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'Nothing Racist' Implied In 'Obama' Act, Says Rodeo Clown

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Tuffy Gessling, the rodeo clown at the center of the controversy over the skit at the Missouri State Fair in which a man wearing a President Obama mask was mocked, says "nothing racist was ever implied."

"Comedians all over the country have used political figures to make fun of current events, it's nothing new," Gessling has told digitalBURG, a student-run news service from the University of Central Missouri. "I never tried to be a racist or anything like that. I love all people no matter their background. I live to make people laugh. When TV comedians are doing it every day, Rush Limbaugh is doing it every day, people on Facebook are doing it every day 10 times more than me. I was just trying to make light of the situation, that's it."

As we've been reporting, many others — including Republican and Democratic politicians — have condemned the act as being both disrespectful and racist.

Gessling and Kansas City Star reporter Dave Helling (during a conversation the journalist had Wednesday with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish) have now added some details to the story.

It had been known that it was Gessling's voice that could be heard telling "Obama" that a bull was "gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha!" and saying that it's the president who acts like a clown. It also had been known that another voice briefly heard during Saturday's performance was that of then-Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association President Mark Ficken.

Now, thanks to Gessling and Helling, it's become known that it was a third man in the Obama mask. Previously, the speculation had been that it was Gessling in the mask and that he had been wearing a wireless microphone.

Gessling, according to digitalBURG, "refused to disclose the identity of his colleague behind the mask because he said the prank was his idea and because of the negative attention he's received." He's been banned from performing again at the state fair.

Helling, from the Star, says he's been hearing from many in Missouri who have strong feelings about what happened and how Gessling's now being treated. The clown's supporters, Helling says, believe he was just having fun and exercising his right to free speech. Some also claim that clowns performing at the fair have lampooned other politicians, including President George W. Bush, and not faced such a backlash. Helling says he hasn't turned up evidence of that happening before at Missouri's fair.

Critics of the act, Helling says, believe there's no room for what they see as such offensive conduct.

"There are fairly passionate views on both sides," Helling says. "Both sides sort of see it through their own prism of politics and race."

We'll add the as-broadcast version of his conversation with All Things Considered to the top of this post later.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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