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Sunday, April 11, 2021
<p>Rodeo clowns Hollywood Harris and his son, Boogerhead, perform a skit in which Harris pulled boogerhead out of a suitcase. Now 22, Boogerhead goes by the name Brinson James the Entertainer. He has been performing with his dad since he was 2.</p>

Rodeo clowns Hollywood Harris and his son, Boogerhead, perform a skit in which Harris pulled boogerhead out of a suitcase. Now 22, Boogerhead goes by the name Brinson James the Entertainer. He has been performing with his dad since he was 2.

The crowds can’t stop screaming for him.

Standing in the middle of an arena with thousands of people looking straight at him, Brinson James the Entertainer wipes a tear.

"To stand there and see everyone looking at you and paying attention to you is fulfilling within itself," he said.

Brinson Harris, 22, is used to crowds. They cheer as he dances and tells jokes and they gasp as he distracts a nearly 1-ton bull from turning on its rider.

When he started performing at Ocala rodeos, it was a different story.

Then, he was "Boogerhead," the 2-year-old who tagged along with "Hollywood Harris," the famed rodeo clown.

The two performed skits in which Hollywood Harris took the lead. Brinson was a cute kid in a costume who would brandish a whip or get pulled out of a suitcase.

Yet now, Brinson can hold his own. And together, he and Hollywood Harris perform in international tours and dazzle crowds in Canada, Australia and the U.S.

It’s a meaningful experience for both clowns, but especially for Hollywood Harris, who, outside of the arena, is 55-year-old Clifton Harris, Brinson’s father.

"Any act with him is my favorite," Clifton said. "Anything we can do together are my favorites."

• • •

For Clifton, it began on a cattle farm.

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He grew up working rodeos and riding broncos before he found his calling as a clown.

"I always wanted to try being a clown," Clifton said. "When someone let me try it, I fell in love with it and then they screwed up and paid me."

This was the world he introduced Brinson to: a stage much smaller than the one they perform on now.

"I just knew the crowd would appreciate a cute little kid putting on a comedy skit," Clifton said. "It’s real easy to be cute rather than funny, so I dressed him up and put him in a couple different acts with me."

And Brinson was a natural.

When Clifton accidentally booked himself for two shows in one weekend, he sent 12-year-old Brinson to fill his place and perform his first solo show.

"I was so terrified," Brinson said. "I was used to being in front of people, but there is a whole different aspect of entertaining when you have to talk into the microphone."

The two continued to perform together until Brinson was 17, when Clifton got hurt.

As Clifton helped a rider to the fence, the bull hooked Clifton’s baggy rodeo-clown pants and thrashed him around for almost a minute.

Among shoulder and back injuries, Clifton had surgery on his foot the next day. Five years later, he still struggles with aches and numbness.

Clifton took a year off from performing, so Brinson began performing solo.

"That’s when I went off to Canada by myself and they saw that I could work my own show," Brinson said. "That’s when my career started."

Brinson said rodeo organizers gave him a chance, and he went on to perform 14 more shows that season. Within the year, he traveled from coast to coast and then toured Australia in the summer. Last week, two days after his 22nd birthday, Brinson traveled to Australia for the third time. Rodeos are a bigger deal in Australia, and when he’s there, he is treated like a celebrity.

"I’m the only one who sounds like this and says ‘y’all’ over there, so I kind of stick out like a sore thumb," he said.

In Australia, Brinson attends autograph sessions. Sometimes the security team can have trouble with enthusiastic fans, which he said is a wonderful problem to have.

"I’m never worried about giving an autograph because I love to," he said. "I mean, gaw-lee!"

• • •

When Brinson went solo, his father had to learn to perform alone, too.

Clifton began studying again, searching for new jokes and working on his comedic performance.

"I had been relying on him for a long time because cute is better than funny," he said. "I had to go back to being real funny. I got another gear, but I got run over (by broncos) a bunch, too."

Clifton’s and Brinson’s performance styles are drastically different. Both rely heavily on audience participation, but that might be the single similarity between the two entertainers. Clifton uses props and illusions to interact with his audience. He is known for ad-libs, whip-cracking and two character acts: Houdini’s Illusions and Quick Draw McGraw, in which he outdraws an automatic gun-fighting robot.

He also picks viewers out of the stands and brings them into the arena to participate in skits.

Brinson focuses on dancing to engage his audience, with short acts and rope tricks to round out his routine. He usually ends his act by swinging a 65-foot loop around a pickup truck, which is something he taught himself just by watching professional trick ropers.

From Michael Jackson tributes to hip-hop skits, Brinson said the type of music doesn’t matter as long as everyone is clapping their hands and having fun.

"My favorite thing is making people laugh," he said. "In school, I would get in trouble all the time for it, but in the rodeo I decided they’re going to pay me for it."

When he started performing on his own, he tried to change his name from Boogerhead to Boogie to reflect his dancing and to remain recognizable. The Professional Bull Riders didn’t consider it a good enough name. It implied a slapstick rodeo clown performance, like those who trip and fall, bang their heads on the fence and then get back up to do something else ridiculous, Brinson said.

"I’m more of a New Age clown, entertaining and dancing a lot," he said. "Dancing is my shtick."

Brinson has ditched his old rodeo-clown attire for colorful dress pants and golf jerseys with his name stitched onto the back. But he still wears the same clown make-up from when he was two years old: a "muzzle," or a bit of white makeup around his mouth and chin, freckles and a dot of red on his nose. His dad didn’t want any around his eyes at such a young age.

Clifton wears more traditional make up. His whole face, including his mustache, is covered in white, with black around his eyes and a faux beard.

He says his son’s fame as a more modern clown has grown to the point where Brinson makes more money than he does.

Both were reluctant to disclose amounts, but Clifton mentioned when he started performing more than 30 years ago, some entertainers would make $500 per night. Brinson said the coveted role of Flint Rasmussen, a famous rodeo clown who performs as the Professional Bull Rider’s exclusive entertainer on the televised Built Ford Tough Series, has a four-year, $1 million contract.

"It’s a high-paying job if you know what you’re doing," Brinson said. "These are our full-time jobs. We do it every weekend."

"It sure beats working," Clifton said.

• • •

Although Brinson and his father are no longer a package deal, the two still perform at least one show per year together.

Clifton still performs smaller shows. He also works as an Uber driver around UF.

For Brinson, entertaining is the future.

He’s considered going to college before, and says if he did, he would study something that could further his career.

"They don’t really teach rodeo and clowning at college, but they do teach business and advertising," he said.

But college doesn’t exactly hold his interest.

Brinson is more focused on performing in all 50 states and China. And he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and make it to the Professional Bull Riding finals.

Ultimately, he wants to participate in the Built Ford Tough Series, which he says is the top of the top.

As he watches his son ascend to rodeo-clown fame, Clifton says the unique routines with Brinson are memories he’ll always cherish.

"The father-son thing has been a joy in my world," Clifton said. "To make people laugh with your kid and make up funny stuff — gaw-lee, what a fun thing to do."

Contact Brooke Baitinger at bbaitinger@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @BaitingerBrooke

Rodeo clowns Hollywood Harris and his son, Boogerhead, perform a skit in which Harris pulled boogerhead out of a suitcase. Now 22, Boogerhead goes by the name Brinson James the Entertainer. He has been performing with his dad since he was 2.

Brinson James the Entertainer twirls a trick rope around his father, Hollywood Harris. Brinson taught himself how to trick rope when he was 16.

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