Rodeo clown says he intended ‘no disrespect’

(Photo by ANDREW MATHER, digitalBURG) Tuffy Gessling performs at the Johnson County Fair in July.

(Photo by ANDREW MATHER, digitalBURG) Tuffy Gessling performs at the Johnson County Fair in July.

(Editor’s note: This updated story clarifies the involvement of Tuffy Gessling and his fellow rodeo clown in the incident).


(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.

Posted by on August 12, 2013. Filed under Arts & Events. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

43 Responses to Rodeo clown says he intended ‘no disrespect’

  1. John Templemire Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    I hope there is a way that gessling can get the fair in some deep water. you do have a right to what you think and the mask was made not by him but someone else and I believe at the end the pres will laugh and maybe save Gesslingfrom the bull crap.

  2. Raymond James Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    This act regardless of who is the President is inappropriate.

    This summer one Carnival had a shooting games use the Presidents picture as a target.

    In this incident the announcer asked the crowd if they wanted to see the bull hurt the President.

    I realize many Missourians still fly the Confederate Flag and think there is nothing wrong with what happened.

    However many Missourians object to the President regardless of which President being depicted this way. The Sambo acts should have gone out of style decades ago.

    • Emmet Cox Reply

      August 13, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      I have known Tuffy for years, he’s taught a lot of what I know about traveling rodeos. Tuffy would never intentionally hurt someone on purpose in any way. He was doing nothing more than everybody on TV does or says. Tuffy has become more of a brother to me and I will stand beside him no matter what. I think this country should do the same and get over there diaper rash and grow up and be adults.

    • Renee Hofstetter Reply

      August 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      Rodeo acts all around the world do similar situations with Presidential mask not just in Missouri. The issue here is the fact that the President in question is Black so everyone is making a big deal out of it. If a black man went out there wearing Obama’s mask not one person would have said a thing, hell if he would of worn a white mans mask still no one would of said a thing. People whom are having an issue to this are the ones whom are racist cause THEY are the ones making it about race. Grow up people this was done in good nature fun. Look at yourselfs before you point your fingers at this man. As far as making death threats at this man those individuals need help. Slavery and segregation is over, we are all equals now so stop making things out of something that is not there plan and simple.

      • stormy coffmsn Reply

        August 13, 2013 at 11:28 pm

        I totally agree with this! Well said.

      • Tammy Reply

        August 14, 2013 at 1:15 am

        I totally agree it would not be a big deal if he wasn’t a black president, it has been done before and nothing was said


      August 14, 2013 at 12:37 am


    • Fay Reply

      August 15, 2013 at 2:29 am

      No matter the office , no matter the person,,respect has got to be earned a title doesn’t earn you respect nor should it,,,,,,,,they did a lot worse to bush than they did on this,,no one said a damned word about that,,,,there was no racism in this ,,the NAACP and the pik panthers are just looking to start trouble,,,,,if you want respect earn it,,,you get what you give,,,,,,and Obama sure as hell haven’t given any respect to the American people,,,,

  3. Raymond James Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Question was this act preformed at the Johnson County Fair? If not why not ?

    • john jones Reply

      August 13, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      That is a stupid comment. You saying that makes me believe you are a racist.

  4. Floyd Strader Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Someone ought to tell that bunch of stuffed shirts with the fair board and rodeo bunch where to stuff their stupid political heads – I am sure there is a Missouri Mule around the stock yards somewhere that can be made to hold still long enough.

  5. Sharlene Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    It’s ok. The president disrespects himself and me on a daily basis. So let a clown make people laugh. There are so few that can do that for our nation anymore.

  6. Anita Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    If Americans are unable to poke fun at any president, then we are no longer a free country.

    • Dianna Reply

      August 16, 2013 at 9:30 am

      Amen!!! This is something people do all of the time. I don’t think that it always appropriate,but there is no reason to take what the Fair Ground board and the Rodeo Association did to this extreme. There is a Constitutional Law that gives us the Freedom of Speech. That is all this man was doing.

  7. David Lorton Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I don’t see anything wrong at all with what Tuffy did. It happens on network television all the time. I stand behind him and the MSF can kiss my A$$.The racist card is being played way too much. And as for the PC crowd, 95% of the time I hear the N word it’s coming out of the mouths of black people.

  8. Carolyn Jones Reply

    August 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    I have a gut feeling that before it is all done, this is going to jump up & bite the Missouri State Fair, & Missouri Rodeo Assn. in the butt! If not, it certainly should!

  9. Tammy Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 1:18 am

    I think we should all support Tuffy and make signs in support of him out side the state fair gates any one want to do it I’ll be there just let me know

  10. Kali Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 3:44 am

    I was at the rodeo. Tuffy NEVER made any racist comments or anything that could have been taken as being even a smidgen in that direction. He may have went over the top with being excited about the idea of the bulls knocking the fake Obama down, but the bulls never came close to even touching the clown in the Obama mask. It is the media and those who were butt hurt by the joking that are making this out to be more than it was. If it was any other president, those of the Caucasian skin type, this never would have made the news. Now let’s start talking about racist hypocrites…

  11. Diane Terry Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 5:13 am

    The problem is the platform. Yes, we have free speech and jokes about presidents have been around forever. This clown and all others associated with the rodeo represent the state of Missouri. So in this regard, are held to a higher standard than say facebook jokes or comedians on the nightshow. I thought it interesting that a school superintendent as the president of the Missouri rodeo association was involved. Would he allow such a performance at his school?

    • Garett Reply

      August 14, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Why shouldn’t comedians and performers be held to high standards? These rodeo performers were not on national television, and were only seen by a hundred or so people before a video was put on youtube. Comedians and entertainers are on national television and you can see the crap they say anytime, day or night. The platform argument will not work. Presidential masks have been used at rodeos for as long as I can remember. Plus, hasn’t anyone else read the story about the black rodeo clown who put on a Hillary Clinton mask? Where was the outrage there? Also, don’t you think that if a superintendent was involved, he would most likely assume that there could be black people in the audience? Why would they blatantly be racist if they had that prior knowledge? When did everyone lose their sense of humor?

    • Laura C Reply

      August 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      This rodeo is not state sponsored – people have to PAY TO GET IN TO SEE THE RODEO!! Why would you compare that to a school function? No, he wouldn’t disrespect the president at school, it’s funded by taxpayers, etc.

    • Anthony Reply

      August 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm

      does he allow beer, cigarettes, P D A, chew, or nearly see through clothing? Probably not at school. But kinda comparing apples to oranges

    • Fay Reply

      August 15, 2013 at 2:34 am

      The point is he wasn’t in school,,and neither was the rodeo,,,were you crying when George bush was the one being chased by the bull,,,

  12. Darla Schirmann Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Every president has had a mask and jokes made for/after them. Obama is no different. What is the difference. Not one. People want something to complain about. Now they have it. I thought it was funny. People have different opinions/sence of humor. Thats not a crime.

  13. Bobby Lee Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 7:47 am

    its ok for a thug rapper to walk all over the American Flag and it might get a mention. They can burn an American flag and maybe get a mention. Tv can make jokes about obama and its ok. a real american makes a joke and everyone want to hang him. In the Rodeo world we have Americans of all raices whites,blacks, mexican, brizilian. we anr a pro world assosiation. but when every country in in the Rodeo Family We are America, ther is no color in a pro assotiation we are all the same Cowboys. mess with one it dont matter what race you deal with us all we dont play no collor card. All of the Pro Rodeo assosiations from PRCA,IPRA,and any other one,s from the smaller levels are all open to all walks of life .

  14. KarenC Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Rodeo clowns all over the world have been doing this skit. I saw the “George Bush” get hit by a bull in 1994, saw Leon Coffee (a black rodeo clown) wear Hillary Clinton mask…..where is the outrage for them?? Saturday Night Live defiles the president every week, and that is OK, but a rodeo clown does and there is outrage?

  15. Frank Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 8:16 am

    They desecrate a picture of Jesus with urine
    they call it freedom of speech, they have a little
    fun with a obama mask at a rodeo, and they want
    heads to roll,what has America come too.

  16. lynn patton Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 8:43 am

    What is wrong with this country? Clowns are supposed to be funny. If he made one person laugh. Then he did his job. Everyone who has said anything against the clown should look in the mirror and ask who they see looking back at them if they laughed. If they laughed before some idiot said it was wrong then they need to reconsider their reaction. I support Tuffy 100%.

  17. Kathleen Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 9:19 am

    I was there as well – and have known Tuffy as well as Mark both for years. There was no intentional foul play – it was a joke – same as the nightly talking heads say every night!

    My big question – the couple that stirred up this bolonga – where are they in all of this? Are they happy with themselves that they have destroyed two lives? Are they going to be held accountable for the slander? My friend is receiving threats – THREATS!! – over this crap – is the couple that started all of this enduring the same treatment? Are they going to lose their jobs and livelihood because of their twitter comment?

    To flip the coin, why shouldn’t Tuffy and Mark feel violated and believe that THEY are the vicitims here!

    • AZsource Reply

      August 14, 2013 at 8:12 pm

      Sadly no one is winning. I’ve read the retaliatory comments and the handful of keyboard investigators from the “support tuffy” website publishing information which appear to be answering your wishes on the musician upset from the fair events. We should all be careful for what we hope. or than again, maybe your church teaches different next steps.

  18. Sue Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I am here to inform you, Mr. President, that we live in America, where we have freedom of speech. We also have the freedom to dislike you. We have the freedom to vote against you. We have the freedom to be against your programs and plans. We have the freedom to go to a rodeo and enjoy a joke at your expense. We can listen to a comedian and slap each other on the back and roll in the aisles over a joke at your expense. We can speak these things out loud. We can laugh and cheer and clap our applause at anything we well please. We can cheer for things that we like and it does not matter if it is making fun of you, because guess what…We Live In America and We Enjoy These Freedoms. That is how we express ourselves…and yes we can express ourselves through signs, loud announcements, letters, posts on FB and other, over the phone, in the bedroom, to our children and relatives, at a restaurant, and especially at a meeting, and in the voting booth. You are expendable, and when you are gone there will be another president to take your place…and we can like that president or not, and we can again laugh at jokes about them…just like we have since the beginning of our country. So tell your cronies…your followers, your “yes” men(and women), your tv news media, your newspaper worshipers, your party supporters, your cabinet, your voters that we do have the right to disagree with you. We are not like other dictatorship countries (at least not yet) and presidents have been made fun of since the birth of our nation. Why? Because we can!

    • Jeremy Reply

      August 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      I couldn’t have said it any better Sue. I believe you hit the nail on the head there.

    • Rob Reply

      August 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      EXACTLY, Sue! Yours should have been the first and ONLY response to this nonsense!

  19. harryo Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 11:58 am

    As they say,let’s go to the tape. It would be interesting to review tapes of Missouri State rodeos to see if clowns have made fun of George Bush or Governors of Missouri.

    There’s a saying that if you want to avoid controversy don’t bring up the subject of religion or politics, and that’s why politicans usually aren’t announced when they attend sporting event,because they will usually get booed except if they played a key role in bringing a team to town, keeping a team in town or building a new stadium for the team. Just as folks don’t go to games to see political commentary or commericals on the big screen between innings or at half time, folks don’t want to hear about politics at the rodeo.

  20. slight9 Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    This rodeo clown does not represent the sate of Missouri any more than a performer on the Grandstand does. Rodeos always have sponsors, it doesn’t mean the antics of the clown are endorsed by them.

    • harryo Reply

      August 14, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      I bet that a clown couldn’t wear an outfit that endorsed a particular candidate or took a particular position on an issue on the state ballot, given that it was an event sponsored by the state of Missouri, which can’t take positions on the issues.

      Conversely, if a clown wore an outfit in support of Tim McVey, the Columbine killers or the guy who kidnapped and raped the girls in Cleveland, either the clown or the sponsors would have to go.

  21. midmo Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    This was not a Sambo act. How stupid can you be? I am amazed at how those who push tolerance are the most intolerant on the planet. The race card being brought into EVERYTHING by the liberals is getting really old. How ’bout coming up with some new material.

  22. AZsource Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Sounds like Tuffy has a good support network of family and friends to weather this storm which eventually WILL blow over as most things do. I hope they understand the potential consequences of what comes next.

    What may make his journey a tad more complex/challenging to explain to future hiring entities is the extreme rhetoric crowd now hitching their wagons onto Tuffy’s evolving story. What some may reasonably argue is traditional rodeo comedy gone a step too far is now getting reinforced and magnified by the we hate Obama crowd, them not like us are bad crowd, etc.

    Maybe he is more politically inclined than known and his staged zeal for taking out the Obama character had some basis, it is up to him to support where this will go. Facts can’t be changed by opinions. His supporters, including family website are leaning to the political side. All in their right, just pick a story that makes sense: Traditional rodeo Comedy, right of free speech, flapping black man mask lips doesn’t cause pause in US historical sense, what?

    Social network may help or hinder a year from now. All the best to he and his family as they work out what message is really in their hearts.

  23. Raymond James Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    You can say it is not a Sambo act all you want. Tuffy this Tuffy that.

    It looked like a Sambo act to me. It was offensive because I and many others were offended.

    Making “fun” of Presidents is wrong.

    Saying it has been done in the past does not make it right. Bringing up other peoples bad behavior does not justify yours. You should be familiar with the phrase two wrongs do not make a right.

    This President has had a crowd sing bye bye black sheep to him. Hold up signs saying Kenyan go home.
    Demanded to see his birth certificate to prove he was a citizen when it was his opponent that was the only candidate in the race who was born outside the US. People have made an issue of his race and tried to discredit him for being who he is since before the first election.

    A county fair used President Obama pictures for targets on the shooting booth this past summer.

    Enough. The fair is partially paid for by me a Missouri Tax payer. My dime .

    No more making “fun” of Presidents at the fair is the message the Fair Board has put out loud and clear.

    What you do at a comedy club, private event is your business. I understand there is a cross burning being held in Kentucky this weekend you may want to go to.

    Talk about how here in Missouri no one is a racist all you want. I see the KKK flags and stickers.

    The fair should be welcoming to all.

    Tuffy if he is a good act can find work at smaller rodeos and large events in other states.
    Rather than rail against the new norm -where every American is made to feel at home in their country how about adapting to it.

    • Kathy Reply

      August 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      I really, really hope you aren’t serious!

  24. Lin Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    To Raymond James and going to assume you are black. Why should we adapt to so called new as you say when the constitution was written for a reason. That so called worthless president seems to think that the constitution doesn’t apply to him and that he can make his own laws up as he goes. Doesn’t work that way. I support Tuffy completely and am a bullrider also. Do know that a lot of contestants will boycott this rodeo from now on. So sick of blacks thinking we owe them something. No one owe’s anyone anything. All people are free!!!

  25. John Farmer Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    What part of the word “Clown” doesn’t anyone understand. This is no different from what ‘Saturday Night Live’ does weekly.

    Next headline we’ll see is “State of Missouri Declairs War on Freedom of Speech”.

    Again “CLOWN” denotes nothing to be taken seriously. This becoming such a hot topic is Bull Crap. It must be extremely slow days for the Media. An many ignored politicians have a chance to get 5 minutes of fame.

    Christ’s sake guys. Start worying about something important. Or are we going to have to have Clown Police in the future.

    Nice job Media and some political ignoramouses to throw an unfaborable light on Missouri, and Rodeo’s for that mater.

    ‘Nuf said.

    John Farmer

  26. AZsource Reply

    August 14, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    It was hard to judge whether Tuffy’s actions represented clowning or personal politics in a publicly supported platform.

    After seeing he has chosen to highlight Glenn Beck on his website, the question of whether the Fair board made the right decision appears to be more easily answered.

    Tuffy embracing Glenn Beck is akin to a partisan of the other stripe embracing the blessings of Al Sharpton. Both are snake oil salesman of extremism.

    I do hope Tuffy enjoys his short term ride on the crazy train.

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