Friday, December 28, 2007

The Master Comedian Jon Winters ~ Interview Part 3


JW: My mother said, “Why don’t you run away. You’re not doing anything here.” So I ran away at 17 and went into the Marines. Now I didn’t get along with either my mother or my dad. My dad was a drunk... then, of course, he sobered up and became the meanest white man I have ever known.

When I got out of the Marines my mother said, “No reason to be sorry for yourself. There’s plenty of work to be done in the garden. Get out of that funny uniform.”

I was working when I was nine. She was divorced then and she said, “Forget the paper route. I’m not driving you around so you can throw a paper up on the porch. You better start washing the trucks down at the bakery." At nine I was working.... shucking wheat and cutting corn...

en: Do you follow screen printing?
JW: Only through Joe.

en: How did it come about?
JW: He and Jay (Winters, Jon's son) got together and he was showing us stuff out here. And I don’t have to tell you, for a guy that is working in acrylics on canvas it’s an entirely different field. Lotta work. Long hours... one color laid on another, on another.

So I kind of backed off from Joe, and said let’s go in a few different directions. I’m certainly fascinated by the process and really enjoy what people have done with screen work, but in the long pull it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t have the patience for that.

en: Your first painting?
JW: Hung Up On Strange Fruit

en: How many brothers and sisters?
JW: I was an only child. I took all the heat.

en: What got you interested in art?
JW: Well, the one reason is, show business has been really good to me, and I’ve tried to be good to it, do something different along the line. The one thing about art I like, and I still do: you’re in charge. Sure, you still have to answer to a gallery and your collectors and one thing or another, but basically, I sit down and I paint what I want to paint. I’m not in school any more... a professor leaning over you.

Voice change to snitty professor: I don’t care for that color you used in the background...

JW: Get out! My patience is really short. You want to sit down and discuss it as a paper mache intellectual, fine. Don’t sit down and start telling me how to paint the mountain or what I’m going to do with this man standing over the truck.

You’re in charge and you sink or swim with what you’ve done.

In film, in television, theater, sure you’ve got directors, producers, writers ... but with these people, the end result in television is, they’ve got the scissors. In art, they can’t edit your painting.

In another snitty voice: “I want you to cut that out, that thing with the horse. Cut that out.”

JW: No, we’re not cutting that out. We’re leaving it in. And if you don’t like it, take a walk.

So, the independent clown that I am, it’s not that I’m not disciplined in the movies. I’ve got my lines down, I’m on time, I know all the rules... I figure the fascinating thing for me at 77... I’ve always lived in one house, The House of Correction.

In an altered, domineering voice: Why are you wearing the overalls downtown? You just draw attention to yourself. (JW explains with an aside: "That would be my old man")

JW: Well, I’m comfortable in these goddamn things and I paid for it myself. Look shorty, you’re five eight and a half, I could drop you.

Father’s voice: Oh, you’re talking back to me.

JW: Well, I didn’t talk back until I got out of the car. It’s a book about eighteen inches thick.

Everywhere you go: “Why do you wear those shoes?” Don’t worry about it. I’m wearing them. You’re not. And you’re constantly having to defend yourself. Your religion. Your color. Your hair. Your shoes. Your painting. That’s why I say we live in a “house of correction.”

I’m a rebel and I always will be, and I’ve adjusted remarkably well. A woman said to me the other day as I got out of my car (aside again) I’m writing a book called Know the Enemy and it deals with a very simple thing, with a-holes and how to deal with them. And this woman turned to me and said, “You know, you’re crazy.” And I said, I can’t help that. Are you a doctor?

Voice change to older woman: No. I’m Mrs. Alan Bednor. I live up on the Riviera.

How did you know I was crazy?

Older woman: I’ve seen you on television.

JW: Well, I’m crazy there, definitely. I have to be, in order to make a living. I read your book, incidentally, Mrs. Gedner, or whatever your name is, on sensitivity. Is it still the one page? Oooh. Now, are you married?

Older woman: Yes, to a very fine man. Harry McDagner, and he’s with American Tool and Die.

JW: Is he on the New York Stock Exchange?

Older woman: No.

JW: That’s too bad. The company’s not that big, is it.

Older woman: Well, we’re primarily in the Midwest and western states.

JW: Yeah, Black and Decker Hammer. OK, What was his capacity? Is he retired?

Older woman: He retired last year at 64.

JW: Was he owner of the company?

Older woman: No.

JW: Was he chairman of the board?

Older woman: No

JW: What was he, outside of straightening that Sparklitz bottle?

Older woman: Sparklitz bottle?

JW: Yeah, I’m a little fast for ya there. Maybe he was trying to make out with some chick at the computer. What did he do when he retired? Or maybe they fired him.

Older woman: Oh no, he was in marketing.

JW: What was his name again?

Older woman: Paul

JW: Tell Paul when he comes home tonight I deduct what he makes. Not bad for a crazy person. That’s the end of it dear. You get in your Plymouth and get your ass out of here.

That’s the book, my friend. It is. The minute they say, I don’t care for your comedy, always agree with the enemy, see. That gives you time to lock and load.
Jon Winters photo courtesy Christina Bergstrom

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