McFarland’s father, Sid, has worked as a professional rodeo clown for nearly 50 years and began training his son in the family business at an early age.
“When most dads were teaching their sons how to throw a football or hit a baseball, my dad was teaching me how to put on makeup,” said McFarland, who appeared in Jasper this weekend at the Dodge Ram Rodeo.
McFarland was 12 years old the first time he stepped into an arena in full costume.
He can still recall how scared he was during the bull riding event as well as his father’s less-than-comforting advice — “Son, the worst they can do is kill you. They can’t eat you.”
“I think the first bull that came out almost hooked me, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” McFarland said.
McFarland appeared alongside his father in rodeos around the country for 15 years. The pair’s unique connection became an important part of their act, allowing them to read each other’s moves in any situation and react spontaneously.
McFarland said he has often been told how lucky he is to get paid for working only two hours a night.
What the crowds don’t see is all the preparation it takes to be funny.
“My dad was such a professional, and he instilled in me that anything that will go in front of the audience has to be polished as perfectly as it can because we’re in the showbiz industry,” McFarland said.
McFarland said his father also taught him that cowboys are another form of athletes, a point he emphasizes while encouraging his young fans to eat right, exercise and stay away from drugs.
“You get your mind messed up on that stuff and you can’t do anything right, let alone run from a 2,000 pound bull,” he said.
McFarland has now made a name for himself in the industry outside his father’s shadow. In 2011, he was named the Southeastern Pro Rodeo Association’s Clown of the Year.
McFarland’s main job at the rodeo is to keep the spectators entertained during lulls in the show. However, he also serves as a barrel man during bull rides in case one of the participants needs to be saved from the angry beasts.
McFarland compares the experience to going to Six Flags every weekend except the roller coaster is trying to get inside the barrel with him.
His training as a registered nurse also comes in handy if one of the riders gets injured.
McFarland said he has his parents to thank for his dual careers.
“My mom was a nurse and my dad was a rodeo clown. Growing up, I saw real quick like where the steady paycheck and the benefits came from,” he said.
McFarland works in surgery Monday through Thursday and has the rest of the weekend to “play cowboy.”
Although he is often kidded at both the rodeo and the hospital, he said his patients appreciate his ability to make them laugh when they’re scared about a procedure and his cowboy friends are relieved to see him running to their rescue after an incident in the ring.
Two years ago, it was McFarland who found himself in a Huntsville hospital with a broken leg and arm after a stunt in which he skied behind a horse went wrong.
Although he has since given up that part of the act, he has no intention of giving up his career as a rodeo clown any time soon.
“It’s a huge thrill to know that I can take someone who is having a bad day or a family that is struggling to pay the bills and give them two hours of entertainment so they can forget about their worries of the world,” McFarland said.