Clown's act no laughing matter
URBANA — Attendees of this year's Champaign County Fair rodeo are letting officials know they were disgusted by racist comments made by a rodeo clown during the show.
Some have demanded that C-Bar Rodeo Company, which put on the July 20 show, fire the professional clown, Ian Waller. Others have asked the Champaign County Fair Association board to dump the company and find a new one to put on the event next year.
"It was so overtly racist and inappropriate, and it made me wonder who he thought he was talking to," said Bob Rasmus, pastor of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Urbana.
"This is not who we are in this community and in this country, as far as I'm concerned," added Rasmus, who shared his concerns in letters to The News-Gazette and the Champaign County Fair Association board.
The News-Gazette attempted to reach Waller for a comment through his Facebook page. However, he didn't respond Wednesday.
Earlier this week, officials for both the fair board and the rodeo company each issued statements condemning his actions.
"Under no circumstances does the fair approve the comments made by the rodeo clown," Michael Kobel, the fair association board president, said in a prepared statement. "His actions and language were unacceptable and are not welcome at our fair."
Here is Kobel's full statement.
Kevin Crain, owner of C-Bar Rodeo, extended his apologies to the fair association and community. He explained that Waller was hired as an independent contractor to "act as a filler for certain time slots" in between rodeo events.
Here is Crain's full statement.
"His time slots are not scripted by C-Bar Rodeo Company," Crain wrote in a release. "As stated, Mr. Waller is a contracted act, which means he is a paid, independent performer and is not a part of C-Bar Rodeo Company. His actions were reprimanded, and he will no longer be performing at any Champaign County show."
Rasmus attended the rodeo with his wife, Ann, and their 12-year-old daughter, Sophie. He said they were enjoying the show when the clown, who was trying to engage the audience, announced that a dark-colored bull was slow out of a gate because it wasn't white.
The clown didn't get the reaction he intended, Rasmus said. His wife booed him.
Beth Herbert, who was sitting in the front row, said she flipped him off.
"I was astounded," said Herbert, a 1991 University of Illinois graduate, who was back in town from Chicago visiting relatives and attending her first rodeo.
When the clown remarked that he would probably get fired for making the comment, Herbert said a woman in the audience shouted back, "I hope you get fired" and called him racist. Herbert said she and a few others near her applauded.
"Earlier, he had made a joke about this bull that was light-colored with black spots, that it should be called Obama," Herbert said. "I just couldn't believe that. ... It seems like we should be past that."
Joyce Gibson, of Foosland, said she and her family attended the rodeo to watch her grandson compete. She recalled hearing the clown telling another "joke."
"He said, 'Did you hear they're going to start taxing aspirin more because they're white, and they work,'" Gibson said. "It made me sick."
Gibson said she had seen a black family sitting behind her. When she turned to apologize to them, they had walked out.
"I wanted to say, 'I'm sorry you were treated this way,'" said Gibson, pastor of the Fisher Foursquare Church. "I can't believe that in this day and age, someone would say something so ignorant. It's time to quit acting like this.
"I think he should apologize," she continued. "He made a mistake. He should be given the chance to make it right."
Herbert told fair officials she didn't think Waller should be paid. She also said she called C-Bar owners, who assured he had been reprimanded.
Kobel said the fair office has fielded numerous calls from rodeo-goers, and he's made or is in the process of making contact with all of them to address their concerns.
"We appreciate when they have an issue at the fair, whether it's the vendors or the restrooms, and they let us know about it," he said. "That way, we know about it and can make it better."