There was not a lot of stuff that my father and I could agree on when I was growing up, but on the matter of Jonathan Winters (and Diana Rigg) we were in firm agreement. We both thought he was hysterical. To this day I have Winters’ zany flights of verbal fancy etched in my memory from listening to his comedy albums over and over again.
Today most people will remember Jonathan Winters from films like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Loved One (which he is amazing in) and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. Or his TV roles as “Mearth,” the alien son of Mork & Mindy and for his memorable appearances on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
The thing that virtually all of Winters’ TV and film appearances have in common is how OUT THERE and free-form his comedy was. Jonathan Winters, even into old age, was been known for his manic energy and indefatigable improvisational genius. You never, ever saw him in a quiet, contemplative mood, but for 30 minutes here, in this 1973 program from public television called Day at Night, you get to see a very different side of the comic genius. The host is public television pioneer James Day.
Talk about a dangerous mind, this is a delight.
Winters’ last album was the morbidly titled Final Approach.
Below, “Elwood the Bus Driver” roasts Frank Sinatra on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts in 1978.