Flint Rasmussen, left, interviews rodeo legend Larry Mahan during a broadcast of Outside the Barrel on RFD-TV at the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show in the Las Vegas Convention Center, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Jerry Henkel/Las Vegas Review-Journal
By Ron Kantowski
Las Vegas Review-Journal
When he was a little boy in Choteau, Mont., Flint Rasmussen said sometimes he would go to bed and not be able to sleep. He remembers hearing a familiar voice, and the laughter of grown-ups coming from downstairs. The grown-ups were his parents, Stan and Tootsie. The familiar voice was Johnny Carson's.
Little Flint Rasmussen remembers hearing his folks laughing and putting his elbows on the bannister and thinking that someday he wanted to be like Johnny Carson.
But first he would fight bulls.
Only now is he like Johnny Carson.
Flint Rasmussen got so good at fighting bulls — and at making people laugh as a rodeo clown — that about 10 years ago when the Cowboy Christmas gift show at the National Finals Rodeo starting going great guns, they told him he could have a little corner to interview rodeo people and other folks from the Western states. It was his first talk show. There was a live audience — sometimes a few shoppers would stop by after checking out the turquoise jewelry and the leather goods.
On Tuesday, it was hard to find a seat at "Outside the Barrel," which is what they call Flint Rasmussen's talk show at Cowboy Christmas. It was being filmed by RFD-TV, a digital cable and satellite channel that caters to Oliver Douglas-types and to hard-working people who actually know how to drive tractors and wield pitchforks.
Rasmussen did a monologue. He danced like Ellen Degeneres. He had a couple of team ropers, including all-around world champion cowboy Trevor Brazile, as guests, and at the end a guy with a guitar came on and sang a country song about being wanted in 17 counties.
After the show, a woman handed Rasmussen two shopping bags full of Christmas presents — she does this every year, he said. And when we went backstage to talk in a makeshift green room — a couch and a chair cordoned off by a black curtain — he said he felt a little tiny bit like Johnny Carson, though he actually has more in common with David Letterman.
He and Letterman are practically neighbors.
"It's about 25 miles away," Rasmussen said of the Letterman compound near Choteau.
Under the Big Sky of Montana, that's practically neighbors.
Letterman had some nice things to say on national TV about Choteau, and the people who live there, right after 9/11. But whereas Letterman had a staff of about 100 writers, at least in Rasmussen's estimation, the famous rodeo clown and his sidekick, a friendly man from Wyoming named Curt Blake, write their own jokes.
Most make the live audience chuckle. Others are funny.
"People think I'm a drug dealer," Rasmussen said of traveling the rodeo circuit during taping Tuesday. "I've got a nice house, and nobody's ever home."
It was the first time I had seen Rasmussen without his makeup. It wasn't as shocking as seeing Faith Hill without her makeup or Mila Kunis without hers (check the Internet).
A young man sitting in front was wearing a T-shirt that said "Delightfully Tacky Yet Unrefined." That could have easily been about Flint Rasmussen, but I think this young man probably had been to Hooters before checking out the turquoise jewelry and leather goods.
"Being a rodeo clown was never my goal in life," Rasmussen, 47, said in the green room with black curtains. "It was something I sort of eased into because of my family, and sort of on a dare. In high school, I was always in the theater and an athlete.
"So when my career in the rodeo business sort of took off, my goal was to go in different avenues, where people recognize me inside the arena and out of the arena. I didn't want it to just be (a rodeo performer). That wasn't enough for me — I've always wanted to do something on TV or do something on stage."
It started in the corner at Cowboy Christmas.
No, his first guest wasn't a guy who sells feed at the general store, or whittles on stuff, or Tom Lester, the actor who played Eb on "Green Acres." But he has had Larry the Cable Guy on the set among the poinsettias, and Taylor Swift, and at the end of the show Tuesday, Flint Rasmussen said Charlie Daniels would be stopping by Thursday.
A couple of people in the audience groaned. They must have really wanted to hear "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" after they checked out the turquoise jewelry and the leather goods.
But they weren't groaning earlier, not when Flint Rasmussen was telling jokes on the fly, and making wisecracks on the fly, and not when he was doing a little of the physical comedy he has perfected as a bullfighter. And certainly not when Patrick Smith, the team roper, sat down for a chat, along with his partner/straight man, Trevor Brazile.
Rasmussen was on one side, Brazile the other. Smith said this was the first time he remembered sitting between rodeo clowns.
Everybody in the audience laughed.
And Flint Rasmussen laughed, like when Johnny Carson had Don Rickles on, or Robin Williams, or even Burt Reynolds and his can of whipped cream, because every good talk show host knows when to step aside when a guest is on a roll.