Rodeo Clown, Clint Selvester, Makes America Giggle
● By Melissa Mendonca
Clownin' AroundOctober 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Phil Doyle
A great career usually starts with a vision. “At 12 years old, Donny Kish made me buy a pair of Wranglers and took me out to the Growney Ranch,” Red Bluff’s Clint Selvester says with a laugh. He became part of the feed crew and made the ranch his second home. With his young experience with the animals, contestants and support crews, he says, “The clowns were always right up my alley.”
Noting that his young nephew had a penchant for yucking it up, Kish started formulating a plan. From his insider’s view of rodeo as a breeder of champion bucking bulls, “he had a vision,” says Selvester. “The only thing missing in rodeo was something like the San Diego Chicken. He thought we needed a mascot.”
Although “they wouldn’t let me on the road with them until I was old enough to drive,” by the time he had his license, the young Selvester ran with the mascot idea, all the way to his art teacher, Wes Hendricks, at Red Bluff High School.
They started designing a bull costume, which Selvester debuted at the St. Paul Rodeo in Oregon. “There were so many fumes in it that I went out and threw up three times,” laughs Selvester. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We were just an ROP art class.”
The fans didn’t seem to notice, however. They ate it up. It turns out rodeo did indeed need a mascot. “The kids named me Wolfey,” he says, because Kish’s bulls, Wolfman and Wolfpack, were some of the biggest and baddest in rodeo at the time.
Selvester modified his costume and made the character of Wolfey one he would maintain until he was 20 and it was time to go off to study multimedia design at Platt College in San Diego.
“The day I graduated, I had my truck loaded and was headed north again,” he says, shaking his head to indicate his desperation to get out of Southern California. On the way, however, he ran into an old rodeo friend and took up with his idea to get back into the world of rodeo entertainment. He was soon in Santa Barbara, working his first pro rodeo event. “It was terrifying, but I loved it,” he says with a huge smile.
Today, at age 36, Selvester travels the country with his wife, Katie, and their 3-year-old daughter, Macie, as a professional entertainer at rodeos, bull riding events and monster truck shows. “Six years ago, we realized we could make a living at this and it started getting fun,” he says, amazed that he gets paid to make people laugh.
In the early days of monster truck shows, excitement came to a halt when trucks rolled over and had to be hauled out of the arena.Selvester developed a character named Hillbilly. “The truth behind the name was just kind of to poke fun at grandpa,” he says. When Hillbilly comes out, people laugh and dance, seemingly forgetting that the trucks are stalled.
Over the years, his personas have been refined, and the stakes have gotten higher, as Selvester has evolved from entertainment to a more serious role in rodeo as a barrel man as well as the funny clown.
“Being a barrel man is really the more important part, because that’s where the respect is earned and that’s the job,” says Selvester, noting that when a rider comes out on a bull, his attention turns from the audience to the arena, where “I’m basically a moving fence.” As a barrel man, he works in tandem with the bullfighters, who are there to protect the cowboy athletes from their animal counterparts when a buck or a dismount occurs.
“The further the ride gets from the fence, the more dangerous it gets because the further we have to run to safety,” he notes. His goal is “to stay with the wreck but not get in it. People don’t realize how much you have to pay attention to at a rodeo.”
The Selvester family is on the road about 40 weeks a year these days, going from event to event, with most of their monster truck shows on the East Coast and rodeos “all over.” Katie often runs equipment for Chuck Lopeman Sound Company, another Tehama County-based business that travels the rodeo circuit.
Wherever they go, Selvester says his secret is finding a way to tap into the core of what makes each place special. “If you make them think you’re part of their community,” he says, “you’ve reeled them in hook, line and sinker.”