Posted by: Dahni | April 15, 2013

Jonathan Winters, III

   by Dahni © 2013, all rights reserved

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Maude Frickert is perhaps well known to many and perhaps not to many others as well. She was a feisty character developed from real life from characteristics of a real person, known to the comedian that portrayed her –  the man, Jonathan Winters.

It is old news of Winter’s passing on April 3rd, 2013 and there has already been many tributes, articles and much news coverage about his life. All one needs to do is to Google (or use your perfered search engine) ‘Jonathan Winters.’

In searching, you will discover all you might like to know or didn’t know about him, including: words, pictures and videos.

The word “genius” and his association with the word will come up often.

But I would like to summarize here what his life meant to me and what it should mean to everyone, whether you knew him, ever saw him perform or experienced his comedy and art or not.

It begins with the picture above – Jonathan Winters as Maude Frickert.

He was certainly not the first to dress in women’s clothes or to act like a woman. For hundreds of years, only men could play the parts as women in plays. I think it was Milton Berle that was the first to dress up as a woman on television. Many have since tried to do this for laughs and effect. Dustin Hoffman, a brilliant, talented actor and one of my favorites, did so in ‘Toostie.’ I cannot fault his portrayal in any way. I just personally do not like men dressing up in women’s clothes, for whatever reason, unless it is some all men or young men only school!! There are some exceptions to my staunch attitude of men “in drag,” cross dressing, and female impersonation etc. The first is obviously, Jonathan Winters as, ‘Maude Frickert.’ The 2nd was Flip Wilson as, ‘Geraldine Jones.’ The third was Robin Williams as, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire.’

Many have before and since these three have played women, but not as good. This is of course, my opinion and my opinion is with  reasons.

I’m not as bugged by women playing men as I am of men playing women. Call it my personal thing and we’ll leave it at that.  But the three men above disappeared into the characters they created. To me, there was no Jonathan, Flip or Robin, when Maude, Geraldine and Mrs. Doubtfire took stage. I am not sure who influenced Flip Wilson, but Jonathan Winters certainly inspired Robin Williams. The following quotes are a compilation of recent ‘Tweets’ from Robin Williams on Twitter, the online social media.

“First he was my idol, then he was my mentor and amazing friend. I’ll miss him huge. He was my Comedy Buddha. Long live the Buddha.”

 Robin Williams

Certainly, Jonathan Winters had his memorable characters like Maude Frickert and the farmer, Elmwood P. Suggins from Ohio, but he was also excellent at mimicry and the imitation of famous and familiar voices. Still, none of this was as important to his “genius” as, his talent for improvisation and especially, on a moment’s notice. His greatest contributions were far more profound and yet so very simple.

Today, there are all kinds of humor and comedians; different styles and tastes as unique as every one of us. But perhaps there is something that we can all agree on – that fall from our chair and laughing on the floor kind of laughter? It is spontaneous, often contagious, desirable and rare. But this is what Jonathan Winters did and aspired to promote.

His reasons were quite simple. He did it because it was fun and he believed the practice gave him some measure of control, at least for a little while. When one is standing before an audience, they are looking to you to entertain them, say something, do something; make them laugh. But with this limited control comes with it the potential for complete and total failure if you bomb. Jonathan Winters took risks. Despite the pressures of his craft if he failed, he also had to deal with manic depression throughout much of his life. But to Jonathan Winters, the risks were worth it all.

Besides the potential of getting laughs, he loved and was a master of improvisation. He loved the challenges of just being given a word, a suggestion or a simple prop like a stick or some hats and he made up voices, characters and skits, right on the moment. It made him think.

While many comedians today work from scripts or prepared routines, there are very few that master and deliver, spur-of-the-moment-fall-from-your-chair-and-roll-on-the- floor laughter. Jonathan Winters did this and he recognized that humor is such a rare thing in life among all the species of creatures that live on this planet. It is unique to humans and important to our humanity.

Today, almost everywhere you go – online, to comedy clubs, by television, from radio and at the movies, it is common to hear four letter words, expletives, filthy language and sexual content. Anyone can rip-off and whip-out a four letter word and even one for almost every other word spoken. It’s easy. And it’s easy to put-down others, ridicule others, and even talk about sex, racism and about all the worst angels of our nature. Winters, like from a speech by Abraham Lincoln, lived with the idea of appealing to, “the  better angels of our nature.” Jonathan Winter’s comedy was clean. Any insults or put-downs or pointing fingers, were pointed back at himself and at the characters he made up. For the times in which he was in control and with his mastery of the improv, he chose to make it tasteful and clean and people still fell out of their chairs and rolled around on the floor laughing.

Jack Parr, a past television host, had Jonathan Winters on his show frequently. He once said of Winters, “Pound for pound he is the funniest man alive!” I would agree with this only that he has now left us. I sincerely hope that Robin Williams or perhaps others now or in the future, will continue where he left off! He cannot be replaced, but his principles can be repeated.

One of the funniest skits I ever heard him do began with – “Have you ever been undressed in front of your dog?” You would either have to find the video of this (which is available on YouTube) or just imagine. And this is what Johnathan Winters did throughout his life. He imagined and he made others imagine. He took us away from our troubles and woes for a little while and drew us into his zany and crazy world. He took risks and inspired others to do the same. He thought and made us think. It takes work to think on your feet, keep it clean and still cause others to fall off their chairs and roll on the floor with laughter.

It is written in the Bible, “laughter is good medicine.” Johnathan Winters was good medicine to many and I have often been healed of many things by his prescriptions.

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 Rest in peace dear Dr. of the Ditsy and Ridiculous; Prince of the Improv and Count of Zany & Crazy Comedy. The world is a better place because you were in it! What if we all tried to be more like this?

see also: https://dahni.wordpress.com/2008/05/29/jonathan-winters/

Just I-Magine,

Dahni


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