This piece on comic genius Jonathan Winters makes me sad.
August 24, 2000 6:11 PM   Subscribe

This piece on comic genius Jonathan Winters makes me sad.
I would have expected that this master improvisor would have come up with a more creative analysis of the current state of entertainment than trotting out the usual suspects of "freak shows" and "political correctness".

BEGIN RANDOM BLATHERING: Then again, the current media environment must be awful, if the Miss America pageant can't seem to get publicity for its Miss America Instant Celebrity Judge Contest. (One caveat: this is NOT the competition where Big Brother's Jamie won Miss Microsoft State -er, I mean Washington State) And how did the premiere of Battlebots slip below my personal radar? And what IS the All-star Newspaper all about? Can I get Dan Gillmor or Aaron Barnhart trading cards now? And why did I need PRNewswire to find out the old rock band Survivor was suing the TV show of the same name? What's going on around here?!?!? END RANDOM BLATHERING
posted by wendell (12 comments total)
OK wendell, I'm seriously not flamebaiting here but... I've always wondered this... Exactly how did Jonathan Winters wind up being considered a "comic genius"?

It's not just you, lots of people call him a legendary comic genius. But I've listened to rather a bit of his standup and comedy recordings, including some answering machine message parodies that were billed as "some of his best work"... and none of it was funny. NONE of it was funny.

So whither his reputation..??
posted by wiremommy at 6:50 PM on August 24, 2000

The "humor business" has become so hip and so angry it's hard for JW to connect with anyone under 30, I suspect. His humor comes from an innocence that has been lost or abandoned in this country. JW's characters were people you cared about--you laughed with them as much as at them. The humor was subtle and loopy. Todays "comics and comdedians" are mostly people you wouldn't spend time with--oddballs, angry black men, sardonic hipsters, slutty babes, foul-mouthed louts. They don't bring you to laughter, they force you to laugh in self defense (it's either laugh or be offended).
It's a different world today!
posted by wiinga at 8:04 PM on August 24, 2000

Todays "comics and comdedians" are mostly people you wouldn't spend time with--oddballs, angry black men, sardonic hipsters, slutty babes, foul-mouthed louts.

It *is* a different world today, and it seems like you're having as hard a time understanding today's comedians as "anyone under 30" apparently does when watching Mr. Winters (who, I must confess, I've never actually heard of before...). Different cultures have different ideas about humour, and there's nothing wrong with that - contrary to what this article claims.

posted by Mars Saxman at 8:20 PM on August 24, 2000

As it was a different world during Jonathan Winters' heyday. Much as Robin Williams was hailed the ultimate improvisational comic of the eighties, Winters was the quintessential improvisor for the baby boom generation. His comedy was, for its time, classic.

Much like any artistic career, eventually the improvisationalist comic becomes less and less creative. Unlike Williams who found other avenues for his talents, Winters pretty much fell into obscurity, perhaps an unfortunate rationale for his apparent bitterness toward today's entertainers.

If you are under thirty, you may want to put that PBS special on your calendar. The comedy of Winters is certainly different from what you have grown up with, but so too was the cultural perspective of his era.
posted by netbros at 9:27 PM on August 24, 2000

For those who aren't offhand aware of who Winters is, my permanent mental picture of him is that of a fat man with dark hair in a big diaper.

Hope it helps. :-)
posted by cCranium at 4:16 AM on August 25, 2000

Ugh. I haven't been able to get over the way Jonathan Winters killed Mork and Mindy.
posted by rcade at 5:27 AM on August 25, 2000

Johnathan Winters was brilliant. Without him comedy today would suck (even more than it does).

He was a bit before my time, but considering he was one of the first-ever progenitors of improvisational comedy, he was a genius.

And although he may have been past his prime at the time, I don't think it was him who killed Mork & Mindy.

Robin Williams' coke problems killed Mork & Mindy.
posted by chicobangs at 9:38 AM on August 25, 2000

Completely unfounded rumour alert: I read this at some point, some time ago, and I don't remember where or in what context, so there's absolutely no evidence I'm aware of supporting it.

(Man, would I ever be kicked out of alt.folklore.urban in seconds)

Apparently after Winters joined the show, the script writers stopped writing as much dialogue, so he and Williams could take whatever direction they felt like taking. The actress who played Mindy said she just sat back and waited for a cue from someone to say a line.
posted by cCranium at 10:31 AM on August 25, 2000

So Winters is cool because he was among the first improv comics? What, he pre-dated Lenny Bruce?
posted by wiremommy at 11:29 AM on August 25, 2000

Yup. Actually, it seems Winters took a bit higher road than Bruce did (even though they're almost exactly the same age - I didn't know that).

Also, he actually got on network TV fairly regularly, so lots of little impressionable minds had the improv concept implanted within their little heads.

Lenny (at least originally) did bits that were somewhat premeditated, if not completely scripted.
posted by chicobangs at 11:55 AM on August 25, 2000

cCranium, that doesn't sound so unfounded to me... Williams was known for improvising many of his lines so Dawber had to play off of him however she could. When they added Winters, I'm sure the writers kind of gave up and hoped that Dawber could keep up. I don't remember the end result, but from the postings, it seemed like the show was preparing for its foray into sharkjumping waters, as it were...

I'll never forget Mearth, though. What a great name!
posted by evixir at 12:03 PM on August 26, 2000

Just saw the PBS show. Funny stuff. They showed some of his improv work, including a great bit from the Jack Parr show, where he did a number of sketches with one prop: a stick. The show was an hour long, but I bet they could have made it twice as long and just as amusing.
posted by Aaaugh! at 2:25 PM on August 26, 2000

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