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Jonathan Winters LOL April 7, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in TV/Film.
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For the last four years, my husband, Richard, has been working on a film about the legendary comedian Jonathan Winters.  This has been one interesting ride.  While Richard schmoozes with Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel, I’m at school on yard duty and confiscating Hot Cheetos.  

Sometimes I do get lucky though and come home to find leftovers from one of Richard’s infamous lunches with Jonathan at Piatti’s in Montecito.   Then I get to forgo Lean Cuisine for a day and chow down on Pappardelle or Pollo Parmigiana.  I also settle for leftover stories about the day’s shoot.  After a long day in the trenches of public education, I can use a good laugh.

I grew up eagerly anticipating The Jonathan Winters Show.  He was the real deal – a total original.  Hand him something – anything, and he could do a shtick with it, and a damn funny one at that. 

Through a chance meeting in Santa Barbara, Richard and his partner, Jim, met Jonathan, who is also an accomplished artist.  What started out as a documentary about Jonathan and his art, evolved into a “mockumentary” with a supporting cast of some of the funniest people I know.  But then I think Ryan Stiles (from The Drew Carey Show) is a poker-faced scene stealer.  

Certifiably Jonathan includes clips of Jonathan’s original comedy routines from his show and from The Jack Paar Show.  I still laugh every time I watch these. You could call it a “heist movie,” as the plot hinges on Jonathan having his sense of humor stolen.  A stellar cast tries to cajole Jonathan and advise him on how to go about regaining one’s sense of humor.  If nothing else, it’s a film for the times we live in.

When I finally met Jonathan, he was wandering though my house wearing a cavalry hat and looked a bit like a long-lost Kamikaze.  The title of the film. Certifiably Jonathan, was inspired by Jonathan’s commitment in a mental institution.  Jonathan, who is bipolar, is candid about how his childhood and this disorder have shaped him as a human, and ultimately as a comedian. They always say that all comedy springs from a dark place, and Jonathan’s been there, done that.  Yet he still has that twinkle in his eye.

It was while making the film that we met Nora Dunn (SNL, Entourage) and her brother Kevin Dunn (Transformers, Samantha Who), people I now count as friends and are way fun to hang with.

What amazed me most was that at the screenings, it was the 20 somethings, many who’d never heard of Jonathan Winters, who laughed the hardest.  The film is brilliantly edited (and no, my husband, the producer and editor, didn’t tell me to write that), and Buddy Judge’s score is perfect AND quirky (Now there’s something I’d wouldn’t mind on my tombstone).  Jonathan is indeed certifiable – as a comic genius who paved the wave for a generation of improvisational comics to follow.  You can see the trailer and find out how to order a DVD on the Official Certifiably Jonathan website.