Two years ago, rodeo clown Rockin’ Robbie Hodges described his style of performance to a newspaper reporter in Georgia.
“I’m kind of my own drummer,” Hodges told the Augusta Chronicle in January 2014.
The 48-year-old Hodges, from Cave Spring, Ga., spends most of his year on the road entertaining rodeo crowds.
Nominated twice for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Clown of the Year, “the fans love him. He’s an absolute nut,” Kenny Thomas, organizer of an annual bull riding event, told the paper.
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“The thing about Robbie is he’s the same out of the arena as he is in the arena.”
Now, Hodges is defending his reputation after comments he made last week at a county fair in Michigan that some people say mocked transgender people.
A shocked mother who filmed the incident at the Calhoun County Fair on Aug. 18 and sent it to a TV station reported that some people left the show after his comments.
He made them as he was separating boys from girls for the “sheep scramble,” where kids chase sheep around to grab tags off their backs. Hodges has since explained that when he called girls into the arena, boys came too and he was trying not to embarrass them.
“You're either a boy or a girl, y’all understand,” Hodges told the kids. “If you’re confused then you need help, okay? Everybody in here who’s really sure they’re a boy raise your hand.
“If you can tinkle on a fire you go to the boys room. If you can't, you go to the girls room, right?”
He can also be heard on the video saying, “here at the rodeo we are not gender friendly.”
In a lengthy statement given to WILX-TV in Lansing on Wednesday, Hodges noted that the crowd laughed. “The boys went one direction, the girls went the other and the rodeo performance continued as usual,” Hodges wrote.
The father of three also told The New York Daily News on Wednesday that the remarks were “just a quick comedy thing,” blaming the controversy on a “liberal agenda.”
Hodges also defended himself on his Facebook page, writing in one post: “I just don’t see why people have to be coiled all the time waiting to get offended.
“They paid for a ticket, enjoy it and leave it at the exit. Nothing any of us do ever has intended to hurt or single out anyone. Its just comedy we pick on everyone ... Does every other clown feel this way or is it just me? Its making me very jaded.”
But fair officials, like the folks who walked out on him, quickly distanced themselves from Hodges’ words.
“I was very disappointed, because we do not put on a platform for that to happen here,” Megan Harvey, the fair’s executive director, told WILX-TV after the incident.
Hodges was working at the time as an independent contractor for Michigan-based Lost Nations Rodeo Company. Initial media reports indicated that Lost Nations had fired Hodges after the incident, but the company has clarified he was working on a short-term contract.
“I was hired as an independent contractor for this one weekend. As I do with most of my performances, I received a thank you, a hand shake and a paycheck for my services at the end of the rodeo,” Hodges said in his statement this week.
The company, however, issued an apology for what he did.
“Lost Nations Rodeo was unaware that those comments would be made and were off script. Hodges is a well-decorated entertainer, and while we appreciate his services, we do not share the same views or opinions,” the company said in a statement.
“We sincerely apologize again to all of our fans and look forward to entertaining you in the future.”
A statement from Hodges’ lawyer given to WILX said Hodges promotes “positive, non-violent, clean family humor, and has an uncanny knack for instantly bonding with audiences of all ages.
“He genuinely enjoys being a rodeo clown because he likes to talk to and entertain people, especially children. He eagerly takes on the rodeo performance, attempting to personalize each show by taking the time to talk to and get to know as many families as possible.”
The incident has made international news, with British tabloid Mirror detailing it under a headline, “Rodeo clown launches bizarre transphobic rant in front of families as he goes a little ‘off script.’”
The Daily News noted that in two Facebook posts in April Hodges mocked the national debate over transgender bathroom use.
Hodges told the tabloid that he does not “support” the transgender lifestyle, but “just because I don't support it doesn't mean I'm not gonna love them. God doesn't tell us not to love them.
“However, I don't feel like there should be an absolute platform where if a person doesn't feel that way, they should be dragged across the coals.”