High on my list of regrets is not having interviewed Jonathan Winters, a perpetual lightning storm of improvisational comedic genius who happened to live in Montecito in until he died in April 2013. I always figured I’d have time. After all, Winters seemed to be everywhere for a while. He could be seen perpetually in the act of regaling some hapless out-of-town visitors — who mistakenly had asked him for directions — with jaw-dropping variations on endless inspired themes. They’d never find out how to get where they thought they wanted to go, but it wouldn’t matter. The closest I got to Winters was in Joe’s Café one Friday night when arts writer Joe Woodard mistakenly thought he would interview Winters. I made a point to be there. Winters was to stream-of-consciousness what a tsunami is to surfing, and Woodard had no chance. Joe’s tape recorder didn’t really explode, and his notebook didn’t really burst into flames; it just seemed like they did. As I recall it, Winters soon began prowling Joe’s for fresh ears and fresh inspiration. He was a tormented soft-souled human cyclone on a comedic mission. For those unfamiliar with his work, imagine Robin Williams’s manic improvisational zig-zaggery coupled with Victor Borge’s genius for telling stories strictly with sound effects. Now multiply that by 10.
Grazing on YouTube the other night — the closest thing we have discovered to a time machine yet — I stumbled onto some interviews with Winters and Johnny Carson and then other skits. Even though Winters has been dead eight years now, it dawned on me there might be plenty of people around who have Jonathan Winters stories to tell. Maybe I want to hear them just because. Or maybe he’s Santa Barbara’s most unsung celebrity genius since Mary Pickford. Maybe such stories could become grist for an article down the road. It all depends what I get.
If you choose to send anything my way, please provide contact info and whether you want your name used should your recollections see the light of publication. And if you have any photos you’d care to share, please send those too. Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.