Former class clown finds his calling
A product of the Webster Parish school system has established a career in clowning around.
After being told to 'straighten up and act right,' Matt Merritt decided to drop out of high school in March, 2000 – just two months before graduation – and dance his way to the top.
Merritt was received well in Australia, where he was called "the star attraction" by Australia Professional Bull Riding (PBR).
"His unique style has generated thousands of responses since he landed on Australian soil, there is just nothing like him in this country," said Glen Young, PBR General Manager. "We knew that he was one of the rising stars in the USA, so we took a punt and brought him out sight unseen. It has shaped up to be one of the best decisions we have made with the amount of positive feedback we have received since the first Cup Series event in Wollongong."
Young said Merritt is not your typical rodeo clown.
"His way of engaging the audience from start to finish is unbelievable – kids love him and so do the adults," Young said. "There is no doubt that the PBR fans will walk away saying that he is undoubtedly one of the best entertainers they have ever witnessed out of a PBR event."
Merritt, now 30, finds it ironic that his clowning is so highly regarded, when his high school principal gave him grief about being the class clown.
"Butch (Williams) used to give me a hard time down in Sibley," Merritt said. "Because he has known me my whole life and coached me from a young age, he knew I could do better in high school."
Merritt said he knows it is easy to "act a fool" for high school students.
"My good friend, Ruben Weaver, who is a year younger than me, got in trouble one day after I left school to clown," Merritt recalled. "Ruben went into the office and Butch was mad at him for something. Butch told Ruben, who is now a preacher, that there was only one job for a clown and Merritt already got it."
Merritt said he is a still close friend with Ruben and others from the area.
"You know how it is, as you grow up, you lose some friends when you leave school," he said. "But I still have many friends in the area as well as my family. My brother just graduated the police academy in Minden, and I'm proud of him and everyone supporting me there."
Merritt's first performance was at the Walraven Arena in Dubberly. He then went on to other events in the area.
"I would perform for very little money," he said. "I really didn't know what I was doing back in my high school years."
When most his age were walking across a stage toward a diploma, Merritt was driving his truck and trailer cross-country.
"About (age) 17 or 18 I had a truck and trailer and ended up in the area where I am now, North Carolina," he said. "I ended up getting a lot of work in the area, mostly through word of mouth. That is kind of how this operates – what you do speaks for itself."
It took Merritt approximately five years before he felt like he could make a living as a clown.
"I do quite a bit of traveling, Merritt said. "I've been privileged to be able to see nearly every state, Australia, Mexico."
However, Merritt said he does have some regrets.
"I never reached the potential I should have in school, and I wish all the time that I would have done better," he said. "I did get my GED. I have a beautiful wife and children and can provide for them.
"I'm one of the few people that were lucky enough to be able to make a living off a natural talent," Merritt said. "So many people do find their talent and for whatever reason are not successful at it."
Merritt said getting an education is something that should be a priority for every student, no matter how talented.
"You quickly realize when you get out of school that you had it very easy while you were there. Every grown-up knows that," he said. "It's a great place to grow up in so many ways, but there are also challenges. Growing up down there, for me it sometimes seemed like there are only two paths to choose from – get a job in the oil field or sit around and drink and act a fool. When you work at reaching your potential, those aren't the only options any more."