He may not have been Jewish, but Jonathan Winters, who died this morning in California at the age of 87, was one of the most important comedic forces of the 20th century. There isn’t a humorous publication – from MAD magazine to, yes, Heeb – that isn’t the beneficiary of Jonathan’s incomparable sense of comedy.
Winters’ improbable foray into performing – the result of entering a talent contest, the first prize of which was a new wristwatch (Something the desperately poor Winters couldn’t afford otherwise) – launched one of the wildest, most creative , most notoriously bonkers careers in the history of humor. He was everywhere: Stand up circles, improv circles, Televisions, Movies, and for a short time – a mental institution. Winters began making people laugh during an era of massive comedic innovation, but no one pushed the boundaries further and better than Jonathan. He was one of the fastest, fiercest, and funniest minds on the planet, receiving universal accolades from his comedic peers and enjoying a career that spanned over fifty years.
Rather than a rundown of the full impact of Winters’ singular impact on the world of comedy, I encourage you to:
– Find a copy of the great 2011 documentary Certifiably Jonathan
– Pay for the premium episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast where he interviews the still razor-sharp 85 year old Winters (it’s worth it)
– Watch this incredible, rapid-fire improv set from Winters, circa the early ’60s:
Goodbye Jonathan. You were one of the best. The world is less funny without you.