Laughing Matters — Jonathan Winters, “The Mad Doctor”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

I grew up understanding that Jonathan Winters occupied a bizarre level of genius without ever really getting the opportunity to observe his wild invention in its purest form. By the time I was paying attention, Winters had already elevated to the point of near myth, in part because of the way the following generation — most notably Robin Williams — unguardedly venerated him. Digging back through the archives of television can still be truly revelatory then. Winters was celebrated for his improvisational skill, but his greater talent was perhaps taking flights of astonishing imagination and channeling them into the sort of tight routines that fueled early television broadcasting. In his bit on the mad scientists that populated classic horrors movies, Winters is clearly operating with laser focus on the material while making it seem like every astonishing aural flourish is springing from him spontaneously. It’s a grand feat of unparalleled performance artistry.

Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Laughing Matters” tag.

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