The man in the can: Keith Isley loves to make rodeo fans smile

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  • Courtesy photo Rodeo clown Keith Isley knows how to be funny in a dangerous job. His career has spanned 43 years.

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    Courtesy photo Rodeo entertainer Keith Isley has been entertaining rodeo crowds for over four decades. He will be the man in the can at the 74th annual Moses Lake Roundup.

  • Courtesy photo Rodeo clown Keith Isley knows how to be funny in a dangerous job. His career has spanned 43 years.

  • 1

    Courtesy photo Rodeo entertainer Keith Isley has been entertaining rodeo crowds for over four decades. He will be the man in the can at the 74th annual Moses Lake Roundup.

MOSES LAKE — He’s worked the National Finals Rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days, the Pendleton Roundup and many of the major outdoor rodeo events over the course of his 43-year career.

The big ones operate on the verge of the spectacular. But it’s the mid-size and smaller events that are the heartbeat of American rodeo. Entertainer Keith Isley is going to bring his act to the 74th annual Moses Lake Roundup for the first time in many years. The Roundup takes place Aug. 17-19 at the Grant County Fairgrounds.

Isley is the man in the can when the bull riders take center stage, so he’s out there saving lives when the beast is on the prowl. He’s one part bull fighter and the full-time arena entertainer. His services have been well recognized over the past 10 years.

Isley earned the PRCA Comedy Act of the Year in 2013, which he also won three years running from 2009-11. He was recognized with the Man in the Can honors (2006 and from 2010-12). He was also the Clown of the Year (2006-11).

He’s seen his share of accolades, but when it comes right down to it, Isley is a pretty humble guy doing something he loves.

“I enjoy putting a smile on people’s faces, watching them have a good time. Whenever you laugh, you have forgotten all the problems you might have,” he said. “Laughing is good medicine.”

The arena announcer and the man in the can are as integral a part of the rodeo experience as the cowboys, cowgirls and animals themselves. Their comedy routine is worked out and delivered on cue like the great stand-up routines in the comedy clubs across the country.

Isley and arena announcer Will Rasmussen work together in two or three rodeos a year and will reunite at the Moses Lake Roundup, its history dating back over seven decades.

“Will and I will go over some stuff. There’s things that are planned and things that aren’t planned. It’s the stuff that’s not planned that makes it fun because you never know what animals are going to do or how the people in the audience are going to react.”

“Will and I both know it’s not about me, it’s not about him. We’re selling entertainment and it’s a team effort. As long as the people are happy, I don’t care who done it, whether it’s me or a guy opening the gate. Makin’ people laugh is what we’re all in this for.”

Let’s face it, everyone kind of hopes that renegade bull running loose in the arena will take a swipe at the barrel on his way out. But it’s not always as humorous when you’re the guy in the can, Isley said. But the barrel is an important part of keeping the bull riders safe.

“Everybody loves to see the bull hit that barrel with the clown in it,” he said. “I’m at the age where I don’t really care for it anymore. The barrel is padded on the outside to absorb some of the shock, and of course it’s padded on the inside. I had one bull hit it so hard that it messed up a nerve in my neck and another one just about knocked me out. People don’t always realize the danger part of bull riding. If a bull comes at you then you run for the fence. But if the barrel is closer and you can get behind it, sometimes that split second is the only thing between serious injury and getting to go to the rodeo next week.”

Savin’ lives and havin’ some fun along the way has been a way of life for Keith Isley for over four decades. He’s proud to be a part of an American legend called rodeo and keeping the spirit of the West alive wherever he goes.

“If I can bring a smile to someone’s face and make ’em forget about life for awhile, then I’ve done my job,” Isley said.

Rodney Harwood is a sports writer at the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at rharwood@columbiabasinherald.com

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