Something was missing this year at the Western Montana Fair, though almost no fair-goers seemed to notice. But for one reporter, tater pigs and recorded Bush sound bites couldn’t fill the void created by Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey’s absence in the rodeo arena. Who’s Whiplash, you ask? All inquiries into the Cowboy Monkey’s whereabouts received blank stares begging the same question (that, and, are you propositioning me?). Fair organizers, ticket sellers, beer vendors—no one had heard of Whiplash. Only a tiara-topped, sash-slinging Miss Rodeo Western Montana sparkled at Whiplash’s name. “He’s hysterical,” she said, but added that he wasn’t at the fair this year because “they like to mix up the entertainment.”
Well, shoot! Words don’t do justice to Whiplash, the 16-year-old capuchin monkey who, when dressed in full cowboy garb and strapped to the back of a high-speed Border collie by the strength of his own monkey tail, looks more like a stuffed animal than a living, breathing one—and more often, when clinging perpendicular to the collie, eyes bugging, like a stuffed animal having the roughest ride of its life.
But Whiplash is a very happy monkey, assures his owner Tommy Lucia, who was reached by cell phone at a rodeo outside Dubuque, Iowa, last week. Lucia confirmed the rumor: The Western Montana Fair simply scheduled other entertainment this year. But Whiplash has been busy nonetheless. In the backseat of Lucia’s pickup, he’s recently traveled from his home in Weatherford, Texas, to perform in Wyoming, Iowa, and Salt Lake City, where 40 billboards and 50 buses advertised his beady mug.
And unlike the Missoulians polled, the rest of the world knows Whiplash. He’s ridden for the Prince of Monaco and Princess Stephanie, the vice premier of China, the Judds, Rob Lowe, Frank Sinatra—and both David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel have called to get Whiplash on their shows. But Lucia doesn’t see how more national TV appearances would benefit his monkey.
“You have to respect the animal,” he says. “You don’t just take a primate and say, ‘you’re going to wear these clothes and ride this dog.’” And after 25 years of touring with Whiplash, he should know. But wait, Whiplash is 16. “Yeah,” says Lucia. “There’s been two Whiplashes.” Oh. Well in that case, maybe next year we could get a Whiplash of our own.