Preview: The Man
of 10,000 Voices

Marissa Burgess meets Police Academy star and vocal gymnast Michael Winslow to discover why he’s sounding off in the UK

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With 30 years in the business under his belt, comic Michael Winslow has made a successful career out of his ability to mimic most noises imaginable. Best known for his role in all the Police Academy films as Sgt Larvelle “Motor Mouth” Jones, Winslow is a Hollywood veteren, but he hasn’t always had it so cushy.

In fact when Winslow was just starting on the comedy circuit he wound up living rough in Venice Beach, California.

“I became one of the folks called the mobile homeless. I found a way to find a car to live in,” he says of his time in the cultural and artistic hotbed suburb of LA, a place where the rich and poor collide. “I guess that’s what happens to performers who end up in Los Angeles trying to make it and don’t realise the scope and the size of everything. There are a lot of street performers and folks crowding together around a flaming trash can to stay warm. Lots of doors closing in your face but every so often one would open.”

Winslow’s opportunity came thanks to Bud Friedman, founder of the renowned New York Improvisation Comedy Club. Friedman featured Winslow in the TV series Evening At The Improv where he was spotted by the producers of the Police Academy films who promptly wrote him into their script. A part in Mel Brooks’s Spaceballs followed, as did the task of supplying the voice of the evil Gremlin, Stripe.

During our conversation, he offers an impression of an Italian dog as well as a creaky door but the uncanny parrot noise in the background turns out to be his real pet bird. It’s little surprise to learn that he first started to mimic noises as a child. As the youngest of five brothers growing up on a military air base, he began to mimic the sound of the aircraft flying in and out of the area. But the reaction to his impersonations among his peers at school was mixed.

“While the other kids were beating the crap out of me some of them were beating me up to get me to do it. What am I going to do? I’m in class and I’ve got one kid going ‘shut up man or I’ll kick your butt’, then you have the athlete kids going ‘hey, Winslow dude, better make that noise in class. You better do it – if you don’t I’m going to sit on your head’, he recalls laughing.

Fortunately, his unique talent has worked out for him and he’s embarking on his first major UK tour. He’s been to the UK several times previously but he was so enamoured with his experience at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, in which he performed his one-man show The Man of 10,000 Voices, he’s decided to come back.

“It went really well – I was very happy with it. Way better than a person could have expected.”

The new show is a mixture of the Edinburgh one plus some new bits but you can guarantee that there will be musical impersonations too, which is a favourite of his, “because that’s what I grew up with”. And in particular there’s his famous take on Jimi Hendrix.

There are also rumours of another Police Academy film.

“I was talking with the executive producer just recently and New Line Cinema did pick up on it and the script is almost completed. There’s been a few changes. Hightower passed away, so they asked [basketball player] Shaquille O’Neal if he’d be Hightower Junior and I think that’s gonna be quite fun. He’s seven feet tall. That’ll be even funnier.”
It’s all a long way from impersonating those aeroplanes and sleeping in a car in Venice Beach.

City Hall & Memorial Hall, Sheffield, 28 May, Lowry Theatre, Salford,
7 June

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