During the recession that hit the Victor Valley in 1989, some locals turned to multi-level network marketing or taking a second, nighttime job to supplement their incomes. But Daniel Wallace, a licensed house painter since 1981, came up with a unique solution to the economic downturn: He became a professional clown.
"I did it to supplement my income because painting is hit or miss," Wallace said.
The opportunity came when Wallace, a resident of Hesperia, met Happy Mo Bappy The Clown. The veteran clown helped Wallace find his calling as "Jolly Wally," a clown who today blends his guitar-playing abilities with his desire to make people smile.
"He kind of coached me and helped get me into the circus."
By the early 1990s, Jolly Wally went on a circus circuit throughout the western U.S. Working as an "advance clown," his primary duty was to visit elementary schools to drum up interest in the circus as it arrived to town. At the circus he would stroll around with his guitar as circus-goers came in.
For several years, he would be with the circus on the road from spring to fall, beginning his journey in Arizona, working his way up to Washington, east to Wyoming, down to Texas and concluding back in the Grand Canyon State.
But the grind began to wear on Wallace, so he decided to say goodbye to the circus life.
"I was gone from March to October," Wallace said. "That was more time than I wanted to be away from my home and family. I just decided I didn't want to be away from home that long."
When he came back, Wallace got his real estate license and went to work at a local Prudential Realty office. Eventually, however, his house painting skills were sought. When the economic recovery began in the early 1990s, the house painting calls increased.
Over the past decade, Wallace has settled into a routine: He paints houses during weekdays, and on Saturday he's a clown, typically performing at birthday parties or other events.
"I'm back in the painting business and clowning on the weekend. Monday through Friday I'm using a house-painting brush and on Saturday I'm using a face-painting brush."
Working more than six days a week puts a frown on the Barstow native's face, so he tends to reserve Sundays for relaxing at home.
"Sometimes I only have Sunday off, so it can be tough."
His daily routine begins when an alarm clock rings at 5 p.m., when he goes to the gym. Often he travels to Barstow, San Bernardino or other out-of-the area locations for house painting jobs.
"People are reluctant to come up with $1,000 or so up here. It's a high ticket item."
He tries to keep his work hours uniform.
"I try to work from 9 to 5," he said.
Wallace is also a member of the Victor Valley Marketing Group, a network of area business owners and professionals, and the Hesperia Chamber of Commerce. Through those organizations, he often receives business referrals.
As a result, Wallace's house painting business is extremely busy.
"The painting business has really picked up for me. I'm booked three to four months in advance."
Being a clown has its rewards. Most importantly, a clown has to have a heart for youngsters.
"You better like kids or not do this. You better be patient. I love kids."
But sometimes children have a side to them that is less angelic and more reminiscent of Dennis The Menace.
"They'll stand on my big clown shoes on purpose. Or they'll want to squeeze my nose. Or they want to get into my clown bag or play my guitar."
But Jolly Wally's answer is always the same.
Jolly Wally opens his show playing the guitar. Then he gets the kids join in on "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," "Happy Birthday," or "Old McDonald Had a Farm."
"I get the kids to sing the animal parts."
He also uses positive reinforcement when performing magic tricks. He uses affirming words rather than negative ones.
There are some days where his countless hours with a house-painting brush has zapped his energy. But soon his mood will change.
"Sometimes I'm tired. I don't want to turn my switch on. But the more the kids react, the more I react back."
Wallace also believes being a clown is an important thing to do. He realizes that the children he entertains will keep their memory of Jolly Wally for a lifetime.
His most precious moments often come as he's leaving a clown job.
"They're chanting 'Wally, Wally, Wally.' That makes me feel good."