How Did All Those People Get Inside Jonathan Winters? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

How Did All Those People Get Inside Jonathan Winters?

Play associated audio

You can call anyone but Einstein a genius and start an argument.

Well, maybe Einstein or Jonathan Winters. The comedian, who died Friday at the age of 87, was immediately hailed by Steve Martin, Robin Williams and others as a genius.

He made hit comedy albums, was a regular on the old Tonight Show, memorably knocked down a gas station in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World and co-starred with and inspired Robin Williams.

But Winters was best known for creating a repertory company of characters that he carried around in his head. He told us how he built that cast after some advice from another performer at a club in New York:

"You know, we did Cagney and we did Karloff and John Wayne — Duke Wayne, you know, and these guys. And an old man said to me, 'You know, your routines that you're doing, these impressions are great, Jonathan, but can you accept a little criticism?' I said, 'Sure. You've been here longer than I have, Jack. Let's hear it.'

"And he said, 'Problem is,' he said, 'you know the stars you're doing, they're stars. They've made it and they've made it big. And all you're doing — right now you're the shoeshine boy. You're merely shining their shoes. And if you want to continue to do that, fine. Where are you from?' And I said, 'Well, I'm from Ohio originally. I grew up there.'

"He said, 'Oh, start doing those characters that you grew up with.' And that's when I turned my whole thing around."

Jonathan Winters spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday in September 2000.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Message From Documentary 'Citizenfour': Be Afraid (Of Surveillance)

Ken Turan reviews the documentary Citizenfour from filmmaker Laura Poitras about Edward Snowden and his decision to leak information about the National Security Agency's surveillance activities.
NPR

A Wisecracking Biochemist Shares Her Kitchen ABCs

Shirley Corriher, author of Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, has tips on taking the bitter bite out of coffee, and holding onto cabbage's red hue while it's in the pan.
NPR

With Biden By His Side, Maine Democrat Mines For Blue-Collar Vote

Embattled Democrat Rep. Rick Nolan, who represents Minnesota's Iron Range, gets a campaign visit from the administration's blue-collar vote whisperer, Joe Biden.
NPR

Calling 911 On Your Cell? It's Harder To Find You Than You Think

If you call 911 from inside a tall building, emergency responders may have difficulty finding you. Cellphone GPS technology currently doesn't work well indoors — but the FCC hopes to change that.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.