- Ken Herman American-Statesman Staff
In the oft-wacky world of auto dealer TV ads, the ones featuring Mr. and Mrs. Charles Maund — stars of the high-rotation ads for their local Toyota store — are less annoying than some and more annoying than others.
Some folks might find the Maunds entertaining. Some might find them grating. And some may find them omnipresent. I see them often while watching local TV news.
And I see them often enough to be curious about them. Their shtick is different than Kia guy Bill Dickason’s “We’re just gonna give it to you” pitch. They also differ from the Roger Beasley Mazda ads with the guy who seems to be trying to hypnotize me into a purchase with his mesmerizing monotone. And everyone with a TV knows Clay Cooley wants us to “Shop me first; shop me last. Either way, come see Clay.”
The Charles Maund Toyota ads always end with Mr. or Mrs. Maund saying, “If you shop us, you’ll save.” Then they look at each other, look back at us and say, “We guarantee it!”
There’s nothing wrong with that. Except this:
“Charles D. Maund, affectionately known as ‘Charlie’ by his many friends and customers, left this world peacefully on Dec. 1, 2002. … His wife and best friend, Helen Lang Maund, to whom he was wed for forty-seven years, predeceased Charlie.”
So longtime car dealer Maund and his longtime wife are long gone, may they RIP. And come to think of it, the couple on the Charles Maund Toyota commercials never actually claim to be Charles and Helen Maund. We kinda just think they are, and they’re kinda OK with that.
But who are they really?
He is Randy Knaps. She is Ara Celi. We’ll deal with her first because her background is less interesting than Knaps’, which includes the improbable combination of the movie “Dirty Dancing” and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
Celi is a film and TV actress. Wikipedia: “She had a starring role in the minor 1997 dance movie ‘Looking for Lola,’ but she is probably best known for her role as Ampata Gutierrez aka ‘Inca Mummy Girl’ from season two of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’”
And we’re told she “is now most often seen in television advertisements for Universal Toyota car dealership in San Antonio, Texas, and Charles Maund Toyota dealership in Austin, Texas, and Boggus Ford dealership in McAllen, Texas.”
She was born in El Paso and won the 1994 GuyRex Mrs. Texas Pageant. In 1999, she played Raquel Dion Santos in “All My Children.” She lives near San Antonio with her husband and two kids.
Knaps, 60, is a Louisiana-based musician and TV pitch guy.
“When it comes to turnkey automotive concept, production and talent I’ve been around the block several thousand times,” he tells us on LinkedIn. “I also do ‘On Camera Talent,’ specializing in spokesperson and character acting. I’ve also produced tons of jingles in the past 30 years which is also a pertinent part of my business. I also do a wee bit of singing.”
Knaps, whose Baton Rouge production company is called MediaScope, recently shared with me this just-as-we-suspected secret of auto dealer TV ads.
“It doesn’t matter if you love it or you hate it,” Knaps disclosed. “But did you remember it? It’s OK for someone to go, ‘God, I hate that commercial for Charles Maund’ because they just said it. That’s name recognition right there.”
And then there’s the is-he-Charles-Maund? thing. No, Knaps acknowledges, he’s not.
“He’s way dead,” he said.
But Knaps also acknowledged it’s way OK if people think he’s Maund. And people do.
“That is the branding we created and it’s very unique and it’s a wonderful thing, because that’s what people buy into,” Knaps said. “They think I’m Charles Maund and they think she’s my wife.”
He said this wasn’t a plan. “It just morphed into it.”
Knaps confirmed it earlier this year when a waiter in a local restaurant greeted him with, “Mr. Maund, how are you?”
Knaps’ “Dirty Dancing” connection is singing backup up to the Doobie Brothers’ Tom Johnston on “Where Are You Tonight?” Because you love that movie, you know that Jennifer Warnes and Righteous Brother Bill Medley sang the movie’s signature song, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
And it turns out Knaps is a real-life righteous brother of evangelist Swaggart, who, as you’ll recall, has had his ups and downs. Knaps has been singing at Swaggart services for about 12 years.
“I had stopped playing music and started seeking the Lord a little bit more and decided I didn’t want to play in night clubs anymore. I was making enough money doing commercials,” he recalled.
Knaps was playing at small, 50-member church when a musician friend told him Swaggart had some openings. Knaps auditioned and got the gig. He does three services a week, every other week, and twice a year Swaggart camp meetings.
Online video shows his initial appearance with Swaggart in March 2006 when Knaps punched out a powerful rendition of “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” an Andrae Crouch gospel song.
“Randy Knaps is new to you,” Swaggart said by way of introduction, “and you are new to him. But he’s going to bless you this morning. He loves the Lord and that’s the thing that really counts. Would you welcome him to Family Worship Center?”
And by way of profession of faith, Knaps told me, “It’s only been a short time for me, four years. Twenty years on the fence, four years getting it together and it’s just now starting to get right. Hallelujah.”
Because I hope to go into advertising when this newspaper thing runs its course, I had a suggestion for Knaps, one based on the Charles Maund Toyota ad tagline, “If you shop us, you’ll save. We guarantee it!”
“You and Swaggart ought to look at each other and say, ‘If you pray with us, you’ll be saved … .”
Because he’s already a savvy ad guy, Knaps kicked in with the punchline before I could. “We guarantee it.” This guy’s a pro.
As a footnote here, I’d like to point out that I’m not alone in my fascination with car dealer pitch guys. Someone on Reddit who’s really funny (or sadly shares my interest in these ads) posted this a few months ago on a thread called “The guy from the Charles Maund Toyota commercials is actually a gospel singer named Randy Knaps.”
“Last year I learned that the woman who comes out with him isn’t even his wife! She’s an actress named Ara Celi. Now this? This is too much. My life is a (expletive deleted) lie.”
Someone else wrote: “I always thought they looked like a creepy swinger couple.”
Another someone else added: “What’s next? Clay Cooley is actually a Russian talent show host?!?”
No, he’s not. We guarantee it.