There used to be a nightclub in Boulder called Tulagi's. It was famous for hosting musicians like the Eagles, Bonnie Raitt and Miles Davis when they were up-and-coming. In the mid-'70s, the club also played host to a young man named Michael Winslow.
Taking advantage of open mic night, Winslow would sneak up to Boulder from his Denver home and bark into the microphone. Literally. He barked, made siren noises, and did a one-man imitation of Jimi Hendrix. Doing Hendrix's vocals and legendary guitar work with just his voice, Winslow left audiences stunned. In fact, his sound effects were so good, the owner of Tulagi's encouraged Winslow to hitchhike to Los Angeles and try to break into film. He's been making noise ever since.
"I've had a heck of a career," says Winslow, aka "Man of 10,000 Sound Effects." From his early wins on Chuck Barris' The Gong Show, to appearing as Sgt. Larvelle "Motor Mouth" Jones in the Police Academy movies, Winslow has honed his talent very carefully. Everything has imitation potential, he says, but you have to listen closely to find it.
"I'm still figuring out sounds," he says, adding that he's currently working on ones from nature, like ocean waves and rain. "But sometimes, it's best to hear nothing, because there has to be a balance. Even nowhere is somewhere."
Winslow's Zen-like attitude is heavy with lessons hard-won. Of his school days in Denver, he says, "I'd go back and tell my teachers to give me more interpersonal skills. I'd tell myself to finish college and take classes in contract law and accounting. Those are the 'Jedi skills' you need in this business."
And it is a business: Winslow's most reliable source of income is in developing products like his popular Wizard Ops, ThatsKungFu and NoizyMan apps for iPhone and Android. He says he's also working with Bill Cosby in developing educational material for use in the classroom. He's looking forward to working on Police Academy 8, as well. "Word is that the Tosh.0 director Scott Zabielski will be directing it. That's thinking outside the box, isn't it?"
Winslow will kick off the Damon Runyon Repertory Theater's Comedy Tonight Series on Friday. As the first in what's planned as a monthly series — Dan McGowan and Jeff Wozer are next, on Feb. 4 — Winslow hopes to make an impression, so to speak.
"If people leave in a slightly better [emotional] condition than when they arrived," he says, "then I've done my job."