A Reboot of Comedy Classics

Host, Dave Schwensen, and his friends Kelly, Tom, and Logan have chosen some of their favorite comedians from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They take a look at how these comedians got started, their most successful comedy albums, and their lasting influence today!


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Jonathan Winters is The King of Improv

Jonathan Winters is The King of Improv

Jonathan Winters is a legend. A master of improv and storytelling he got his start after winning a contest for a new wristwatch. A family man at heart he cut his live performances short and became a studio comic. He was Robin Williams hero and had a guest role on "Mork & Mindy." In this episode Dave, Tom, and Logan take a look at his 1995 album “Crank Calls.”

Listen to Crank Calls HERE

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Logan Rishaw

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Kelly Thewlis

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Tom Megalis

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http://linkedin.com/in/tommegalis

Dave Schwensen

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Dave Schwensen:
Hi. Welcome back to What's So Funny. I'm Dave Schwensen. And today, I'm joined by two of my good friends, Tom Megalis. Hello, Tom.

Tom Megalis:
Hey, Dave.

Dave Schwensen:
It's great to [crosstalk 00:00:47].

Tom Megalis:
How are you doing?

Dave Schwensen:
It's great to hang out with you again.

Tom Megalis:
Well, let's hang out with Logan Rishaw also.

Dave Schwensen:
Logan's here. Yeah.

Logan Rishaw:
Hey, Dave and Tom.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, man.

Logan Rishaw:
How are you both doing today?

Dave Schwensen:
Well, better now that you're here, Logan. Wow. I almost said Larry, Curly, and Moe, but I won't do that with us.

Tom Megalis:
I'll do it. We can do it.

Dave Schwensen:
Hey, what's going on? Logan, what's happening with you?

Logan Rishaw:
Not much. I spent the entire day just trying to plan some sort of vacation and I settled on [crosstalk 00:01:10].

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, staycation or vacation?

Logan Rishaw:
I wanted to do vacation. I settled on cabin in the woods, so-

Dave Schwensen:
Perfect.

Logan Rishaw:
Next month, Hocking Hills. I'm just renting out a place for four days. Me and my girlfriend, our dog.

Dave Schwensen:
Okay.

Logan Rishaw:
And avoiding society as much as possible.

Dave Schwensen:
Sounds like Stephen King can have a new plot coming up.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. That's where those bear ... I think those bear attacks were there. Am I wrong? No, no, no. I don't think it was a bear attack.

Logan Rishaw:
As soon as I booked the cabin, I got an email from the couple that rents it out and they said, "Just so you know, there's absolutely no cell service. So when you get here, call us on the landline. Sometimes it works." I was like [crosstalk 00:01:42].

Dave Schwensen:
Landline?

Logan Rishaw:
I will die, but I will be at peace.

Tom Megalis:
You can do it.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, that's good. Tom, what's up with you, man?

Tom Megalis:
Oh, man. It's ... always making art, always doing that.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And that doesn't change. I have no air conditioning in my studio, but who cares? You just got to-

Dave Schwensen:
Wow.

Tom Megalis:
You got to rough it out, man.

Dave Schwensen:
By the end of summer, you're going to be some skinny guy.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I'm going to be just ... Well, no, not really, because I go home and I just eat too much. So it balances out.

Logan Rishaw:
Counterbalances.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I'm not doing ... Dave, you're the walker, right? Tell us about your walking. You walk 100 miles a day, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. I try to get outside and I try to walk. Yes. I'll admit it. I do. As long as we have nice weather, I'm outside walking.

Logan Rishaw:
That's awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
When it's cold, I'm like you. I'm sitting on a couch, eating stuff and seeing what's ... I'm seeing what's funny, what I can laugh about. And today, I'll tell you what we're going to laugh about: Jonathan Winters.

Tom Megalis:
Wow, man.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Logan Rishaw:
What a comic.

Tom Megalis:
It's exciting because I think I told you guys. He's my favorite guy.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, you were saying that.

Tom Megalis:
I love Jonathan.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
I just love him. And we'll get into it, but he's an artist and he's this surreal, free form improv guy. And he speaks to me.

Dave Schwensen:
But Jonathan Winters ... And let's go back. Let's go back in time. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, first of all.

Tom Megalis:
Ohio boy. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Hotbed of comedy, right?

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, man. For sure. It sounds like people ... They joke about it, but come on, man. Ohio is a hotbed of comedy. You're right.

Dave Schwensen:
I got [crosstalk 00:03:10].

Logan Rishaw:
There's a lot of good Midwest comics.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. When I worked in Hollywood booking talent for the TV show at Evening at the Improv, I remember getting a lot of comedians from the Dayton/Cincinnati area. I said, "These guys are funny down there."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Interesting. And [crosstalk 00:03:22].

Dave Schwensen:
And I say down there because we're up north, right?

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, we're up north of that. But you hear now ... In current times, you hear Chappelle just always going on about Dayton and southern Ohio [crosstalk 00:03:32].

Logan Rishaw:
Oh yeah. Dougie's doing exclusive shows there now.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Logan Rishaw:
Because that's where he lives.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, it's awesome [crosstalk 00:03:37].

Logan Rishaw:
... invite only.

Dave Schwensen:
Jonathan Winters wanted to be an artist.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Yeah. Went to Dayton art school, the Institute of Art. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He was going to do a cartoons, I think was what he was interested in, or whatever it might've been. But it didn't quite work out for him.

Tom Megalis:
Well, not until later. But early on, you're right. He was at Dayton Art Institute. I think that's where he met his wife. Early on, he was doing the radio stuff down there, right? So that was how it began.

Dave Schwensen:
Let's really talk about his beginnings. The story goes, he was married by this time. He lost his wristwatch or his wristwatch broke. Do you guys know this story?

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. And his wife said, "Hey, you need new wristwatch. Enter this competition."

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. The prize was a wristwatch.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Logan Rishaw:
Just a regular old talent show. And she said, "You're kind of funny. Go do it."

Tom Megalis:
It's cool, because she knew, right, guys, that he would win it. It's like, "You're funny. Go win that watch."

Logan Rishaw:
Everything I've seen, it's his wife really believed in him before he was even taking off on his career. She pushed him to the talent show. And then when he eventually went to New York, she just trusted him to go and make it in a year pretty much.

Dave Schwensen:
Did he say, "I'm just going to go for a year, see what happens, two years," something like that? And [crosstalk 00:04:42].

Tom Megalis:
And it was like 56 bucks, $56 and 40 cents or something. That's like-

Dave Schwensen:
Wow.

Tom Megalis:
"There you go. Go to New York. You got a year, pal."

Logan Rishaw:
Yep.

Tom Megalis:
While she worked back supporting their one child. And you're right, Logan. The support is ... I think that's key here. And later on in his life, he talks about his wife. He jokes about her saying, "It's kind of a prisoner situation," but then it was really loving that she was everything to him [crosstalk 00:05:10].

Logan Rishaw:
Oh yeah. Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
... in terms of support and love. And they were married like 60 years.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Yeah. They were together a long time, and that was the support he needed. And they eventually ... They wound up having two kids, I think a son and a daughter. But yeah, he hit it big in New York right away because he was so unique. Jonathan Winters, improvisation. Let's call him the King of improv, if you want to.

Dave Schwensen:
I know it seems to me at that time, we're talking about, what, early, mid '50s, late '50s? I think improv was really a fad, really the trending kind of thing. You had Nichols and May.

Tom Megalis:
Very improvisational. You're right. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
They were on Broadway, I think, in 19 ... We did a show about them last season. They were on Broadway, I think in 1960 with their show.

Logan Rishaw:
But Winters was different, because a lot of these improv groups would do sketches that they built over time. And it seems like anything I've seen with Jonathan Winters, he could create a fully formed character in an instant and then just go for minutes and minutes as that character.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. No net, man. Just go. Fearless. That's an awesome thing. And I think Second City started in '59. So he really ... I think he would have loved to have been in Second City, but he was already started by then.

Dave Schwensen:
Here's the thing, too. When you're talking about Second City, or we're talking about Nichols and May and some of the improvisers at that time, Jonathan Winters worked alone. The other ones had to work off each other.

Tom Megalis:
Interesting. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Doing characters, doing skits, scenes, that sort of thing. He's like that guy that you see, the one-man band with a snare drum on his head and a bass drum and symbols on his knees.

Tom Megalis:
He was a one ... yeah, a one-man sketch show. But what's cool is, in a way that he was creating these characters, that's where the comedy came from. If you look at joke structure or how it's built, the comedy came out of the characters, their situation, their dialogue.

Logan Rishaw:
And there's also a little bit of tenseness to not knowing if he's going to hit the mark and actually land a joke. You're waiting to see, "Is he going to mess this up? Where is he going to go with this?" And then when he nails it, it feels so good. It's so funny.

Tom Megalis:
One of the things that just amazes me, got me loving this guy so much was the Jack Paar stick routine.

Logan Rishaw:
Oh yeah. Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Which is just ... You look at it and go, "Oh, this dude's an artist, man." He is just improvising, making up all these situations with a stick as a fishing pole, as a periscope, as an oar, and as a flute. And each one has its own character and-

Dave Schwensen:
It was almost like performance art, what he's doing, this stuff [crosstalk 00:07:42].

Tom Megalis:
It's amazing. Anybody who wants to see a Jonathan, in my opinion, his real definitive piece of improv, it's that stick piece, man. It's just ... it's art.

Logan Rishaw:
But Tom, have you ever seen Robin Williams do that stick piece?

Tom Megalis:
No, no.

Dave Schwensen:
He was a mentor to Robin Williams.

Logan Rishaw:
Kelly actually shared it on Facebook, so our other host Kelly Thewlis. There's outtakes of Robin Williams with Elmo on Sesame Street, holding a stick and showing Elmo, "Here's all the different things you can do," and basically the same routine, but [crosstalk 00:08:15].

Dave Schwensen:
It's the same routine.

Logan Rishaw:
... playfully. It's beautiful. It's really fun.

Tom Megalis:
When he did it on Jack Paar, you look at it and go, "Man, it looks like he's just joyfully winging this and creating right there."

Logan Rishaw:
Oh yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, the later host of The Tonight Show, they worshiped Jonathan Winters. They let him come on ... Let's get back. Jonathan Winters had some mental problems, actually. He was depressed or whatever. I can't think of the [crosstalk 00:08:40].

Tom Megalis:
Manic depressive. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Manic depressive. There we go. And he did commit himself into an institution for a while, maybe eight months, was it? Something [crosstalk 00:08:47].

Tom Megalis:
It was eight months, I think the [crosstalk 00:08:49] second time. He went twice. A second time was, I think, in '61, '62, eight months.

Dave Schwensen:
But he had a breakdown on stage.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Wow.

Dave Schwensen:
And a lot of people don't know. Jonathan Winters was doing standup. They called it standup comedy, even though he was improvising. And he was doing club dates and it really just got to him. With manic depressive, plus doing these club dates, the pressure and everything else [crosstalk 00:09:11].

Tom Megalis:
Being away from home, all that. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He was away from home. He missed his wife. He missed his kids.

Tom Megalis:
Maybe drinking? Maybe drinking?

Dave Schwensen:
Maybe. Yep. There was a lot of that going on. Matter of fact, he and Johnny Carson had some drinking stories together.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Logan Rishaw:
Every time he was on the show, I think they just do drinking stories.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Oh yeah.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
What a great time it was to be a comic back in the '60s and '70s.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, I don't know because I'm going to say he had a breakdown on stage. I don't know how great that was.

Tom Megalis:
I don't know. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
But he went up and all he did was, one night, just talk about his family, how much he missed him, he couldn't take this, he couldn't do it anymore, and he walked off stage.

Tom Megalis:
This was in the bit. This is in the routine, he was talking about this.

Dave Schwensen:
Not even a routine. He didn't even do comedy. He just went out and talked about he missed [crosstalk 00:09:45], and they led him off stage and he admitted himself.

Tom Megalis:
That's like a Lenny Bruce moment, going up and just spilling your guts and people are in the audience going, "Is this going to get funny? Is this going to get ... No, I guess it isn't."

Dave Schwensen:
No. And then you know what? After that, he never did a nightclub again.

Logan Rishaw:
Which blew me away, because that means all of his recordings are him just in a studio with an audience, but not actually at a nightclub or an arena.

Tom Megalis:
He stopped doing it.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. All his stuff was television after that and movies, but the Jack Paar show and with Johnny Carson. He had his own TV show for a while there in the '60s. And in the '50s, I think I read somewhere he had a 15-minute television show. That's what it was like in the '50s. We had the Jonathan Winters show every week for 15 minutes.

Tom Megalis:
Think about it, though, his bits and his routine and his persona. He was never filthy. So he was able to work on TV. It was weird, but he was able to work on TV. And he never resorted to that. And he even said, "I'm proud of that. I never had to really ... I may have gotten obscene a little bit, but never filthy." After his second mental ... going to the Funny Farm as he called it ...

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He always said, "I went to the farm." [crosstalk 00:10:55] the farm? You know what I'm talking about.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Yeah, the Funny Farm. But what's cool is that right after that, almost immediately after he gets out, he gets a call for Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
And imagine that. He thought, "I can't do it." But then what happened was his wife, as she's always done, said, "You're going to take it or you'll never work again. You're going to take it," because he didn't think he could. He lost his confidence. He's like, "I was just in the farm for eight months. I can't even think." And it's like, "You got to do this."

Dave Schwensen:
She said, "If you don't do this, you don't have a career." And I got to tell you something. That scene he does in a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is one of the-

Tom Megalis:
Oh, the garage?

Dave Schwensen:
I [crosstalk 00:11:37].

Logan Rishaw:
It's so funny.

Dave Schwensen:
... every time. I've seen that a thousand times and I've laughed a thousand times. It's just insane. That entire movie is insane.

Tom Megalis:
It's so good, man.

Logan Rishaw:
I think that's probably the first thing I've ever seen Jonathan Winters in was that movie.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh my gosh. And he tears that garage apart with those two guys.

Tom Megalis:
Chasing him around.

Dave Schwensen:
I'm laughing right now. I got to watch it. When we finish this show, I'm going to go find it and watch it again.

Tom Megalis:
It's so good. And it was one take. Did you know that?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, they had to do ... Yeah, one take, because they destroyed the place. They couldn't [crosstalk 00:12:02]. Yeah. They couldn't build it back up.

Tom Megalis:
So awesome, man. He had a long career.

Logan Rishaw:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). His later career [crosstalk 00:12:08] is a lot of voice work, too. He was Papa Smurf.

Dave Schwensen:
Papa Smurf.

Logan Rishaw:
He did a bunch of other things.

Dave Schwensen:
Not exactly a show I ever followed, but I read about that.

Tom Megalis:
He didn't do a lot of movies, but not like ... He did Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and then didn't do any movies. He did a Twilight Zone episode. Remember that?

Dave Schwensen:
He did like three movies, though. He did a couple very famous movies, the Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, and there's something else he did that was pretty well known. But yeah, you're right. You're right. He was mainly television. And the thing is he could never hook up with a hit TV show of his own. He was the favorite guest on The Tonight Show.

Tom Megalis:
He was on Mork.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He was on Mork and Mindy.

Logan Rishaw:
I feel like he was just so used to working by himself and being all the characters.

Tom Megalis:
That's it.

Logan Rishaw:
Because even when he's on Carson and they're telling stories, he's telling stories and letting Carson laugh occasionally. But he's doing all of the parts. He's playing Carson and himself.

Tom Megalis:
Carson, I don't know, is a straight guy and is a setup guy and a respond ... He was one of the best, man.

Logan Rishaw:
Oh yeah.

Tom Megalis:
He was so good.

Logan Rishaw:
Oh yeah.

Tom Megalis:
It'd go, "Really? Is that what you do? So what happened? And then you went ..." It was just boom, boom, boom. He just knew how to set him up and just be a straight guy. It was just tremendous. So maybe that's it, right? Maybe that's it, Logan. Like you said, he worked alone, so doing movies would have been a tough thing, remembering scripts, being in character, being someone else's character.

Logan Rishaw:
So different from what he normally did, I think.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Logan Rishaw:
That's just me speculating, so ...

Dave Schwensen:
Well, I know we were going to listen to a couple of his albums, too, before we came on. What was the one he did, Cranky Calls?

Tom Megalis:
Cranky Calls. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Remember that?

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah. Crank Calls, and then he re-released it as Cranky Calls.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. What [crosstalk 00:13:39]?

Logan Rishaw:
That was his only Grammy win, too.

Dave Schwensen:
It was. Okay.

Tom Megalis:
That's weird that that was his Grammy win, right? But that was a ... He just was calling Jamie Smith, his buddy, right?

Logan Rishaw:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And leaving [crosstalk 00:13:50] funny, weird voicemails.

Tom Megalis:
Isn't that weird, that that would ... All of his material stuff didn't win a Grammy, and then the crank calls do.

Logan Rishaw:
Well, what's crazy is he beat out Martin Lawrence and Jeff Foxworthy. And this is peak Martin Lawrence that year. It's 1996, so right after Bad Boys.

Tom Megalis:
Isn't that weird?

Logan Rishaw:
I can't believe he won it, but it's a funny album. It shows his personality, I think, better than any other album.

Tom Megalis:
Oh yeah. That's ... Yeah. Do you feel that, that listening to him just leaving messages to the guy? It's interesting, because they're funny and they're weird.

Dave Schwensen:
I got to tell you, I thought it was weird. I thought it was weird honestly. I think [crosstalk 00:14:30].

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah, I think it's a weird album. It shows him, his personality and how he is with his friends, but I don't think it's better than his actual comedy albums.

Tom Megalis:
Don't you think sometimes ... When I was listening to that, at times, I would go ... And I've heard it before and then I listened to it again recently, and I thought, "He seems a little pissed off here." At times, he was just ...

Dave Schwensen:
He does the Dr. Death, and that's supposed to be Dr. Kevorkian. Remember him?

Tom Megalis:
Oh yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He's the one that was killing everybody, Dr. Death [crosstalk 00:14:57].

Tom Megalis:
You pay him.

Dave Schwensen:
You pay him [crosstalk 00:14:58].

Tom Megalis:
... and he'll kill you.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, he'll take you out. He pretended to be Ross Perot, who was ... What number was he running for president, back in the '70s, '80s?

Logan Rishaw:
No. [crosstalk 00:15:07].

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. That would have been ... No, '90s.

Logan Rishaw:
Wasn't it '90s? [crosstalk 00:15:08].

Dave Schwensen:
'90s? [crosstalk 00:15:09].

Logan Rishaw:
He was against Bush and Clinton, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, '93, '92, whatever that was. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He was the business man with no political background at all or whatever, I think.

Tom Megalis:
And the big ears.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, and the big ears. And he was doing [crosstalk 00:15:20].

Tom Megalis:
The big sucking sound. That's what he said. Remember that?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, Jonathan Winters was imitating him. I'll be honest with you, I loved his earlier stuff, his earlier albums. Jonathan Winters is a legend. There's no way you can knock him at all. This album, to me, no. I was surprised it beat Jeff Foxworthy, Martin Lawrence for the award and everything because it didn't really do anything for me.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
How's that for, "Oh my gosh?" Everyone's going to hate me now. "Dave, you're knocking Jonathan Winters." No, I love Jonathan Winters. I didn't like the album that much.

Logan Rishaw:
Well, listening to the album, it reminded me of right after Robin Williams passed away. Billy Crystal talked about how he would call him all the time, Robin would call Billy, and leave funny voicemails and pretend to be Ronald Reagan calling him and things like that. I was like, "Oh my gosh. Did he get that from Jonathan Winters?"

Tom Megalis:
Probably. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
You know something? Here's another inside scoop. We can ... I know I talk about myself too much working in Hollywood, but I used to deal with all the comedians out there, booking for the improv comedy clubs. And if you know Budd Friedman, he has a very distinctive voice. Budd was my boss. I was his assistant and then booking the shows.

Dave Schwensen:
Every comic in Hollywood could imitate Budd Friedman. So it's just like they can all imitate Robin Williams, right? They would all call me up [crosstalk 00:16:35].

Tom Megalis:
... or Lorne Michaels.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah, like a Lorne Michaels deal.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, yes. They would call up and say ... They would imitate it and I'd be falling for it. Next thing you know, I'm an idiot and they're all laughing and stuff. But every single time. And of course, my story ends with Budd called me one time, it was really him, and he said, "Dave, this is Budd." I'm like, "Yeah, right. Who is this really?"

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, right.

Dave Schwensen:
I was like, "All right."

Tom Megalis:
"What crazy comic is this? This isn't Budd." It would have been great if it was Jonathan, huh?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, that would have been really something. I never had an opportunity to meet him or anything, but yeah, he was the big one.

Tom Megalis:
It would have been hard to meet him, though, at that point because, as you guys mentioned, Logan mentioned, I think, that he had stopped performing in clubs.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, he stopped performing in the early '60s, but he was still around. I [crosstalk 00:17:11].

Logan Rishaw:
He was still putting out albums, but yeah, he wasn't in clubs.

Tom Megalis:
No clubs. No arenas even, right?

Dave Schwensen:
No. He just was strictly television.

Tom Megalis:
Isn't that something? Because he could have sold arenas out.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, but sometimes you got to feel is the price worth it. He didn't care for it. He didn't like being on the road, away from his family, and it was a lot of pressure, I think, for him. And he was happy with what he was doing. He was being creative.

Dave Schwensen:
Come on. How could you ... Look at the huge audience he would have. Any time he wanted to go on Johnny Carson, he could go on pretty much. He'd walk out and you got millions of people watching him right there, rather than 100 people in a club. And-

Tom Megalis:
That is true.

Dave Schwensen:
He just does his thing and it's ... Everybody knows who Jonathan Winters is nationwide.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. There's one funny thing I remember that I heard where he went back to Dayton or to that area, Springfield where he was from or that area. And he had already been out ... I don't know if you guys heard this, but he had been out already in California, he had already done some TV, maybe a movie. And his buddy said, "Hey, I haven't seen you in a while. What's been happening?"

Tom Megalis:
He goes, "Well, you know." And he goes, "You married that girl?" He goes, "Yeah, from Dayton," or whatever. And then he said, "So what are you doing? Are you working in agriculture?," because I think that's what he was going to do. He was going to go work in agriculture, but it didn't work out because he was in Columbus. And he goes, "No, I'm in TV." And the guy goes, "Oh, well, you know what? My sister's got a Zenith that needs some work. I don't know if you want [inaudible 00:18:38]."

Dave Schwensen:
Oh my gosh.

Tom Megalis:
How would you not know that the guy made it in TV? And that's ... I don't know. But some people don't. Small towns of Ohio, man.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, that's it. And a lot of Jonathan Winters' favorite characters were these small town people that he saw. Even, what is it, Maude Frickert? When he played the woman, the older Maude.

Tom Megalis:
Oh yeah. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
You know what I'm talking about, the wig and the long granny dress and stuff. And he had the granny glasses on and everything. And that was modeled off of, I think he said his aunt. He had an aunt who was very, very heavy set. He said she was a big woman and she was bedridden. But she had a bottle of whiskey next to her bed the whole time [crosstalk 00:19:18].

Logan Rishaw:
... let him drink and taught him poker. So she was a fun older aunt.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. So that's what he modeled Maude after, because she was a dirty old lady and liked to have a few drinks, that kind of stuff. Very funny. But that character and some of the others from around Dayton, some of those agricultural kind of guys. He was always playing these guys at a conference somewhere.

Tom Megalis:
Oh my gosh. Did you ever ... The one character, Ellwood P. Suggins.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, yes.

Tom Megalis:
Was just a hillbilly Southern Ohio guy, and it was always something that was ... He was a race car ... You ever see that? Was a race car guy. It just was really great character improvisation and just funny.

Tom Megalis:
But you're right. I think it's all these people he knew in Ohio.

Dave Schwensen:
When you think about it, he never did any jokes. He really didn't do jokes. He did characters.

Tom Megalis:
Right, right. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And it was like watching a sitcom and all these different ... And the thing is ... And he's great. And people listening right now, they should go on YouTube and check out some of these old, early 1960s, late 1950s videos of Jonathan Winters, because he's just doing ... He's got, what, Custer's Last Stand? He's doing it all on his own. And he's got the Great White Whale, Moby Dick. He's doing all this stuff and he's doing all the characters [crosstalk 00:20:28].

Tom Megalis:
And the sound effects. The sound effects.

Dave Schwensen:
And the sound effects.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
It's phenomenal [crosstalk 00:00:20:33].

Logan Rishaw:
The early albums, they remind me a lot of Shelley Berman where he set up [crosstalk 00:20:37], would do it, except it's to the extreme because he's not just on the phone with someone. He's doing both parts, and then he's doing sound effects. And it's wild.

Tom Megalis:
And I guess a lot of that, just like we talked about George Carlin and a lot of guys, they came out of radio. So you're creating a lot of ... Today, you have buttons that go, "Eee," and you create sound effects and then there are drops and all kind [crosstalk 00:21:02].

Dave Schwensen:
That was pretty good, Tom. You had a button there and hit that.

Tom Megalis:
Thanks a lot. "Eee." I don't even know what that was.

Dave Schwensen:
I liked that.

Tom Megalis:
Thank you. Well, you can sample that and use that in your sci-fi films.

Dave Schwensen:
All right. Get an app and send it to me.

Tom Megalis:
But back then, it's like he was creating that on the radio. And having done a little radio in my time, I do know that sometimes you are just flying. And one thing that occurred to me is when he's first started in radio, they didn't have any guests. So he would make up the guests.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He couldn't get any guests.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. And we've all been there. Anybody that's done radio knows that ... Even to this, I was working in radio in Cleveland in the 2000s and guests wouldn't show up or they would ... And you're like, "We're going to make it up. I'm just going to call in." We always did that. I think it's a thing that continues. So it makes so much sense that his background was this radio where he had to make up these worlds in audio sonically and then take that to the stage. It's pretty cool.

Tom Megalis:
And even continue ...

Dave Schwensen:
The one thing I wanted to talk ... Later on, I guess it wasn't that later on in Jonathan Winters' career because it was in the 1970s. But we mentioned this earlier. He was on Mork and Mindy with Robin Williams.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, man.

Dave Schwensen:
He was the baby. Isn't that it?

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I think he was the big baby.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah. He was the kid.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Mork and Mindy got ... I don't remember this really. I'm thinking back. I know they got married. And when they had the baby, it was Robin Williams, Mork is the one who got pregnant, correct?

Logan Rishaw:
I think so.

Tom Megalis:
I think so. Yeah, I think so. Yeah, you got ... Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Okay. Then he had a big egg or something, and it was hatched and it was a fully grown man is how they do it. Then they go back ...

Logan Rishaw:
They age backwards.

Dave Schwensen:
They age backwards.

Tom Megalis:
Oh. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And then the fully grown baby was Jonathan Winters.

Tom Megalis:
He has the 55 year-old baby.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
That's awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. It's-

Tom Megalis:
But he got to play, right? And they played.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh yeah. Well, from what I understand, that's his idol. Robin Williams, his idol was ... That's why he got into the business in the first place. He saw Jonathan Winters on TV, his father was laughing at him, and Robin said, "I want to do that." And Robin was already making up these characters in his room. He was doing the same thing Jonathan Winters was.

Dave Schwensen:
But they put them together on that show and I heard it was just chaos.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, I'm sure.

Dave Schwensen:
Mindy just got out of the way. Everyone, producers, directors just let those two go wild.

Logan Rishaw:
There's a lot of just interviews of the two of them together, and it's really funny at first, but I could tell they're just getting frustrated trying to get a word in while these two are just improving with each other nonstop.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, there's one ... I watched The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where Robin Williams was just coming out. He was a movie star by this time. And he's sitting there, and the second guest out is Jonathan Winters and he's wearing a Civil War uniform. Have you ever seen this one?

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
I think I've seen these. Yeah. The Civil War hat.

Dave Schwensen:
He's wearing ... yeah, he's wearing a Civil War union blue uniform for the Civil War. He sits down and he's going on. And I'm watching this and I'm watching Robin Williams. Robin Williams is like the annoying kid little brother. Jonathan Winters is saying all this nonsense, and Robin Williams is just bouncing off the couches and like, "Oh, can I play too? Can I play too?," that kind of stuff. Really looked up to him.

Dave Schwensen:
What they did is just ... Really, you need mega talent. Okay. A quick mind and just you're living on the edge. You're walking on a tight wire with no net below you. That's how I look at Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters. And to be quite honest, it didn't always work. I've seen clips with ...

Dave Schwensen:
We talk about Jonathan Winters. He could do all this stuff with a stick and everything else. There's other ones where he would sit down and Johnny Carson did this to him, and I saw an old Andy Williams show they did this, "Here we got a pile of hats. Every time Jonathan puts one on, he's going to be a different character." That's a lot of pressure to put on this guy on live television, okay?

Tom Megalis:
Oh man.

Dave Schwensen:
So he puts on a hat and he'll say something and Johnny Carson's rolling on the floor laughing. I'm like, "Well, where's the joke?" What's [crosstalk 00:24:48].

Tom Megalis:
It just didn't ... Yeah. It wasn't there.

Dave Schwensen:
But then he would make up for it. I never saw him bomb, but it would be up and down. Either it's great or it's not. And Robin Williams would be the same way. He could just be manic and crazy and sometimes it works, and then occasionally it didn't.

Tom Megalis:
Isn't that ... It continues to be the style of just improv, really.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Second City continues to ... They teach you techniques, but it's still like you're going out there and you're ... yeah, you're making it up, try to get to an ending, try to still build it and get to a ... Let's try to [crosstalk 00:25:22].

Dave Schwensen:
And they were there to help each other, too. They could rescue each other. If they go out and that improv is not going somewhere, hopefully someone else will enter the scene or someone else will pick up the slack.

Dave Schwensen:
Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams, they were on their own. That's the difference.

Tom Megalis:
And it seems like today, would audiences ... There isn't that same style going on right now, where you can just free form a 10-minute bit, which is a scene from a movie. I look at guys like Gaffigan or something like that. It's quicker little jokes. They get to it. They kind of, "De, de, de, de, de," and you're setting it up, but there's not long periods where you're having to pay attention to sound effects and a periscope going up and, "Neee [sound effect 00:26:11]." And people aren't marveling at that, going ...

Tom Megalis:
I think audiences now might go, "All right. What's going on here? Come on. Just get to it. What is happening here?"

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. It's a [crosstalk 00:26:20] attention span.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. That's what's happened, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Jonathan Winters passed away in 2013 and I'm pretty sure he was working up until the day almost.

Tom Megalis:
Mind was good. His mind was still good. So he was able to [crosstalk 00:26:33]. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And I know he was collecting awards. They were giving him the awards, the Comedy Hall of Fame. I think I saw that he was the second inductee to what ... They had the Comedy Hall of Fame [crosstalk 00:00:26:42]. The first one might have been Richard Pryor. I don't know.

Logan Rishaw:
He got the Mark Twain Award in '99.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. Yes. Yeah. He was getting on it. I think even at the American Comedy Awards. I've never met anyone who didn't like Jonathan Winters as far as a comedian. If his name came up, it was like, "Oh my gosh. The guy is great. He's living on the edge," and all this kind of stuff. So he had a lot of fans.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah. It seems like everyone who's heard him really respects him, and then anyone who's actually met, you can just see they absolutely love the guy.

Tom Megalis:
Robin Williams in his, I guess, eulogy or whatever is ... He said, "He was my inspiration, my mentor, then my friend." And he said, "He was the Buddha of comedy."

Dave Schwensen:
Wow.

Tom Megalis:
"Long live the Buddha."

Dave Schwensen:
Wow. There's a compliment.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, man. It's ... And his work is still out there. The art, and that's [crosstalk 00:27:28].

Dave Schwensen:
It's tough to find some of his albums. I'll admit that. I've been looking around. It's tough to find.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, you can't. You can't find them easily.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. The old vinyls from the early 1960s, '60, '61, around that area. But you can find his clips and a lot of stuff on YouTube, which is just very entertaining, to sit back and have a night of Jonathan Winters, and especially that scene from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I got to watch that again.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah. I think this is one of the few comics that I recommend just watching the clips over the albums, because seeing him perform and seeing people react to him just adds so much to it.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, I'm glad you brought that up, Logan. Yes. I wanted to say that, too, because his facial expressions and his sound effects, he's really into these characters. He's not goofing around.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, he goes in deep, man.

Dave Schwensen:
He's into it. Yeah, he's deep.

Tom Megalis:
He goes deep.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He is that character.

Tom Megalis:
And even you watch him on the Roasts, the Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, he's roasting. And he comes on as a character, his Ellwood Suggins or Buck Needlehopper, these people that he did. And he stays in character and, "I don't know much about you," and he just goes on and on. And they're just dying. They're just like, "This is awesome."

Tom Megalis:
And this is before Andy Kauffman or people that would stay in character, just be a character for a bit. There's been a few. But man, you're right. Jonathan was right inside, hung with it, totally committed, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, he certainly did.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And I'm glad we totally committed to this show, because I think we're coming to the end here, guys.

Tom Megalis:
Oh my gosh. You're kidding me. I thought we just got started.

Dave Schwensen:
I know. This is your favorite comic, Jonathan Winters. And Tom, we got to pull it to a halt here.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, guys. It was fun chatting.

Dave Schwensen:
Or bring it to a halt. I guess that's what I should have said. But yeah, hey, I had a blast talking with you guys, as always.

Tom Megalis:
Same here.

Logan Rishaw:
Yeah, it was a good time.

Dave Schwensen:
We're going to check out here, so I'm going to say goodbye to Logan Rishaw. Logan?

Logan Rishaw:
All right. Thank you guys for having me. Long live the Buddha.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Very nice. Good way to end it. And Tom Megalis.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Speaking of Buddha, man, I got to get out and walk. I'm just getting porky. I've got to take your lead there, Dave.

Dave Schwensen:
Okay, great. Well, on that note, I'm going to say I'm Dave Schwensen and I'm going to walk out of here. So thank you for listening to What's So Funny. We'll be back. And until that time, keep laughing.


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