Podcast Episode 3: Monthly Installments with JJ Harrison
Monthly Installments with JJ Harrison
More than a rodeo clown.
He’s the fat suit dancing, funny man who can also fly a plane and teach a science class, a former National Finals barrelman, from the place so nice they say it twice, Walla Walla, Washington, he’s the man with the can: JJ Harrison! Joining the That Western Life podcast team for his first-ever monthly installment of Deep Thoughts on the Rodeo Trail with JJ Harrison.
The Rodeo Trail
With 52 weekends in a year, JJ is no stranger to travel as the life of a rodeo specialty act means he’s on the road upwards of 43 different events a year. These include not only rodeo performances, but also speaking engagements, school events, and more.
“When you have a weekend off in the summer as a rodeo guy, it freaks you out!” JJ says with a laugh as he discusses his only free weekend the third weekend in June. “You don’t stress in the winter time because it’s more of your off season, but those off days in the winter time are kind of worrisome.”
The MGM After Party at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo
The Gold Buckle Zone at the MGM Grand is JJ’s home for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas starting in 2012. As it started, it was just a more simple task list for JJ, but he’s now built himself into the host of the MGM party and activities. Moving venues from a large ballroom to where they are now outside one of the bars. A great band, great activities, and more, JJ’s role is to facilitate people bringing out “their absolute worst,” which, for everyone else, is their absolute best.
When people go to Vegas, they want to have fun and feel like they are doing something that they wouldn’t be doing back at home. People jump at the opportunity to get on stage and dance and do crazy games for the entertainment of the crowd. The MGM gives JJ great tickets for different MGM events and gift certificates to their location which makes it fun and exciting and adding incentive.
In 2018, they were officially the biggest after party of the WNFR. A great, profitable party for the MGM, it reflected well on where JJ is for their career as the host.
Curious about learning more about the 2018 WNFR, check out episode 1 of the That Western Life podcast where we recap the 2018 WNFR.
Married Life From the Rodeo Trail to Vegas
In picking a girl for me, that fit me, it was a huge factor for her to be okay with not only all the travel that I did with rodeo, but also with the work we do at the finals in rodeo. As a photographer, JJ’s wife Bailey, knows that, without a doubt that she is invited and that she is wanted there, and her role is in documenting through photography all that he does for his promotion and sponsors.
“She’ll be sitting there six feet from me, and she won’t do anything! She’ll just laugh and smile, that’s the kind of personality that you got to have with … my job,” explains JJ. “Any entertainer has a light switch that they’re ‘on,’ and that it IS a job. It can be a natural job, but it’s still a job. The key… is simply that I have my moments and that we have to have her moments.”
Changes in the PRCA
There’s a lot of good moving forward for the PRCA according to JJ.
“I like that he was kind of an outside horse,” JJ says about the PRCA news CEO George Taylor. He provides an out of the box and our comfort zone to look at what we could do better. There are times, however, where we have to revert back to the things that we have to keep doing well.
“The small rodeos of the PRCA are the backbone.” What makes the PRCA stands at our ultimate height is the small rodeos that are the backbone and the volunteers that not only sponsor those small rodeos and donate their time to make sure that they are successful. We can’t forget, in our attempt to get on more TV shows, and to be the next big thing, those small rodeos.
If you are interested in learning more about the future of the PRCA, listen to episode 2 of the That Western Life podcast where we discuss new hires and our thoughts on the changes.
Circuit Finals and the Ram National Circuit Finals
Coming off of his 11th circuit finals rodeo but also his third Ram National Circuit Finals, JJ discusses how time is needed for the success of a rodeo. Kissimmee has grown as fast as any rodeo can grow and that includes thinking out of the box.
One of these ideas is a kids day, where they bus all the local kids in to the rodeo during the day performance. “It is the greatest performance that JJ Harrison could ever work!” It’s nearly 2,000 middle schoolers so the energy is loud and creates a new atmosphere and ambassadors.
Breakthrough marketing idea for the RNCFR: Bring the contestants and specialty acts and personnel for the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo together to create a workbook and jumbo-traun videos of educational exercises for those kids on field trip day.
Education: The General Journey of JJ
I was a rodeo guy when I was young but my mom told me that I was going to go to college. I got a teaching degree, and I was working at an alternative high school in 2008 which was when I made the switch. Working as the Dean of Students it was a lot of disciplinary action. I had been rodeoing through the summer and I really enjoyed it.
I really do like kids, it’s amazing what a group of kids can do. At the middle school level, a kid just needs to like school. If you can teach them something, that’s a bonus. If a kid leaves middle school and they just have a love for school and enjoy it, they are going to be successful in high school. It’s the one that’s leave middle school and are unhappy, they start following the wrong egg around, those are the kids that you have to really worry about. The kids that are happy and positive and know that they could be anything.
Now he gets an amazing opportunity to serve as an educator in an informal scenario.
Podcast Bonus Story: “TIRES!” (Medford, Oregon)
Middle school can be the dome of bullying and JJ takes the opportunity to campaign against it for quite a long time. There is a huge need for rodeo personnel to do more with kids and the youth because bullies aren’t just in grade school or high school, they are everywhere. They are in the workforce, college, volunteering, etc. More than not, it’s not a physical bully, it’s an emotional bully and you need to know two differences.
IDENTIFY: Bullying is a repetitive behavior and an imbalance of power
I tease people for a living. Even though the announcer and I tease each other throughout the performance, at the end of the day we are friends, but there is a balance of power.
Tattle-Tells vs. Reporting
Reporting is going to be different. You need to understand that when you report things you are not being a tattle-tell. About 94% of teen suicide, the communication stopped before they killed themselves. People can’t be afraid to communicate so when you change it to a reporting situation, kids are more apt to report.
Rodeo Clowns in the Arena
On the ground in the arena, JJ has some medical training and has been, unfortunately, in situations where he is the first one to the victim. During a medical emergency, he doesn’t care about the crowd, and is focusing on keeping the contestant’s neck immobile until the medical team can get there. There are some very bad situations that are freak accidents, and we want to take the time to send our condolences to Mason Lowe and his family.
Once a professional medical personnel gets to the injured person or victim, you don’t want to be a distraction and ignore what happened. You want to bring them on a journey; take a moment to take a knee or a prayer. JJ also knows that he is the on ground communication with the announcer, to mime what’s happening as the eyes for the announcer.
Podcast Bonus Story: “The kind of broke where you can wave really cool behind your back!” (St. Paul, Oregon)
Podcast Bonus Story: “They ran a freaking team roping run!” (Poway, California)
Podcast Bonus Story: “I ripped off my jersey and there was this big old ‘M’ for ‘milker’ on my chest and I was off!” (Ellensburg, Washington)
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Theme Song: Doin’ Me by Trevor Tagle