Jason ‘Whistle-Nut’ Dent takes his silliness seriously
By CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
MOSES LAKE — If there’s one thing Jason Dent is emphatic about, it’s his job.
“Being a rodeo clown is probably the coolest job on the planet,” he said. “There’s just never a bad, dull moment as a clown, you know, unless you get hooked by a bull.”
“Those are the times when you’re like, gosh, rodeo clowning isn’t that cool, when you got aches and pains,” Dent said.
Dent, whose cousin Tom sits in the Washington State Legislature, is a professional rodeo clown who goes by the name “Whistle-Nut” and will be the lead clown at this year’s Moses Lake Roundup.
Dent, who speaks with a captivating and frenetic energy and smiles almost constantly, said he is excited to perform in Moses Lake, noting the roundup is “high” on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association list of U.S. rodeos.
Rodeo clowns started a little more than a century ago as a way to entertain rodeo patrons between riders. The main job of a rodeo clown these days is to distract bulls long enough to get a tossed bull rider out of the arena, though they have become entertainers in their own right.
“I will be in the arena the whole time, all three nights, with some specialty acts and walk and talk comedy,” he said. “I’m an in-your-face type of clown.”
The 39-year-old Dent, who calls Humeston, Iowa home, is also staying at his cousin Tom’s ranch, where he is letting the three exchange students from Yonezawa, Japan, ride on his trained bull Ole. The bull is part of his act, and the thing that got him started in clowning.
“I’ve been a cowboy my whole life,” he said. “I rode bulls for quite some time.”
“So I got this bull just to see if I could break him to ride. And three years later, he was the coolest thing ever, and I wanted to celebrate somehow.”
Problem was, Dent said, at first no one wanted to pay him and his three friends as a novelty bull-riding act. Until one rodeo took a chance.
“I told him, ‘I’ve got three guys who want to become bull riders, let’s put them on exhibition,’ and he was, ‘all right, but my clown didn’t show up,’” Dent explained. “He said, ‘I’ll pay you to bring your bull if you clown.’”
“And I was like, ‘just this once,’” Dent said. “I wasn’t in paint, I wasn’t in (baggy clothes), I just did it. He gave me $400 and said ‘you’re going to do the rest (of my rodeos).’”
That was six years ago.
He took the name “Whistle-Nut” because he likes to whistle and hopes to be world whistling champion someday. It’s also an identity he can easily slip into because it was a little tough on the ego to go from cowboy to clown.
“When you ride bulls and are a tough stud as a cowboy, it’s kinda tough to go in that arena and paint your face,” he said. “I struggle with that a little bit.”
But he made nearly 70 appearances as Whistle-Nut last year, including 35 rodeos, and so far has 16 rodeo appearances on his public schedule. It’s tough — he’s a married father of two small children — and sometimes tries to bring his family with him.
“I don’t hardly ever say no,” Dent said of invitations to clown.
Between clowning, training animals and auctioneering, Dent says he’s able to make a fairly good living.
“I don’t ever tire, I’m blessed with a lot of energy, I can listen and process fast. Audiences, they feel that energy,” Dent said.
Dent is looking forward to painting his face, donning his baggy clothes, and putting on a show for Moses Lake this year.
In short, he’s ready to clown around.
“It will be a good time,” Dent added. “I can guarantee that!”
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.