Guest Post: Jonathan Winters, An Appreciation
Note from Sarah: This is a guest post from my wonderful husband, Josh. This week, his childhood favorite comedian, Jonathan Winters, passed away, and Josh asked me if he could write something in memoriam, saying that Jonathan Winters was his Judy Blume. If you're so inclined, you can follow Josh on frequently-updated Tumblr or stalk him on his rarely-used Twitter account.
Sunday nights were for the Muppets and my life changed when Jonathan Winters appeared.
With a few keystrokes, I can see that night was January 15 1980. Until I looked that up, it was just sometime when I was 5 or 6, or maybe even 7. I loved him, his maniac energy, his silly voices, and his larger than life presence were mesmerizing. This was someone who was silly, goofy and--my god--he was from DAYTON!
This guy was from Dayton. Someone from where I was from was amazing and funny. This was my new hero, someone who made me laugh and who had the same points of reference I did.
At some point I realized "What? he was actually from Springfield!" Even closer, where the mall was! He could have gone to the same theatre as me to see ET (this was in point of fact impossible since the mall was a long way off when he was there, but it didn't matter to my six-year-old).
I bugged my dad about more stories, learned how he studied art at the Museum, where I thought for the longest time he must have just walked around and looked at the pictures and drew them (funny I now ply my trade at is essentially one of these Museum schools). At the time is sounded like the education of a genius, and it still kind of does. I learned about his time on WHIO Radio, how he acted like a goofball on the air.
I was a weird kid and I was proud that Jonathan Winters was a Reds fan like me.
What show could be better for a kid than Mork and Mindy? Robin Williams' coke-addled performance was eerily similar to a hyper active brother that you dealt with every day, but the life changing performance was by Jonathan Winters as the son. Let's be honest, the introduction of a kid character is always a bad sign, but this was sublime to me. Cynical me now knows it was a dying show at that moment.
I remember loving him on 60 Minutes (and now can see it was 1986), the rhythm of a divorced kid's life knows that this too was Sunday night. What I watched on the family TV can take me back to specific living rooms and the days of the week. I also vaguely remember Hee Haw with him, even though I remember that show more for Buck Owens and the pretty girls in the corn patch. Where I watched it and who I watched it with is a greater part of what I loved about that show and I loved him on it. Now I know it was a miserable time for him.
I am sure that at some point I listed to his comedy albums, I nerded out at a really young age, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin all of them, plus I loved country music (Crystal Gayle) and Billy Joel. I obsessed over Weird Al's music the natural continuation of the humor that I got from him on the Muppets and from the silliness and impressions that was comedy perfection for me.
I spend my tweens (for the record, this term did not exist then) and teens glued to stand-up on TV, on Showtime, HBO (naughty words, Eddie Murphy for raunchiness*, Robert Townsend) and then the Comedy Channel, clips and clips of stand-up including--I am certain--his playfulness that I love.
I proclaimed in an freshman health class drug prevention lecture that Bill Murray was my hero; I learned from Jonathan Winters silly irony, a weapon I still wield too often.
Right now comedy podcasts are my medium of choice, I love Who Charted and the Pod F. Tompcast. I sometimes make my way over to Mark Maron's WTF, he was on and was amazing, god damn I loved it, the non-linearness of it, the truth and just hearing him.
Thank you, Jonathan Winter, for introduction to humor, the confidence in goofiness and the idea that the world was a bigger place.
*Wow, that has not aged at all! It wasn't the Clumps, Party all the Time or Dr. Doolittle that did in EM, the world just collectively grew the fuck up.