Merritt finds rewards in rodeo

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PECOS, Texas – What is the best part of Matt Merrit’s job?

His answer is short, yet poignant: “It’s the reward of seeing joy in people,” he said.

Merritt is a rodeo entertainer and clown, and he returns to the West of the Pecos Rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 26-Saturday, June 29, at Buck Jackson Arena in Pecos. It will be a chance for him to reconnect with the fans who welcomed him a year ago while also bringing bliss to many others who arrive for the four-day event.

“Rodeo is the last affordable sport or venue of any kind, and families get to come and experience just the real joy of watching what we do,” said Merritt, originally from northern Louisiana but now living in North Carolina. “Where I’m from, rodeo was like any other sport like baseball, football or basketball.

“It wasn’t crazy or different or weird, so my buddies rode bulls, and I dabbled in steer riding and chute-dogging when I was a little kid.”

It didn’t take long for him to find his calling, though.

“I was pretty young when I realized I wanted to do the clown thing,” he said. “I didn’t do the whole transition from bullfighter or that I was a bull rider or a bronc rider. I’ve just wanted to be a clown my whole life.”

He’s pretty good at it. He’s been nominated as PRCA Clown of the Year, and he’s been one of the featured entertainers for the PBR. He brings a fresh approach to his craft, carrying a longstanding tradition to the next level.

“My comedy is definitely off the hip,” Merritt said. “I have gimmicks that I use, but typically what I’m saying and what I’m doing is off the cuff.

“I tried telling jokes I found on the internet. They’re funny, and they have a punch line. I had a car act, and I had a dog that dug holes and did all these things. I realized that as soon as I started those acts that people would kind of turn me off because they had a phone in their hand, and they knew there was a joke coming. So, I just started shooting from the hip.”

Fans love it, especially those that understand rodeo’s history in Pecos.

“Matt was a huge hit last year,” said Anthony Lucia, the event’s emcee. “Matt is an untraditional clown, and he brings a whole different personality to a rodeo in a west Texas town. They are rodeo people, and Matt works his butt off to make sure they’re having fun. He comes up with new and different things. I’m so blessed, because he makes my job simple.”

Their work together is anything but easy, though. Both men work hard at their crafts, and it shows in the product. When working the “World’s First Rodeo,” there’s more than history at stake; it’s an honor they understand.

“It’s like getting to play at Yankee Stadium for baseball players who get called up to the Major Leagues,” Merritt said. “It’s just the coolest thing I get to do, and it definitely goes on my resume.”

Events like the West of the Pecos Rodeo are about making memories, and that’s a big deal of his job. He hopes that young rodeo fans will recall years later something he did or said. There are bits and pieces of his own youth that pop up, and those are the things he considers when he jogs onto the dirt each night.

“It’s like the kid that hits the home run, and he remembers the emotion of his dad clapping in the stands and stuff like that,” he said. “I’m going for that approach: Just leave a memory and give something they can remember.”

Merritt hits the home run more often than not, and his place in the memories of rodeo fans won’t go away any time soon.


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