(Editor’s note: This updated story clarifies the involvement of Tuffy Gessling and his fellow rodeo clown in the incident).
By ANDY LYONS
(digitalBURG) — News outlets the world over focused on the Missouri State Fair Monday.
The spotlight wasn’t on the fair queen, or the midway, or even the livestock on display. The spotlight centered on one rodeo clown, and for all the wrong reasons.
Rodeo clown Tuffy Gessling was the man on the microphone behind the antics, which involved another rodeo clown disguised as a Barack Obama dummy.
“It was a colleague of mine that was dressed up, I am the rodeo clown (in the YouTube videos) making jokes,” Gessling said. “The dummy was a colleague of mine that was dressed up and he comes alive and runs away. It creates an element of surprise to shock the crowd that it’s actually a real guy. The dummy clown was maybe 45 or 50 feet from the bull, and I was probably 25 or so feet away.”
While the display was denounced by officials, from Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder to Sen. Claire McCaskill, the person behind the issue paints a different picture.
“Comedians all over the country have used political figures to make fun of current events, it’s nothing new,” Gessling said during a telephone interview with digitalBURG. “I never tried to be a racist or anything like that. I love all people no matter their background. I live to make people laugh. When TV comedians are doing it every day, Rush Limbaugh is doing it every day, people on Facebook are doing it every day 10 times more than me. I was just trying to make light of the situation, that’s it. Nothing racist was ever implied.”
Gessling said he’s been a rodeo clown all of his life and that’s what he loves to do. He wouldn’t disclose his age or personal information because he said he’s received three death threats over the incident. He refused to disclose the identity of his colleague behind the mask because he said the prank was his idea and because of the negative attention he’s received. He related his joke to similar ones used by pop culture icons.
“Making fun of political and famous people is kind of the platform,” he said. “People like Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien make them all the time. I’ve never tried to dishonor or disrespect anyone, so the whole thing was not meant to be racist or disrespectful. I was just trying to make people laugh.”
Gessling described the situation as overwhelming. He apologized to those he offended via his personal Facebook early Monday and had more than 25 messages in support from his followers.
Mitt Romney won Missouri with nearly 54 percent of the popular vote in the 2012 presidential election. President Obama’s lack of popularity among rural Missourians is no secret. Gessling, however, maintains his right to his opinion despite being banned from the Missouri State Fair by Director Mark Wolfe on Monday.
“Everyone is an individual and we have the right to say whatever we want,” Gessling said. “As far as political jokes or stuff like that, I didn’t mean to offend anyone, didn’t mean to dishonor or disrespect any of those guys.”
Officials from the Missouri State Fair and the Missouri Cowboy Rodeo Association were unavailable at press time.