okla. – Even though he’s nearing the age of a senior citizen, Keith Isley can still showcase the gift of athleticism from time to time.
It’s the nature of his job. He’s a rodeo clown, and physical comedy is part of Isley’s routine. But his training to be a man who wears makeup and do silly things in the rodeo arena came long before he ever thought of doing anything comedically.
Isley was raised in rodeo in a time when bullfighters were a combination of clowns, comedians and bullfighters, the latter in place to serve as protector for all during bull riding. He just picked up the rest later in life.
“Back in that time of rodeo, you were expected to do some comedy and fight bulls, too,” he said. “Now I’m in my 60s, so I don’t get as close to the bulls as I used to. The brain says I’m willing, but the body definitely says I’m not able.”
He’s still quite able to entertain a crowd, something he does nationwide all year long. He returns to the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14-Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan. He’s a natural fit for the regional finale, which features only the top 12 contestants from the circuit, made up of rodeos and contestants from primarily Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.
He has learned how to be funny and how to do acts that not only entertain but also show off the skills God provided him. Over the last 40 years, no other clown in the PRCA has received as many accolades as Isley, who has been named Specialty Act of the Year five times, Comedy Act of the Year six times, Clown of the Year six times and Coors Man in the Can five times, including last year when he earned the honor at the PRCA Awards Banquet in Fort Worth, Texas.
“The acts were tough to come by for me, because I was not interested in the acts in the beginning,” said Isley of Goldston, North Carolina. “I was not interested in being funny. I was interested in protecting cowboys and getting people out of a bind.”
He’s developed his schtick over time, and it works quite well. He figured it out; I’s a mixture of influences that have packaged themselves into the smart-aleck with a Carolina accent and a quick-hitting attention to detail. He also understands the necessity of utilizing physical comedy.
“You can get someone to tell a joke, but a comedian will know how to make it funny,” Isley said. “Before each rodeo and during the national anthem, I say a little prayer. I thank God for giving me the talent and giving me the opportunity to make people laugh and have a good time. Everybody has problems at some point in their life. If you can make people laugh, at that point, they will have forgotten their problem.”