“The one thing about art I like, and I still do: you’re in charge.”
— Jonathan Winters
I probably first noticed Jonathan Winters in the star-studded It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Throughout the sixties he made regular appearances on network television, culminating in having his own show from 1972–74. Bill Cosby called him the king of comedy and Robin Williams similarly praised him, calling him his greatest influence. In 1999 Winters was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
In 2004 I was in the mood to find a little humor via the internet to lift my spirits from their mid-winter doldrums. Quite by accident I came across some art work by Jonathan Winters, original paintings which were being screen printed by Joe Petro, a Kentucky screen print artist.
Not only did Petro have a couple of Winters’ paintings on his website, but he also had been doing works by Ralph Steadman and other famous or notorious people. Having been involved with the screen print industry, I knew the mags and pitched an article to Screen Printing magazine about the screen art of Jonathan Winters. This was eventually transformed into a cover story profiling Mr. Petro.
The assignment gave me access to interview two influential people from my youth, Jonathan Winters and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as an overseas interview with the remarkable Mr. Steadman.
What follows is a transcript of my Jonathan Winters interview, which ended up being a forty minute, high velocity roller coaster ride.
And we’re off…
JW: How are you doing?
EN: I’m doing great. How are you?
JW: Well, failing in health. Most of my problems are mental. I … people ask me a commercial question… “How are you?” and I always say, “I’m out.” And they say, “I don’t understand.” You’d have to be “in” to appreciate that. And then they say, “Where were you?” You don’t want to know. The walls were high. We made leather purses. Little dishes. It goes from there.Well, how are you?
EN: uh… (confused)
JW: This is my comedy. You see, my art is one thing. My comedy is not really understood. Nor is my art.
(switching to a woman’s voice) What is this? What’s…