"You've got to study people. If you go to Actor's Studio, fine. If you take lessons from someone, fine. There are all kinds of workshops and comedy stores and dramatic workshops... but you must be an observer. You must look at everything around you."
About This Interview
In his nearly two-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Jonathan Winters (1925-2013) reminisces about his early days in Ohio and New York and recalls some of his first television appearances on The Garry Moore Show and The Tonight Show, hosted by Steve Allen. Winters talks about the evolution of some of his well-known characters, including "Maude Frickert", "Elwood P. Suggins", and "King Kwasi", and discusses many of the well-known television personalities with whom he's worked during his career: Jack Paar, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson. He discusses his roles on Mork & Mindy, Hee Haw, and Davis Rules and offers advice to those starting out in comedy. Dan Pasternack conducted the interview on October 11, 2002 in Santa Barbara, CA.
Jonathan Winters began his career in radio, as a disk jockey on station WING (Dayton, Ohio), then moved to television at WBNS (Columbus, Ohio), where he hosted a local program for three years. He moved to New York in the 1950s and performed in night clubs an on Broadway. But it is TV that has made Winters both famous and familiar to a huge and grateful U.S. audience for more than four decades. Known for his numerous characters and voices, his stream-of-consciousness humor has influenced countless other performers, a prime example being the contemporary comic actor Robin Williams.
Winters' first network television appearances came during the 1950s with enormously successful guest spots on talk/variety shows such as the Jack Paar Show, The Steve Allen Show, and The Tonight Show. He went on to appear in many television programs, including Omnibus (where he was the show's first stand-up comedian), Playhouse 90, Twilight Zone, and Here's the Show (a summer replacement for The George Gobel Show). The NBC Comedy Hour originally designed as a Sunday showcase for new talent, was revamped to feature Gail Storm as the hostess and Jonathan Winters as the show's comedian. He hosted his own program, The Jonathan Winters Show, in 1956-57. This program, aired on NBC from 7:30-7:45 P.M., to fill a 15-minute spot following the NBC evening news, was structured around Winters' sketches, blackouts and monologues. The program was revived in a one-hour format by CBS for two seasons beginning in December 1967, and featured the now famous Maude Frickert, as well as the character Willard "From the Couple Up The Street" sketch. In some ways these shows indicated that Winters comedy was almost too unpredictable for conventional network television, and he was allowed more freedom in The Wacky, Wacky World of Jonathan Winters, a syndicated program that focused on Winters' bravura improvisations.
Younger viewers may remember Winters from the Mork and Mindy show where he played the role of Mork and Mindy's son. Paired with Robin Williams in his Mork role, Winters was wildly inventive. The comedy in this show was at times truly explosive, with one improvisational genius playing off the other. In the more conventional sitcom, Davis Rules, Winters was confined to a character, yet somehow managed to work many of his other personae into the stories. His performance earned an Emmy for best supporting actor in a comedy. In addition to on-camera roles, Winters frequently provides the voice for commercials and cartoons. These performances are usually wedded to his distinctive style, allowing audiences the pleasure of recognition for yet another Jonathan Winters moment.
JONATHAN WINTERS. Born in Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A., 11 November 1925. Educated at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, 1946; Dayton Art Institute, B.F.A. 1950. Married: Eileen Schauder, 1948; one daughter and one son. Served in U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 1943-46. Began career at radio station WING, Dayton, 1949; disc jockey, station WBNS-TV, Columbus, Ohio, 1950-53; nightclub comedian, New York, 1953; successful in film and as author and painter; recorded 12 albums for "Verve." Honorary chair, National Congress of American Indians. Recipient: Emmy Award, 1991.
TELEVISION SERIES (selection)
1956-57 The Jonathan Winters Show 1967-69 The Jonathan Winters Show 1972-74 The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters 1975-80 Hollywood Squares 1982-83 Mork and Mindy 1991-92 Davis Rules
1968 Now You See It, Now You Don't 1980 More Wild, Wild West 1985 Alice in Wonderland 1987 The Little Troll Prince (voice only)
TELEVISION SPECIALS (selection)
1964 The Jonathan Winters Special 1965 The Jonathan Winters Show 1965 The Jonathan Winters Show 1967 Guys 'n' Geishas 1970 The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters 1976 Jonathan Winters Presents 200 Years of American Humor 1977 Yabba Dabba Doo! The Happy World of Hanna- Barbera (co-host) 1986 King Kong: The Living Legend (host) 1991 The Wish that Changed Christmas (voice)
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1963; The Loved One, 1964; The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, 1966; Penelope, 1967; The Midnight Oil, 1967; 8 On the Lam, 1967; Oh Dad, Poor Dad, 1968; Viva Max, 1969; The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, 1979; The Longshot, 1986; Say Yes, 1986; Moon Over Parador, 1988; The Shadow, 1994; The Flintstones, 1994.
Mouse Breath, Social Conformity and Other Ills. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.
Winter's Tales: Stories and Observations for the Unusual. New York: Random House, 1987.
Hang Ups: Paintings by Jonathan Winters. New York: Random House, 1988.