Ricky Ticky Wanchuck at the 2017 Cloverdale Rodeo. (Grace Kennedy photo)

At the Cloverdale Rodeo, clowning around is serious business

Ricky Ticky Wanchuk on what it’s like for a clown inside the arena

At the end of every rodeo, Rick Wanchuk waits by the exit with a bucket of suckers.

The rodeo clown, better known by his stage name Ricky Ticky Wanchuk, is instantly recognizable, with his face painted with classic white eyes and a red nose. Crowds of children and their parents stand around him as he hands out the individually wrapped candies.

In a day, Wanchuk will hand out $150 worth of suckers. Over the 25 rodeos he attends in a summer, he’ll spend between $5,000 and $7,000 in candy.

“It used to be $5 a weekend to $25,” he explained over the phone. “Now it’s up in around $150 a day.”

Wanchuk, 66, was calling from the lunchroom of his off-season job, where he works as a crane operator. It was several weeks before the Cloverdale Rodeo, his first rodeo of the season, and he had just purchased the 1,500 pounds of suckers he would need for the summer.

“It’s pretty exciting to get ready for the next two weeks, and then make the trip across the mountains to do it,” Wanchuk said. It wouldn’t be his first trip — Wanchuk has been clowning at the Cloverdale Rodeo for nearly 20 years, and working as a rodeo clown in rodeos across the country since the mid-1970s.

In those days, Wanchuk was a young bareback racer who wanted to get into the world of bullfighting.

His first bullfighting rodeo was in Stetton, Alta., about 10 miles from his home in Alberta. It was “pretty scary,” he said, but not in the way most people would expect.

For much of rodeo’s history, bullfighters combined the roles of protector and clown. When the bull was in the arena, they were responsible for distracting the animal to ensure the safety of the bull rider. In between times, they were responsible for entertaining the audience by telling jokes.

Wanchuk wasn’t afraid of the bulls. He was afraid of the people.

“I’ll step around ‘em, get stepped on, it doesn’t matter,” he said about the bulls at the rodeo. “But … all of a sudden there’s a lull in the rodeo and they need someone to tell a story and it was my turn.

“I’d be halfway through the joke or whatever, and I was ever so happy to hear that latch crack, which meant the bull was on its way out, and I didn’t have to worry about the joke anymore, whether people liked it or didn’t like it.”

For the first three years of his bullfighting career, Wanchuk struggled. Then, in 1977 at a rodeo in Big River, Sask., he “darn near got killed” by a bull. Lying on the floor of his camper, while his friend drove the truck away, Wanchuk started thinking about his role in the rodeo and his fear of show business.

“I said, you know, I’ve got a hill to climb here,’” he said. “My plan was to get better at [clowning] and not to worry about it so much.”

That same injury also prompted Wanchuk to reevaluate how he interacted with children at the rodeo.

During the rodeo, the bullfighters would sometimes have to jump up on the fence to escape a marauding bull. Often, that scared kids in the stands.

“The last thing you’re worried about is a little kid screaming,” Wanchuk said. “Now all of a sudden you glance over and they’re crying because you scared them. And so I’d crawl back under the fence and talk to them and give them a piece of gum.

“And that night when I got hurt there, and I was in that truck, I got thinking about that. I said, you know, that’s not really the right thing,” he continued. “Because the little kid that’s screaming for no real reason other than he was afraid … got gum. His little sister that sat there and just smiled didn’t get anything.”

From 1977 on, Wanchuk’s approach to rodeo’s changed. He handed out gum, and later suckers, to all kids. And he worked hard to become better at public speaking.

He also advocated for the separation of clowning and bullfighting.

“Very early in it I decided this is not good, because you’re concentrating on that bull coming out and what you’re going to have to do … but you’re also trying to concentrate on the people at the same time,” he explained. “I kept campaigning that we need one more guy out there, we need one more guy out there. Of course nobody wants to pay for that.

“There was times I just hauled somebody else with me, fed him and stuff.”

Now, nearly 40 years later, bullfighting and clowning are separate, at least at the Cloverdale Rodeo. But Wanchuk still brings another guy along with him to help with his shows.

This year, it will be his 15-year-old son Kyle, who’s helped his dad in shows since he was two or three.

“Sometimes it’s very challenging when they’re that little,” Wanchuk said about his sons helping him as toddlers (both his son Kyle and his older son Kolby were involved in his clowning). “But they both picked up on it.”

It’s unlikely either will continue in the rodeo clown business, however. Kolby is already an accomplished bronc rider — Wanchuk hopes he’ll someday get an invitation to the Cloverdale Rodeo — and Kyle is starting as a roper in high school rodeos. But for now, there will always be at least one Wanchuk at the rodeo.

“I guess one day my life will expire, but it will be out in the arena,” Wanchuk said. “It’s hard to quit something you love. So I figure if I don’t have to do that, that’s a great thing.”



editor@cloverdalereporter.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Ricky Ticky Wanchuck at the 2017 Cloverdale Rodeo. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Ricky Ticky Wanchuck (right) at the 2017 Cloverdale Rodeo. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Ricky Ticky Wanchuck at the 2017 Cloverdale Rodeo. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Just Posted

‘Powerful’ Punjabi youth writing contest lauded in Surrey

The Dhahan Prize contest invites B.C. teens to connect to their culture through storytelling

FOCUS: New arena, more ice in Surrey – but will it be enough for everyone?

With both rinks to close at North Surrey rec, the result is a net gain of one ice sheet this fall

Accused Surrey transit cop shooter’s bail hearing set for April

Daon Gordon Glasgow, 35, is accused of shooting Transit Police Constable Josh Harms, 27

Watchdog called after man who yelled racial slurs at Surrey vigil hurt during arrest

BC RCMP say man was ‘acting suspiciously’ at prayer vigil for victims of New Zealand mosque shootings

Two suspects sought after man shot in Surrey’s Hawthorne Park Sunday

Police say victim was arrested after being treated for gunshot in hospital

VIDEO: RCMP ask kids to help name soon-to-be police dogs

13 German shepherd puppies will be born this year

‘The whole city has changed:’ B.C. woman in New Zealand reacts to mosque attacks

An expatriate and Muslim students at UBC Okanagan deeply affected by white supremacist shooting

Trudeau condemns hateful, ‘toxic segments’ of society after New Zealand shooting

Prime Minister expressed sorrow at the many attacks in recent years

Air Canada grounds its Boeing Max 8s until at least July 1 to provide certainty

Airlines around the world have been working to redeploy their fleets since their Max 8s were grounded last week

Budget to tout Liberal economic record, provide distraction from SNC furor

This is the Liberal government’s fourth and final budget before the election

Horvat scores 16 seconds into OT as Canucks beat Blackhawks 3-2

Pettersson sets rookie scoring record for Vancouver

Vancouver Island overdue for the big one, can also expect mega-thrust tsunami

The last big earthquake was 70 years ago in Courtenay

No injuries, pollution in Vancouver Harbour ship collision: Transport Canada

Transportation Safety Board says it has deployed a team of investigators look into the incident

Budget 2019: Five things to watch for in the Liberals’ final fiscal blueprint

Finance Minister Bill Morneau will release the Trudeau government’s final budget on Tuesday

Most Read