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This Stunt Man is His Own Fall Guy

December 30, 1990|DANIEL CERONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a dream vacation vehicle. Everyone dreams of having a beautiful car and a beautiful boat. Well, this combines the two. It cruises at 90 mph on land and goes 60 knots in the water."

Super Dave Osborne patiently explained to the camera the benefits of his amphibious boat-car. Then the daredevil stuntman, gleaming in his patriotic star-spangled jump suit and crash helmet, climbed to the captain's deck of the modified, twin-fin Cadillac for a demonstration.

Belting out Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea," Super Dave drove the car to the boat launch. But at the last minute, the confounded stuntman realized he had taken a wrong turn, and seconds later he and his boat-car crashed off the pier's end and plunged to the bottom of the ocean.

Thus came the payoff for another episode of the cult cable show "Super Dave." The half-hour variety begins its new season Saturday night on Showtime.

Carefully planned stunts that always backfire have become the sure-fire gimmick of "Super Dave," which also features such guest performers as Ray Charles, Glenn Campbell, Kenny Rogers and Carol Burnett.

At the end of each episode, the Super One usually signs off from a prostrate position, his bones broken or his body smashed, always the result of a hopelessly complicated stunt gone wrong.

In the first episode, to celebrate the opening of Super Dave's new fast-food, health-food restaurant, the enterprising stuntman plans to jump 43 refrigerators loaded with bad meat.

"The moment I come on camera to open the show, you know I'm a dead man," said Bob Einstein, 48, the man inside the Super Dave jumpsuit. He sat in his dressing-room trailer, having just finished taping the boat-car scene at a pier in Port Hueneme.

"It gives a certain, you know, edge to the show. You're not going to turn it off because you know I'm gonna get it."

Standing an imposing 6-foot-4 with a voice that grates like a steel millstone, Einstein looks like a real stuntman. And his humor-perhaps influenced by his brother, comedian Albert Brooks, and his father, radio comic Harry "Parkyakarkus" Einstein-is so dry that one could sit through the entire show and not realize he's a fake. Until the end.

In one episode next season, Super Dave takes a 200-foot bungee jump but somebody forgets to secure the bungee cord to the bridge. With Super Dave sprawled on the rocks below, his faithful assistant Fuji bungees down an ambulance- which lands right on top of its injured victim.

"I think what's hysterically funny is a guy who sets himself up as the most confident, everything's-perfect, know-it-all, things-are-swell human being and then gets wiped out every time," Einstein said.

The Super Dave character first showed up in 1976 on the NBC variety show "Van Dyke and Company." Einstein and his longtime partner Allan Blye, who won an Emmy for producing the series, wrote a skit about a self-righteous stuntman.

"The character was something we both created as an idea for a piece, based on the arrogance of the (stunt) guys who do all that stuff," said Blye, who previously worked with Einstein on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," where Einstein played Officer Judy.

A year later, Super Dave saw light briefly on ABC in the variety show "Redd Foxx." That's when Einstein added to his routine former USC sportscaster Mike Walden, in his loud, clashing sport suits, to conduct post-stunt interviews.

"We did a stunt where I was gonna do something in a car that had never been done before," Einstein said. "I'm revving up the engine, and Mike's wishing me luck and everything. Then he backs away and a giant steel claw comes in, grabs the car, puts it in a car crusher and crushes it. The car comes out in a cube and Mike rushes over and interviews me inside the cube."

Super Dave found a home on the Showtime comedy series "Bizarre" (1979-85), produced by Einstein and Blye, the first made-for-cable TV series. The spinoff "Super Dave" was first shown in 1987 and has been building a cult audience ever since.

In all of Super Dave's stunts, most of which involve an obvious dummy double, there was only one close call. Einstein explained the bit: "I wanted to humanize bullfights. I don't like to see animals get hurt. So we tied horns on a 40-foot, fast-track tank and I was driving a mini-Cooper (automobile) with its top cut off.

"I taunted the tank driver, TIt's not funny enough! You have to get closer!U So on the next pass, my car stalled and the tank ran over the back of the car. From the camera angle, it looked like I was really dead. My partner, Allan, ran to my side faster than Ben Johnson on steroids."

Einstein was fine, and the finished shot stayed in the episode.

Super Dave pulled off his greatest feat to date in October. The idiot stuntman joined the ranks of Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi as the star of a Nike TV-commercial campaign. In one spot, featuring the Super Dave Slam Dunk Catapult, Einstein shattered a glass basketball backboard-with his face.

"Because we're on pay cable with fewer viewers, the recognition factor is still growing," said Einstein, who is writing a "Super Dave" movie with Blye for Columbia Pictures. "Four years ago we had only a cult following. Now, more and more people are buying into this fictitious character. And I am real."

"Super Dave" premieres Saturday 11-11:30 p.m. on Showtime, with repeats Jan. 10 at 10:35 p.m., Jan. 15 at 12:30 a.m. and Jan. 18 at 7:35 p.m.

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