Classy clown | December 14, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - December 14, 2007

Classy clown

Palo Alto's 'Daffy Dave' premieres his new movie with style

by Rebecca Wallace

Who cares about a little rain? Fans are crowded outside Palo Alto's Aquarius Theatre, a squirming crowd on the wet sidewalk. Some wave signs made of paper taped to popsicle sticks. Others chant, "Daffy Dave! Daffy Dave!" and the limo's not even here yet.

A movie premiere is exciting, especially if you're 3. And it's even better if you know the star. Most of the fans in this crowd have seen Daffy Dave in person, clowning, singing, juggling and doing magic.

"He comes to our school two to three times a week. The kids love him," says a teacher from Twinkle Twinkle Childcare in Los Altos, which has sent a contingent of about 30 kids in orange T-shirts.

Then the man of the hour arrives. Dave emerges from a stretch limo shouting, "Rock 'n' roll!" His white tux jacket shines in the gray afternoon, and the lady on his arm wears an elegant gown. "This is my date, Cherries Jubilee," he announces. The kids cheer, and cameras go off.

Children pour into the theater and squeak their chairs, ready for the movie, "The Silly Adventures of Daffy Dave," to start. A reporter wants to know why they like Daffy Dave so much, but most turn shy when questioned by a stranger — or are just too hopped up to answer. Finally, one little girl yells: "Because he's FUNNY! He tells FUNNY stories!" This seems to be the general consensus.

In the funny story of Palo Alto minister-turned-clown "Daffy Dave" Mampel, last week's Aquarius screenings were an important chapter. While Mampel has put out seven song-and-story CDs and produced a local cable TV show, this is his first film.

The 34-minute movie begins with a scene of Mampel entertaining a roomful of kids with his antics, but at its heart are his original songs. Mini-movies based on "Red Light, Green Light," "Choo Choo Train," "Soccer Rock 'N' Roll" and others are filled with energetic young fans and members of Mampel's band. In the middle of everything, Daffy Dave is a genial presence, showing kids how to ride a train, tidy their rooms, or wait for a traffic light to change.

Currently, Mampel and director Alex Alamul are submitting the movie to film festivals and retailers. They're also shopping it to TV stations, where it could serve as a pilot for a kids' TV show. The team is more than ready to spin out episodes, Mampel says eagerly, adding, "I have like 84 songs on iTunes."

That upbeat attitude has proved a popular selling point. Mampel became a full-time children's entertainer in 1992, after leaving the ministry. "I was being a clown already and making people laugh during Sunday sermons," he says.

Since then, he's been performing at schools, parties and other gigs, mostly for kids ages 3 to 6. He also leads music activities at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City. His band mates — guitarist Scott Smith (who dresses as a Yosemite Sam type called "Dusty Buckles") and bass player Mark Stein (a.k.a. "Uncle Ben Franklin") — are often along for the ride.

"Daffy Dave has the best fans. They're so appreciative," says Stein during an interview at his I'm Stein Recording Studio in Sunnyvale, where some of the Daffy Dave CDs have been recorded. "And nobody ever throws beer bottles at you."

Mampel adds: "Juice boxes, maybe."

Flying projectiles aside, kids get to contribute their cheering voices to the show, often while trying to help the hapless Daffy Dave. Mampel's character is an affable bumbling sort who often gets things wrong, whether it's putting on his hat upside down, or trying to answer the phone by putting a pair of sunglasses to his ear.

"Kids laugh and tell me what I'm doing wrong. It really empowers them when they can tell an adult to do things the right way," Mampel says. He adds, "Comedy is a man in trouble, Jerry Lewis said."

Mampel says his show also shows children that it's all right to make mistakes. "That's what it means to be human."

Despite his gaffes, Daffy Dave seems to be having a blast. But it isn't always easy working with little ones. Vast stores of energy are required. And even when you do your best ukulele strumming, sometimes a kid just won't think you're funny. What do you do then?

"Ignore 'em," Mampel says. "Focus on the kids who do like you. You can't let it get to you, or you'll get depressed."

Plenty of children do shriek with laughter at a Daffy Dave performance. And, uh, do other things.

"I've had kids pee their pants in my show because they're laughing so hard. That's happened like 10 times," Mampel says. He then jumps up and hilariously reenacts trying to steer the crowd's attention away from a damp child, while the child's mother frantically mops up the puddle.

It was one of these kids' shows (sans puddle) that brought Mampel to the attention of independent movie director Alex Alamul, who had never made a children's movie before. Mampel was performing at Alamul's daughter's school in Los Gatos, and Alamul was standing on the sidelines, trying to listen to his voice mail.

"But the kids were so loud," Alamul recalled. "They were laughing so hard. I realized, 'This guy is really funny.'

"I've been making films for 20 years, and I've seen so many live shows. He was different, catchy. ... He held the kids' attention for a long time."

Mampel teamed up with Alamul and his Campbell-based Sidekick Productions, and they decided to make a film that was more like a collection of music videos than a long narrative piece. The songs are already familiar to many kids, and the format would also be good for youthful short attention spans, they agreed.

Filming locations included the San Francisco Zoo, Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, and Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos. To find kids for the many crowd scenes, including the soccer sequences in "Soccer Rock 'N Roll," Mampel turned to Daffy Dave's fan club, which he says has some 1,000 families.

Alamul's son also appears in "My Name is Daffy Dave," where Mampel shows kids how to clean up their rooms (and puts Alamul's son away in a large basket).

Back at the Aquarius, the team's approach to filmmaking seems successful. Kids in the audience sing and dance along, and crow when their favorite songs come on. They're especially engaged by the opening scene of Daffy Dave just goofing around. He introduces himself; he clowns; he acts chagrined when his hat falls off.

Interestingly, the children at the Aquarius respond to the Dave on the screen, even though the real Dave is at the back of the theater. When the movie Dave tells the movie kids to clap, the real kids clap, too. When he tells them to raise their hands, a sea of arms fills the Aquarius, making tall shadows in the flickering light of the projector.

"Ladies and garbage cans," the movie Dave says in greeting, and everyone choruses delightedly, "Noooo."

But the funniest scene is still to come: Daffy Dave's pants fall down! And he's wearing big, crazy underwear! The kids laugh. Their teachers laugh. Even a jaded reporter laughs. Some humor never goes out of style.

Info: For more about Daffy Dave, or to buy "The Silly Adventures of Daffy Dave," go to www.daffydave.com.

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