Sunday, August 08, 2010


Jonathan Winters (above) is an interesting guy. You can spend a lifetime in the entertainment business and never come up with an appealing character, and here's   Jonathan Winters who comes up with new ones by the cartload every time he speaks. What was his secret?

I'm not sure. Maybe it had something to do with Winters being mischievous.  People like that quality. Maybe that's why mischievous people make good joke tellers. They make you aware of the absurdity of the fact that you just dropped something important to listen to something that's going to be incredibly stupid.

I don't remember many jokes, and I'm not really good at telling them. What I do remember is the way they were told. I love the way joke tellers look both ways then grab your arm and lean in furtively. I love the whole ritual that's associated with joke telling. Mischievous people are experts at creating the atmosphere that precedes a joke.

In animation you know you've got a good character if you start laughing before he even talks. Good characters have ignorant charisma. Funny things happen just because they're in the room.  The air fills with electricity and potential just because a force of nature has arrived, and is checking out the room. For me the joke is of far less importance than the set up.

John achieved this with Ren and Stimpy. In his best period Winters achieved it every time he opened his mouth.


Paul Penna said...

Y'know, Winters is like a cartoon character, in that in his ad lib routines he's always solidly "in the moment," constantly aware of how a situation is developing and able to react instantaneously and without any inhibitions over registering whatever extremes of emotion are called for on a moment-by-moment basis. Sort of like Clampett's version of Bugs Bunny, for instance in his interactions with the goofball Red in "Buckaroo Bugs." He's sort of like a live-action version of what's usually only possible in cartoons.

Steven M. said...

Hes a superhuman talent. I could definatley take inspriation from him.

talkingtj said...

people like johnathan winters have observation overload, they empathised so much with people that they psychically consume them then are able to become them. i suspect at home he was very quiet but when he hit the street anything anyone did he absorbed and it piled up! if he werent a comedian he might have imploded!i was like that when i was a kid but i got a handle on it when i was a teenager, no drugs, just discipline! it still pops out every once in a while and people think im crazy! robin williams has the same trait. some day we will learn that we are not all the same and that normality is a pretense, and when that day comes the human race will finally progress, johnathan winters is already there!

Anonymous said...

Whoa! Johnathan Winters was like six different people in that one two minute clip. That alone is incredible. I doubt most modern comedians and comics could even come close to to something like this in their acts (a few probably have, but I'm not exactly sure).

I think people in general have the capacity to almost act like cartoon characters themselves. That's what makes a lot of them so fascinating to study from and caricature. Some of them are so unpredictable, that you never know which side of their personality they're going to show off the world, whether it be a bitter, angry, jealous side of themselves or a happy and carefree part. Even I find myself acting like a different person in certain situations, whether it be at school, or at my home, or any public outing.

Anonymous said...

In addition to his hyper observant sensibility, Winters in his prime was beyond the cutting edge of what 1950's society could imagine. The happy shock mixed with uproarious laughter from these live clips illustrates how NO ONE ELSE was capable of coming up with stuff so brilliant in that time and place on earth. Robin Williams admitted what a debt his whole act owed to Winters.

Pokey said...

Winters was an animated voice several times in "Linus the Lionhearted,1964-69.