Berkeley’s ‘waving man’ Joseph Charles makes a video comeback

Joseph Charles waved and greeted people driving and walking past his house in Berkeley every day for 30 years. Image: Still from Real People show

How’s this for a blast from the past — a little feel-good Berkeley nostalgia?

A producer developing a YouTube channel for an old TV show called Real People shared the short episode that focuses on Berkeley’s Joseph Charles, also known as Happy Hands Joe, or Waving Man.

Charles, who died in 2002 aged 91, was “a humble man with a large heart,” as Charles Burress wrote when penning his obituary for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Every day, for 30 years, he stepped out of his home on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and waved at those driving and walking by, shouting “Keep smiling,” and “Have a good day!,” bringing pleasure to thousands. He invariably had a smile on his face, and often wore yellow gloves that became his trademark.

Charles was a beloved figure in Berkeley and the tennis courts across the street from his home were named after him. But he also made national headlines, recognized by People magazine and appearing on TV with Walter Cronkite.

The Real People TV show made its debut in April 1979 and initially critics found its format — which blurred the line between news and entertainment — hard to categorize. Producer George Schlatter called it “theater of reality.” According to those behind the show, “Real People went on to become a huge hit for NBC during its five years, giving rise to many imitators and eventually creating the genre, reality television.”

Charles’ family have tried in the past to keep the spirit of his generosity and happiness going on March 22 each year, so we can hopefully look forward to some serious waving and smiling action in Berkeley on that day.