In conversation with Michael Winslow
Interview by: @Caroline Foran
"What's that?" I hear you say. "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman?" No no, it's the master of vocal gymnastics – Mr. Michael Winslow. A short while ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with the man of 10,000 sound effects – AKA Sgt Larvelle Jones from Police Academy - but while we hoped we could use the interview in a podcast, given that he's a man you really ought to listen to more so than read about, alas, technology was not on our side that day. Known most for his role as the Motor-Mouth Jones, causing trouble at every turn, Winslow has appeared in 7 – soon to be 8 – Police Academy Movies. And who could forget the antics he got up to in Spaceballs, alongside Mel Brooks? Well we had a brief if slightly disjointed, (and interrupted-at-every-second-by-a-random-sound-effect) chat about such things. So, if you can forgive my shoddy attempts at describing the array of sounds emanating from a groggy Winslow, the following is the gist of our exchange.
Between starring in movies, his work on TV and designing some funky new iPhone apps, Winslow has also made time in 2012 for a tour like no other. He plays Whelan's on February 20th and we've got tickets!
Me: Michael, how are you doing? (I giggle the words as he begins our conversation with an impression of a message recorder. Really, I should have expected it.)
M.W: I'm doing good. Would you prefer this? *Launches into high pitched lady voice*: 'Housekeeping? Not clean? Not clean?'
Me: (um...eh..what?) So you're known as the man of 10,000 sound effects.
M.W: Yea it's something like that! 10,000 sounds and voices, but now I think we are passed that number... now we are trying to come up with a different title phrase.
Me: You aiming for 'Man of a million voices?'
M.W: oh God now that'll take a little longer. We're somewhere out there though.
Me. So tell me how this all started for you.
M.W: Well this kinda [sic] started by accident. You know how kids have imaginary friends? Well I had these imaginary sounds that were my friends. And those sounds would proceed to get me into trouble.
Me: Can you remember the first sound effect you ever did?
M.W: Oh yeah for sure. You mean this? *begins with low rumblings that turn into the sound of a very large aircraft – probably a Boeing 747 – flying low overhead. (Impressive stuff.)* Well that was the first thing.
Me: You must have gotten into a lot of trouble in school?
M.W: Well, you have two sets of kids that have a different sense of humour. There's the kids that will beat you up if you make the noises in class then there's the other set that will beat you up if you don't make the noises. It depends on which class you were in. Now the fingernails on the chalkboard noise - that makes the bullies happy - but I usually get them back too with another sound.
Me: So you got beaten up as a kid?
M.W: Oh yes! I tried to figure out ways to get them back, I'd get beaten up all the time, That's where I learned to do the angry bull mastiff noise, so I'd do an angry dog coming around the corner - *growls like a dog while at the same time making it sound like it is in fact around a corner (I genuinely get a little fright) So yeah that make a kid drop his cigarettes and run. They ended up not picking on me anymore.
Me: Was this career always part of your plan?
M.W: I kinda figured I wanted to give it a try. Let me try for a summer and if it works out good and if not I'll go back to school. And I'm afraid I'm still in school, it was supposed to be just a summer!
Me: It was a Jimi Hendrix guitar sound effect that brought you to most people's attention.
M.W: Oh you mean this? (*It's as though Jimi Hendrix is playing a guitar lick down the phone to me. Sorry, you really had to be there.) The very first things I did professionally was that noise.
Me: How did your family respond when you told them that this was your calling?
M.W: They were thoroughly mystified. Any parent would be Mystified. But it turned out to be a pretty good career. I've been able to go around the world 30 times, probably more than that when you consider the mileage.
Me: So of all the sounds you've done, there are some you're not allowed to do anymore. What about that one on airplanes?
M.W: Yeah I had to stop making the sound of that red button on the airplane – it was fun to make that noise! Until the ministry of transportation said (*puts on official British voice) - Mr. Winslow, please do not make the *beeeeep boooooop* sound anymore. That is quite not funny.' Oh yes it is!!
Me: Any other forbidden ones?
M.W: There's always osomething lurking around the corner like for instance when you go into the supermarket and people are in the meat section and you go...*clucks like a chicken*. 'Cause they'll look around they'll start to think maybe they're skinning them in the back!When an animal bites you - or wants to bite you - for making the sound of the animal - you're there.
Me: Right. So you're most known for your role on Police Academy. What was it like being part of a franchise in the 80's when there weren't many others around?
M.W: You're right there wasn't many around in the 80's. There was afew John Hughes movies around and The breakfast club. We were really really new at this and also you know I'm very happy to announce that we will have Police Academy 8. As you know New Line Cinema have picked it up so hopefully we will be back in your living rooms again soon.
Me: Very exciting stuff. Are you looking forward to it?
M.W: I think so. It's good to see everybody, the friends you end up making over time. They become family don't they?
Me: I imagine they do! So is there any teasers you can give us on the plot?
M.W: Well I'm still waiting on my copy of the script! But I am just so happy about the fact that this is number 8. So somebody somewhere is annoyed with us again!
Me: Did you ever expect to do so well not just with Police Academy but everything else?
M.W: Well I ended up getting a really nice experience from it. I got to be in Space Balls too so Police Academy did that for me. And he (Mel Brooks) isn't so bad in it is he? It was great working with him and I really hope I get to work with him again. Well I hope so, I hope so because he was the only person I know that could wear a three piece suit with tennis shoes. And pull it off too!
Me: So you're coming to Ireland soon for your tour. Is this your first time coming?
M.W: To tell you the truth? *puts on ridiculously contrived Oirish accent* "No it's not my first time I've got a lot of friends that live in Cark and other that live in Dublin. I've got a few friends that live in The Abbey you know?"
ME: (I laugh whilst hoping desperately that his last sentence is where his Irish impressions start and end) Any specific Irish sound effects?
M.W: Well if I can figure out how to do the sound of a Guinness machine I think I'd be a hero.
Me: A brewry?
M.W: (Giggles) I'm working on it, I'm working on it!
Me: What can we expect from a live show?
M.W: Well the way it works is, it's kind of like baking one of those cakes, little bit of comedy, lots of music, lots of improv and when you mix it altogether along with some theatrical surprises, you've got an all round show. Little bit of something for everybody. So I hope you like music! It'll be loud. I can promise loud.
Me: Sounds great! What else are you working on?
M.W: Right now we are working on new developments, a new production, couple of IPHONE apps - WIZARDS OPPS which is an entire game with all human sound effects so that's exciting - and then there's 'That's Kung Fu' for all you Kung Fu fans out there. I'm also going to release a couple of singles this year. Maybe you'll hear Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix again!
Me: Finally, do you have a favourite sound effect?
MW: That's like asking which one of your kids you like better. They have a life of their own. Now people come up to me with their own noises. They do sounds to me now and I kinda feel like Steven Tyler with a hot dog where if I bite this I'll look stupid. (Ed notes: WTF?) There's never any one favourite. Don't forget the beat boxers. There are so many beat boxers around now. I was just kidding! I didn't mean for it to become an entire industry. jeez.
Michael Winslow. Friday 27th (10pm) and Saturday 28th (4pm) at The Big Red Tent for Vodafone Comedy Festival.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 20th July 2012 | Comedy
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