September 8, 2000
From the pulpit to the stage
by Robyn Israel
You often hear about people making career changes: A nurse who goes back to medical school to become a doctor; a psychologist who decides she wants to be a journalist; a minister who transforms himself into a clown.
Granted, the latter example is a slightly more drastic transformation, but Dave Mampel actually moved from the pulpit to the stage, assuming the alias of Daffy Dave.
"My mind has shifted so much to being a clown that I could never imagine being a minister now," Mampel said.
Mampel assumed his new persona in 1992, and has made it a full-time profession, performing 30 to 60 clown shows per month at venues ranging from art and wine festivals to company picnics and private birthday parties.
After years of songwriting and performing, Mampel recently released his first full-length comedy/music CD, "Git Down & Funny! Sing Alongs, Stories, Americana." Arranged by Mampel, it features 26 songs, 13 of which are original compositions. The remainder are parodies of popular songs: "Don't Wake Up the Baby" is played to the tune of "Twist and Shout"; "Psycho-Chicken" is a new interpretation of the Talking Heads song "Psycho Killer"; "Pharoah, Pharoah" is played to the tune of "Louie, Louie." Mampel also impersonates Eivis Presley and Bob Dylan on two ditties, "Elvis Pokey" and "Happy Dylan."
The album features a variety of musical styles, ranging from rock and blues to folk and calypso and campy sing-alongs.
The Palo Alto resident was inspired to record the album after listening to Utah Phillips, an American folk musician considered the equal of Burl Ives and Pete Seeger, according to Mampel. A writer of union and obscure hobo songs, PhiIlips thought that great folk music borrows the traditions of the past – using old melodies, so people recognize them and can sing along, but changing the Iyrics to fit a modern-day context.
"I thought. 'Why don't I take old kids' songs and make my own lyrics,'" Mampel recalled.
One of the album's tunes, "Choo-Choo Train," reminds Mampel of Woodie Guthrie, because the melodies and rhythms seem like an amalgamation of the famous folk singer's songs.
"The spirit of Woodie Guthrie is in that song," Mampel said. "It's almost as though I was channeling his voice when I was singing it."
The album also features nonsensical songs link "Nanny-foof-N-Nanny," inspired by a developmentally disabled person Mampel worked with at the Community Association for Rehabilitation.
"It has the spirit of Daffy Dave," Mampel said of the song, adding that it captures his approach to comedy.
Mampel models his act after Daffy Duck, setting himself up as the object of ridicule and playing the bumbling fool who mispronounces people's names and utters malaproprisms, all the while acting seriously. Other role models are Buster Keaton and Stephen Wright, who both exemplify the comedic benefits of not cracking a smile.
"Kids laugh so hard when they see me getting upset," Mampel said of his serious demeanor.
Born in Chicago, Mampel spent his formative years living on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. After graduating from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn. with a master's degree in divinity, he took the job as minister of the First Congregational Church of Idaho Falls. His organist, however, told him he was more an entertainer than a minister.
"I was always making the congregation laugh without even trying," Mampel recalled.
Although he was a fifth-generation minister, Mampel realized a theological job was not his calling, and decided to move to California to become a musician. To supplement his income, Mampel started performing at house parties and Daffy Dave was born.
Mampel is currently the music specialist at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Belmont, and also leads songs at other Bay Area pre-schools and libraries. His performances, often booked two months in advance, involve music, magic, juggling and physical comedy. They tend to be interactive, prompting kids to sing along, dance and clap their hands.
Mampel is currently working on his second CD, which will be geared toward preschool teachers to use in their classrooms, to help children deal with various issues. Separation anxiety, for instance, is tackled in "I'll Be Back With My Mommy Again," played to the tune of "Back in the Saddle Again."
Today, Mampel has no regrets about leaving the ministry. He still considers himself a spiritual person, drawing not only from Christianity, but also Buddhism and New Age philosophies.
"Before every show I pray, so I'll be guided by something bigger than me," Mampel said.