Date: June 13, 2008
About: Dave Comer - Class of 1966
Thats Life with Dave Comer
All Dave Comer wanted to do was make people laugh.
Raised in Quincy, Comer spent most of his adult life living in Mission Viejo, Calif., working for a company called Bunzel Distribution.
“They do everything you see in a grocery store, packaging-wise,” Comer said. “I was the vice president of sales and marketing in the Los Angeles area.”
But the Midwest beckoned, and after he retired in 2006, Comer and his wife returned to Quincy.
A self-confessed clown, Comer looked for a vehicle to express his creative talents. It didn’t take him long to find one. Contacting a longtime friend in the radio business, the two found themselves reliving the past.
“We got to talking about the old Chickenman series, that hadn’t been in Quincy for 40 years,” Comer said of the once-daily serial that satirized the popular TV series, “Batman.”
A deal was struck with the necessary parties, and Comer soon became known as “Chickenman” of Quincy.
“We had a giant kickoff party, ‘Chickenman returns to Quincy,’ at the Abbey, where we gave away hundreds of pounds of chicken wings, free,” Comer said with a laugh. “I danced on the bar in costume.”
Chickenman, and Comer, were a hit.
“It just took off like crazy,” he said. “People hadn’t heard it for 40 years.”
Now known throughout the area as Chickenman, Comer is frequently recognized in public. And he doesn’t mind one bit.
“Everybody laughs, ‘cause here’s this 60-year-old man dressing up as a chicken,” Comer said. “But you know, a lot of people don’t have the guts to do that, for one, and they don’t have the ambition to make people happy. And I do.
“And I think that’s what it’s all about.”
Born in California, Mo. My dad opened up Kroger’s grocery stores all across the Midwest. We lived in about every city there is in Missouri and Illinois. When we came to Quincy my dad was working for Gooch’s IGA down in Hannibal, and Niemann’s offered him a position up here. My dad bought a home here and I started going to school here. I went to Irving grade school, junior high, senior high. Graduated in 1966, joined the service and went to Vietnam.
When I came home in ‘68 I worked for Merchants Wholesale, and I was a member of the Knights of Columbus.
My whole career has been kind of diverse. I’ve done sign painting, I’ve done sales. Mostly sales. I started selling out of comic books, selling greeting cards and stuff like that to win bicycles. And then my dad had me working in the grocery store. I did everything from meat to produce to carry out groceries, stock and sort bottles, when they used to have bottles, back in the old days.
My parents always taught me to be outgoing, because they were always in business, you know? They taught us to always greet people, thank you, open the doors for people. And to me, it’s always been fun to ... there’s so much negativity and violence, all that, in the world today. Back then, even. It’s nice to put smiles on people’s faces. That’s the things they remember. They don’t remember the bad stuff, they remember the good stuff. And the good stuff is a smile on their face.
Dad passed away at Christmas last year. You know, he was a third-grade graduate. He made it to third grade, and he had to go to work in a glass factory. He taught us the right way to work.
One of my art pieces I did for Barefoot Inn in Harden, Ill., a placemat cover with footprints on it, it wound up in the Fort Howard (Co.) sample kit. And this gentleman in California that was trying to sell my sister placemats at her catering company (showed it to her), and she goes, “That’s my brother’s.” And he goes, “If that’s your brother’s, we’ll hire him.” Two weeks later they called me-1. They sent me a ticket, I got on a plane, flew out there and liked it. Had my wife fly out with me, and we moved to a town called Mission Viejo, Calif.
It all started with the Knights of Columbus here. I mean, I was a clown in school, don’t get me wrong, but the Knights of Columbus, we had a Quinsippi thing down at Washington park. I dressed up in an old straw hat with a flower coming out of it, and I had the big feet and the big fancy tie. And it was really appealing to me to go into another character and learn what’s good with a person and what’s bad. There’s certain people that don’t like to be touched, certain people that don’t like you to come up to ‘em real fast, so you learn all that as you’re doing stuff.
But my biggest reward was going to the hospital and working with kids, because that’s a memory they’re going to have for the rest of their lives. I really wanted to pursue that more and more, so I really got into the clown thing.
The mascot thing came around because my mother worked for JC Penney, and they were gonna have an Angels-2 giveaway shirt night. And I’m sitting there with a friend of mine and I said, “You know, I oughta jump into this,” because at that time, 1980, every baseball team was trying to find a mascot because of the San Diego Chicken. And I knew I could do better than the San Diego Chicken.
I went to a lot of ballgames, and I thought, “Let’s do something different.” So I made some phone calls, and I got a call from Hanna-Barbera-3. They had a costume that they didn’t need anymore, and it was this dog, called Huggy the Dog, and the reason why it didn’t go over was the kids didn’t like it until they took the head off and they put a doghouse over it. And then it became a Saturday morning show.
So I purchased the costume not knowing we were gonna have a job, but I thought we could go do birthday parties or something to make some money. My mom got in touch with the woman in charge of promotions for JC Penney, and I told her what I wanted to do, so they made me an Angels shirt that would fit that costume.
So I went there that night-4 with the anticipation of seeing how this was gonna play out. I’d never done it in front of 45- 50,000 people in my life. I talked to (the Angels) press people about what we wanted to do, where we could go, where we couldn’t go. I gave them a little thing of what I wanted to do. I wanted to go out on the field and bury home plate, I wanted to bite the umpire’s leg. In the 7th inning I’d like to run the bases and be on the dugout, and the rest of the time I’d be going through the stands handing out T-shirts.
So they approved it, and we went out and we did it and we got a tremendous response from the people. The next morning we were requested to go up to four or five TV stations, did interviews. Some guy that night, I think it was the 10:30 sports cast, said the Angels don’t want to be known as a “dog” team. Well, dogs are loving. San Diego’s got a chicken.
So I got a telephone call from the marketing lady of the Angels, and she wanted to meet with us. She wanted to know what I would charge. Well, I didn’t have any idea of what we should charge. I just knew that I had “X” number of dollars in the costume and I better get some money back, so I asked for a fee, and they bit on it. And I think I was a little low (laughing).
So we did it, and the fans went crazy over us when they introduced us as Huggy.
My first night in that costume I think I lost 10 pounds. I had a shirt on, the whole shooting match. Eventually I went to just shorts. I mean it was very, very hot. Very hot.