Michael Winslow is an actor and comedian who can make you believe a barking dog is coming after you, a jet plane is flying low overhead, or someone is scraping chalk on a chalk board.
But all those sounds – and many, many more – are actually just Winslow, often billed as the “Man of 10,000 Sound Effects” for his ability to make realistic sound effects using only his voice. And Winslow will be taking that voice, and many of those sounds, to the stage at the Helium Comedy Club on Sansom St. May 10-12.
Today, even years later, Winslow is probably best known for his role as Sgt. Larvelle “Motor Mouth” Jones in the “Police Academy” series of movies and TV shows. He also appeared in “Spaceballs” and “Gremlins.”
Born in Spokane, Wash., Winslow says he learned early on that he could make sounds to amuse himself and others.
“At the time, I didn’t call it a talent,” he says. “It was just something that used to get me in all kinds of mischief and situations. But then I managed to take it further.”
For instance, he continues, “Sometimes I could use my sounds to keep the bigger kids away from hurting me. They always wanted to hear the sounds, and then you had the other kids who didn’t want to hear them. So I ended up using it as part of the tools to amuse most of the big boys.”
Not sure what it was, Winslow nevertheless says he knew his voices had a strong effect on people, and so he learned how to use them to his advantage.
One of those “advantages” was clowning around in a little country bar in California that Burt Reynolds made famous in some of his movies. “It was a pretty prestigious little bar so I used to go in there and horse around. One day a talent scout for the ‘Gong Show’ heard me and asked if I wanted to audition for the show. And I certainly did,” says Winslow.
Appearing on the “Gong Show” was his first television appearance, and Winslow managed to squeeze in spot-on-sound-alikes of Benji, the movie dog, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”
With the proceeds from his “Gong Show’” winnings, Winslow was able to buy a car, and sleep in it when he wasn’t performing at Venice Beach trying to make some money. But that appearance on the “Gong Show” eventually led to many others, including guest shots on other shows, and eventually films.
As if fate had somehow stepped into his life, Winslow managed to snag a spot opening for Cont Basie. He remembers, “It was a strange, once-in-a-lifetime thing that happens every once in a while. I got a chance to do two shows with Count Basie. It was towards the end of that wonderful career of his, and I got the chance to actually be a part of it. And the producer and director of ‘Police Academy,’ who were big jazz fans, happened to se the show and asked me to appear in their picture.”
It was early spring and filming for “Academy” started in late summer. And it’s gone so well since, that Winslow says “Police Academy 8” is in the works and due out next year.
Next on Winslow’s agenda is taking suggestions from Bill Cosby, who urged Winslow to take his sounds and use them to tell classic children’s stories. And that’s just what he’s planning to do.
But does he feel the least bit pigeonholed as an entertainer because of his vocal ability? “Not in the least,” he answers quickly. “I’ll take any role that comes along, but I do know that an open door is much more lucrative than a closed door. So my voice allows me to work, which is far better than having no work at all. And it allows me to go anywhere on the planet and perform for audiences worldwide. So I do see that as much more of a plus than any kind of negative.”
For times and ticket information, call the Helium Comedy Club (215) 496-9001.