From an AP story in May 1981:
An interview with Jonathan Winters is an odyssey, a tour through a strange and childlike region peopled by the many facets of this pot-bellied original.
His Reds cap perched squarely on his head, his ample belly sparring with the edge of the formica table in the NBC publicity conference room, the characters living in Winters' head interrupt incessantly, turning the interview into a performance.
You don't interview Winters, you become an audience.
''You know, you get labels in this business, a wild person, 'Jonathan Winters is a wild person. How do you get a net over him? Was he really in a crazy house?'
''But I enjoy my insanity. And I say 'insanity' because when people say to me, 'There's nothing the matter with me,' that's the person who puts the telescopic sight here (he levels an imaginary rifle out the window, aiming into the NBC parking lot) and says, 'Let's see how many we can get before we lose light. There's one (he pulls the trigger).' That's the sort of person who says there's nothing wrong with him.''
That kind of craziness, that senselessness, alienation and blind brutality of modern life, crashes into the conversation relentlessly. There's reason for this. Winters has said that it's the child in him that's funny, and it's the child in us that laughs. The times are tough for all his children.
''It's harder to reach that little boy now. When I was growing up, the little boy saw six cars in the high school lot. Now, in some cases, there's no high school, just cars. We were confused, too, but we were confused in a wonderful way.
''That was the world of imagination. Now, times have changed. It was one thing to live when there was no atomic bomb, another thing to live with the atomic bomb. And a completely different thing to live in a time when you wonder whether there will be total holocaust by Friday at 12:30."
''We've got used to assassinations, we've got used to guys in the Dallas towers, we've got used to guys taking shots at our leaders. I think the hardest thing, for the little boy in me to break through to the little boy out there, is this terrible paranoia we're all in. My little boy has to work 200 per cent harder.''
Another character, 8-year-old Tommy Brichton, comes forth to demonstrate the point.
Man: ''You're little Tommy Brichton.''
''Yes I am.''
''Tommy, how are you doing in school?''
''Well, it's difficult to know what's going on from one day to the next. I watched a man on television who said the school situation is going to turn around by July. But we're going to be out of school by July, so what does he mean?''
''You're talking about busing . . ."
''Yes. I'd like to ride a bus.''
''Why not walk to school?''
''No waaaay. Eddie Terrell was stabbed to death by a 91-year-old man. He couldn't see. Thought it was a dog, that's what he said. C'mon, he killed him.
''That's terrible. How did you feel?
''Eddie was bad. He would have died before he got to high school because he was bad news. He passed out gum balls with stuff in them.''
Point taken. It's kind of strange to find so much grim in a fellow so thoroughly comic. Maybe not so strange, come to think of it.
Winters shrugs and says: ''These are the things that are happening, in Atlanta, everywhere. It's tough to take. But you can't make comedy a rubber doll. Then you've got nothing. You have to go with a piece of reality."
''The key is, somehow we've got to slip in a little more truth and still keep the world a fantasy.''
If such is possible, Winters can work it.
JW a fascinating guy ... an American original.