SEDALIA, Missouri — Tuffy Gessling, the rodeo clown who orchestrated a controversial Missouri State Fair program involving another clown wearing a mask with the likeness of President Obama, is speaking out about his lifetime ban from the fair and even death threats.
Gessling says he never meant any harm when he said these words over the public address system at the fair's rodeo:
"This bull is going to get you Obama! He's going to get you!"
With those words, the rodeo clown started a firestorm, facing angry rebukes from politicians, a lifetime ban from the Missouri State Fair, and more personal hits than he ever faced in the ring.
"I've had one lady spit in my face," Gessling said. "Called me a dirty name, spit in my face, and walked off."
He said there have been five death threats.
"I've had somebody threaten to run me over," Gessling said. "One of them wanted to burn the house down."
Gessling said that hate is actually what finally made him decide to speak out.
"I didn't do this to do any hating on anyone; I did this to be funny. I did it to be a joke," he said. "This bit, this clown bit, has been around for generations, and I didn't think anything more of it than what we've done 15 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, when we've done it with Bush, and Clinton, and Ronald Reagan."
But this time, race entered the equation. A white man dressed in a mask of the black president, was just offensive to a lot of people.
"I never did anything because of anybody's race," Gessling said. "I don't care what color somebody is, if they're blue, white, green, polka-dotted, striped... it doesn't bother me one bit."
He adds it's not about politics, either. When asked whether he was a Democrat or a Republican, his answer was simply: "I am a rodeo clown."
To Tuffy Gessling, it's a matter of perspective. "I actually think that a lot of people have lost their ability to laugh," he said. "Look at the country as a whole: There's a lot more to be mad at than a rodeo clown at a rodeo trying to make somebody laugh."
Gessling hasn't worked since the Missouri State Fair, but plenty of support has been building too, and now he has a rodeo coming up in Jefferson City. He's inviting politicians to come out, watch, and grill him with any questions they have.
"If President Obama turns out, I'd be honored to shake his hand," Gessling said.