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By Michael E. Miller
It's not easy to actually eat anything when you're having lunch with Jimi Hendrix, Mel Brooks, Barry White, Cheech and Chong, and Luther Campbell. Not to mention a variety of chain saws, buzz saws, some caterwauling that sounds like a pussy in heat, and, of course, a dancehall reggae band or two or three.
But that's exactly what it's like when you're breaking bread with Michael Winslow. Winslow, who made his feature film debut in Cheech and Chong's Next Movie and is best-known for his recurring role as officer Larvelle Jones in the Police Academy series (episodes "one through infinity," as the actor puts it), gives lie to that old aphorism about comedians being deadly serious off-stage. Michael Winslow, the Noise Guy, is always on.
"I call it 'vocal vision'," says Winslow of his unique talent for mimicking sounds/voices/anything. From power tools to barnyard animals to Hendrix's wailing guitar feedback, Winslow is a human sampling machine, a synthesizer with a brain. In constant demand for soundtrack work, the comedian swears he has never had a sound requested of him that he couldn't prouce.
"The fly noise in the Robin Williams Popeye movie was a close call," he confesses. "That was hard. It was my first fly. Sometimes I get special orders for sounds. In Back to the Future Part III, when Michael J. Fox walks into the saloon and they start shooting at his feet, that's me doing the sounds of his feet sliding across the floor while he moonwalks. I did that in twenty minutes.
"I've done voices in lots of movies that have never been released. And I was Stripe in Gremlins. I was the voice of the creature in Funhouse. Like we say in Hollywood, I've seen detergent leave a better film."
Winslow moved to Miami fourteen months ago to act in a series, Extra Large, for Italian television. Filming was rudely interrupted by a blustery intruder by the name of Andrew. "I lived in Key Biscayne before and after the storm, but I was in Orlando when it hit. I came back and I was like, 'Gee, what are all these sailboats doing in the middle of the causeway? What happened to Stefano's? Why is it on the other side of the street?' Here we were making this Italian Euro-TV show with an international crew when the thing hit. Just finding everybody was hard work."
Winslow was one of the first comedians to agree to do the Estefans' big hurricane-relief show at Joe Robbie Stadium, and he now has a suggestion for Gloria and company: "Why don't we do a one-year-later concert? A sort of 'Hurricane Relief -- how've we done?' show. I'll be happy to host it."
After sharing the hurricane experience, the real Miami sound machine decided to stick around and make the area his home. With long-time partner Steve McChesney, Winslow is looking to produce his own movies, featuring South Florida actors and crew members. Their first project, a comedy about the Jamaican bobsled team -- with Winslow as the sled's driver, Bubba Smith pushing, and guitar wizard (and a man with more than a passing acquaintance with the joys of, um, herbal medicine) Joe Walsh as the coach -- is set to begin shooting in December. Fans of departed South Florida radio personalities Herman and McBean -- anyone remember WGTR? A will be happy to hear that Winslow and McChesney secured the rights to the FM duo's wacky "Jamaican Bobsled" song.
On-screen, off-screen, behind the scenes -- it's all part of Winslow's evolving performer's philosophy. "The rules have changed thanks to Mr. Satellite Dish. The technology's about to turn everything on its ear. Look at what's out there now A HDTV, DAT, Hi-8 cameras. Rival networks like Fox have sprung up to challenge the Big Three, and Paramount's got a network in the works. Then there's that 600-channel cable. You can't be just a standup comedian any more. You have to be a writer, a director, a producer. If you wanna get seen, you've gotta make your own product. That spells opportunity."
And Winslow has jumped mouthfirst into the fray. He supplied all 150 voices and sounds for a computer sound-effects program, dubbed Mr. SoundFX, that has already sold nearly 100,000 copies worldwide. He's working on an album, recently recorded an hour-long tape of his stand-up routine aboard the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, and heads to Moscow to begin filming Police Academy 7 in September.
Yet it's the humble concert stage that best showcases the full range of Winslow's talent. No cable, satellite transmission, or global village necessary. He claims to be able to imitate more than 10,000 sound effects using nothing more than his voice. His one-man re-creations of Led Zeppelin, Luther Campbell, or Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner invariably leave patrons walking out scratching their heads and asking themselves that proverbial question: "How'd he do that?"
It's a good thing they never had to try to eat lunch with the guy.
Michael Winslow performs at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. on Friday at the Philip Michael Thomas Miamiway Theatre, 12615 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami, 893-0005. Admission costs $12.50 and $15.