Saturday, August 07, 2010


All three of these YouTube videos are of Jonathan Winters, from the period when he first started to do improv on TV.

He was far and away the greatest hero of my childhood. Unfortunately he was only on late at night when I wasn't allowed to watch.  To see him I had to wait til my folks went to sleep, then sneak downstairs in the dark, taking care to avoid creaking floorboards and barking pets.  I'd feel around for the TV controls in the dark, then with infinite patience slowly turn on the set, with the brightness and sound almost as low as they could be.

The films you see here include some of the very same sketches that I watched in the dark. I never saw them with this clarity, though. The screen was always so black that I could barely make out the shapes as human, and I had to press my ear hard against the speaker to hear what was happening. My grandfather was a light sleeper and more than once he caught me and terrible yelling ensued.  Then there were the ghosts, but I won't go into that.  

I guess you appreciate what you have to make sacrifices for. All these videos have great meaning for me.
I read somewhere that the young Bach had to do something similar in order to get access to his dad's music library. His father was certain that his oldest son would be the musically gifted one, and didn't want Bach, the little kid, to get a taste for something that was so obviously beyond his meagre ability.


David Gale said...

I had to do exactly the same thing to watch Ren and Stimpy when I was a kid! In Canada it came on late at night on the music station.

RooniMan said...

You've risked getting punished to watch Jonathon Winters Inprov, I salute you for your bravery and determination.

Anonymous said...

How have I not heard of this Jonathan Winters fellow before? This guy is a complete improv genius. I loved the whole segment he did with just a simple stick. He came up with so many funny gags and dialog with simply that one piece of material he had, and best of all, it was light-hearted, sincere fun. I wish I grew up in the 60s. You guys had all the cool stuff back then.

"Then there were the ghosts, but I won't go into that."

Come on, Eddie. Don't chicken out. I wanna hear some ghost stories, and maybe some stuff about UFOs.

Paul Penna said...

When I was a kid - and I think I'm a slightly older kid than you, as I was just getting into my teens when Winters first started popping up on TV - one of his appearances was like finding an Easter egg or opening my birthday presents all wrapped together. I'd be in hysterics. I was probably old enough to catch Paar legally on occasion. A while back I searched YouTube for something to post on my Facebook page on his birthday, and it was that "Stick" routine. Four minutes of pure genius, and as screamingly funny today as ever. YouTube is a great resource for some great comic talents that have fallen into obscurity today. Check out Peter Cook for another example of improvisatory wit.

Anonymous said...

nice. seeing this has given me the missing piece to solve a puzzle that is almost twenty years old for me. you see, when I was a kid, I saw the tail end of this mickey mouse themed show that was completely bizarre. I remember this guy doing impersonations then the show ending with mickey dancing with an umbrella. I wanted so badly to see it again, but in the decades since then, I have not been able to find any info about the show anywhere.
NOW recognizing that the man was jonathan winters, and after several hours of determined and exhausting internet research, I have found the name of the show. The mouse factory. I still have not found a clip of him hosting it. but now I have some peace of mind. thank you.

-jimmy k

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

David: Holy cow! That's a great compliment for John!

Rooni: Thanks. I am proud of that.

Roberto: The ghosts? Like every other kid I thought my house was riddled with ghosts who wanted to drag me into the netherworld.

Paul: I did a coulpe of posts on Peter Cook. He was great!

Anon: If that Mouse Factory piece ever ends up on YouTube, let us know!

Brubaker said...

I think I had to do that to watch "Tales of Worm Paranoia". Cartoon Network was doing a 24 hour marathon of their cartoons (Dexter's Lab, Cow & Chicken, World Premiere Toons, etc.) and for some reason your Worm cartoon aired at midnight.

Good news is that I managed to watch the whole cartoon before my dad came downstairs to tell me to go back to bed.

Brubaker said...

Oh, and remember how we talked about the Sidney cartoons Terrytoons produced in the sixties? I decided to write about one of the shorts and analyze it.

Jennifer said...

Super cool. Jonathan Winters is HILARIOUS.

I have a "six degrees of separation" story about Jonathan Winters. A brother of a former co-worker of mine was in the entertainment industry, and he used to work with Jonathan Winters. This co-worker of mine told me that Jonathan Winters is just as funny and silly off-screen as he is on-screen. He also told me that his brother always told him than Jonathan Winters was his favorite celebrity to work with because not only was he funny, but he was also very nice.

Mike said...

For those who didn't know. He was also an artist. Google him to see some of his stuff.

Anonymous said...

I wanna hear the ghost story!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Brubaker: Good analysis, and of course the cartoon was worth seeing. I loved the animation on Sydney!

BTW: Thanks much for sending me that photo you took when you were out here. I was slow in getting back to you because I was appalled at how pulpy it made me look. Sigh! It's my own fault. Well, you spurred me on to eat better and now i'm shedding weight, so some good came of it.

Jennifer: Yeah, he's reputed to be an extremely nice guy. It comes out in his acting.

Josh: The ghost story? Geez, maybe there's a post to be had in that.

Mike: Yes, I've seen those pictures! They remind me of John's theory that anyone who's good at one thing is usually good at something else as well.