By Terry Kelleher
August 07, 2000 12:00 PM

On the Loose

PBS (check local listings)

Show of the week

Of all the clips in this entertaining career retrospective (about an hour long, not including pledge breaks), the one that best captures the comedy of Jonathan Winters comes from a 1964 appearance on The Jack Paar Program. Paar invites his guest to extemporize some shtick with a stick, and Winters turns the simple object into a fishing rod, a lion tamer’s whip, a beetle’s feeler, Bing Crosby’s golf club—more than three minutes of crazy stuff. The audience applauds, Winters sits down, and a pleased Paar is ready to move on. But Winters gets up and resumes the bit, unwilling to quit while the ideas are still flowing. “Other people would stop,” fellow dervish Robin Williams says later in the special. “We go.”

Williams graciously and humorously acknowledges Winters’s influence on his work, but he’s hardly the only star so indebted. (Winters’s Maude Frickert character and Johnny Carson’s Aunt Blabby must have been separated at birth.) At 74, Winters can be considered a grand old man of comedy. He talks here about his early days in broadcasting (starting at Dayton radio station WING—how fitting is that for an ad-libber?), his nervous breakdown of the early ’60s and his devotion to his wife and two children. But note his macabre improv as he checks out the saws at a hardware store. Winters will always be weird, bless him.

Bottom Line: Let the laughter continue