Talk show host Jack Paar in the early ‘60s declared “Pound for pound, Jonathan Winters is the funniest man on earth.” That’s because Jonathan’s manic mind gave birth to the bawdy old lady Maudie Frickert, the Southern yokel Elwood P. Suggins, the brash movie star Lance Lovegard and thousands of other characters, painting hilarious sketches of American life. As the original improviser, Jonathan could also take any object and transport you to one funny scene after another. When he burst onto the comedy scene in the ‘50s, his humor was so different, no one knew what to make of him. There were no jokes, no punch lines, just Jonathan acting like a nut, always on the frenetic edge, skating on the brink of sanity. And his life, like his humor, has always been a little off-kilter.
Born in Dayton, Ohio on November 11, 1925, Jonathan, growing up as an only child, started creating various characters to entertain himself. During World War II, he served in the South Pacific as a Marine. And after returning home, he attended Kenyon College and the Dayton Art Institute, where he met Eileen, to whom Jonathan has now been married for 62 years.
One day Jonathan lost his wristwatch, so Eileen encouraged him to enter a local talent contest where he could win a new one, which he did. His performance led to a job as a DJ on a local radio station, where he was supposed to introduce the records and announce the temperature, but gradually his irrepressible ad-libs and improvisations took over the show.
In 1953, Jonathan, with only $56 in his pocket, headed to New York City to try to make it big. Performing the nightclub scene, his reputation began to grow, and Jonathan landed a spot on The Garry Moore Show, which led to Jonathan’s own 15-minute NBC series. From there, he made many memorable appearances on the Jack Paar Show, The Tonight Show and The Andy Williams Show.
In 1963, Jonathan made his movie debut in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, in which he single-handedly tears apart a gas station in a rage of lunacy. Soon thereafter he starred in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.
In 1972, Jonathan again starred in his own TV show, The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters and became a regular character on Mork and Mindy with Robin Williams in 1981.
Jonathan was recently voted by Emmy Magazine the all-time number one guest on the Tonight Show, where he appeared over 25 times. He’s also listed by Comedy Central as the 18th best stand-up comedian of all time.
Throughout his life, Jonathan has spent much of his free time sitting in front a canvas with paint brush in hand, creating a collection of work, which has been compared to Dali, Miro and Magritte.