The rodeo clown who sparked a national outcry when he impersonated President Obama at the Missouri State Fair earlier this month is speaking out for the first time, and insisting his actions had no racial component to them.
In an interview with Kansas City’s KCTV, Tuffy Gessling said that his performance was never meant to be offensive.
“I didn’t do this to do any hating on anyone,” he said. “I did it to be funny. I did it to be a joke.”
But despite his intentions, his performance sparked a significant backlash, including criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle. He told KCTV he has received death threats as well, and that one woman spit in his face.
He continued to defend his decision to don the mask during the event, arguing that the rodeo industry has been making a mockery of presidents in similar ways for years.
“This bit, this clown bit, has been around for generations, and I didn’t think anything more of it than what we’ve done 15 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, when we’ve done it with Bush, and Clinton and Ronald Reagan,” he said.
And he also insisted that there was no racial inspiration to his performance, even though at least one person in the audience thought the event reminded him of a “Klan rally.”
“I never did anything because of anybody’s race,” he said. “I don’t care what color somebody, if they’re blue, white, green, polka-dotted, striped.”
Gessling said he thinks the response he’s received shows his critics lack humor.
“A lot of people have lost their ability to laugh,” he said.
The performer’s take matches that of some Republicans. Iowa Rep. Steve King’s had urged the president–who never commented on the incident–to “relax” over the issue and said it wasn’t “about race.”
Mr. President: Invite the rodeo clown 2 the White House 4 a beer summit. Take the temperature down, have a laugh, relax. It’s not about race
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) August 16, 2013
Texas Rep. Steve Stockman made a similar argument when he invited Gessling to perform in his district.
The White House made little comment on the issue, although when asked about it during a White House briefing, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said it was not one of Missouri’s “finer moments.”
“I have not talked to my colleagues in the White House about this, and I haven’t heard about the president’s reaction or if he had one,” Earnest said. ”I can tell you as a native Missourian it’s certainly not one of the finer moments for our state, and not the way that I like to see our state mentioned in the news.”
Gessling said he would like to invite any and all politicians to see him perform, including President Obama.
“If President Obama turns out, I would be honored to shake his hand,” he told KCTV.
Asked about his political party preference, he replied matter-of-factly, ”I am a rodeo clown.”