Michael T. Winslow / Michael Winslow
Dogs barking. Feet squishing in soggy sneakers. Chalk screeching across a classroom chalkboard. Jet engines roaring. All ordinary, familiar sounds when they come from the ordinary, familiar sources. How extraordinary when the source is Michael Winslow.
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From the time Michael Winslow was a crib-confined toddler, he had an especially fine-tuned ear for sound. Michael's mother remembers how he would avoid sleep after being put down for a nap by mimicking the noises
the jet engines and trucks made on the Spokane, Washington Air Force base where she and husband Robert were raising a family. Military families are inherently mobile, making it difficult for the children to keep friends. Michael (always the "new kid" in class) encountered isolation, taunts and violence at school, and used his special talents as a defense from the rough kids. He discovered quickly that the barks of a large, ferocious dog could scatter a group of bullies intending to harass the new black kid. After a few such incidents, Michael would be labeled "crazy" and the other youngsters would shun and avoid him. This was just fine to Michael; being the kid who was crazy was much better than being the kid who got beaten up every day.
As Michael grew older, he learned how easily he could gain control of a classroom with his odd noises and voices. He created conversations between the laboratory mice, frogs and the earthworms in science class. The teacher's feet would sound as though they were sloshing in wet sneakers as she crossed the room. Her reprimands and scoldings were interrupted by squealing chalkboard sounds. His subsequent trips to the principal added to Michael's memories of a chaotic and colorful school career.
High school and all the misery associated with it were finally past. Not excited at the prospect of more school, Michael reluctantly began attending the University of Colorado at Denver. For longer than a year, he plodded through a Political Science curriculum, a major in which he had little interest. Michael's motivating passion was a deep-rooted urge to entertain. During his sophomore year, against his parent's wishes, he left home and struck out for Boulder to try his hand at comedy clubs. After much perseverance Michael finally got his first professional break at a Boulder venue named Tulagi's. Playing Tulagi's had special meaning for him, because Jimi Hendrix, one of Michael's idols, had performed there. Sporting an Afro wig that he stole from his mother's closet, Michael brought the crowd to its feet with an amazing rendition of 'Purple Haze.' Amidst the sounds of the roaring, cheering audience, Michael knew that a life in entertainment was his true calling. Michael then bravely packed his few worldly possessions and hit the highway, thumb extended in the direction of Los Angeles. On occasion there was no roof over Michael's head, and he slept under the stars at Venice Beach. For Michael, being homeless often involved performing on the boardwalk by day for donated money and food. At night, he tirelessly roamed from one nightclub to another, pleading to be allowed to perform on stage. Many clubs banned him outright, stating that as long as he continued to "make those stupid noises," Michael didn't stand a chance of making it on the club circuit.
Still homeless and growing (expectedly) discouraged, Michael performed at the Palomino Club on one of its weekly talent nights. He won the competition, and was asked that same night to audition for 'The Gong Show,' from which he won enough money to purchase a car. This was a joyful day in the life of Michael Winslow. He was no longer a mere homeless comedian; he was now what he refers to as a "mobile homeless."
Michael's luck was improving so much that soon he was required to hire an agent and manager. At that point, numerous problems and conflicts arose with regard to dishonest management and unscrupulous agents. Money was stolen, from Michael's accounts; politics among agents, producers and directors threatened Michael's string of good luck, but in 1984 Michael was given the biggest break of his career in the form of Police Academy, the First Episode. From that time on Michael received a string of movie and various TV deals including Spaceball's, Cheech and Chong's Next Movie, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Part 3, and a TV series to go along with the Police Academy movies. The rest as they say is comedic history.
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