There are plenty of impressionists out there, people who can do dead-on imitations of the vocal inflections and verbal tics of George W. Bush or Marlon Brando or John Madden or Homer Simpson.
But how many of them can perfectly re-create the sound of a jet engine or a trumpet or a squirrel trapped in a desk?
Michael Winslow can, and then some. A human sound-effects machine, Winslow is a master of vocal gymnastics who can create more than 10,000 sound effects using his voice alone.
For better or worse, Winslow will forever be identified with his role in all seven of the Police Academy movies as Larvell Jones, the guy who could make all sorts of funny noises.
Winslow, 45, will be bringing his signature brand of sonic humor to Ann Arbor tonight and tomorrow night for appearances at the Comedy Showcase and to Toledo next Friday and Saturday at Connxtions Comedy Club.
Born on an Air Force base in Spokane, Wash., Winslow began imitating the sounds of trucks and airplane engines to amuse himself when he was a toddler. His family moved frequently, and Michael continually found himself "the new kid" in a succession of schools.
He discovered that his vocal talents came in handy in protecting himself from bullies. The barking of a large, ferocious dog, for example, could scatter a group of boys intent on harassing him. After a few such incidents, Michael was labeled "crazy," which was fine with him.
"Being the kid who was crazy was much better than being the kid who got beaten up every day," he says.
After high school, he briefly attended college in Denver, then dropped out and headed to Boulder, Colo., to try stand-up comedy.
At one club, he wore an Afro wig he'd taken from his mother's closet and mixed comedy and sound effects in a bizarre version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, "Purple Haze."
He later headed to California, where, in 1984, he was discovered by the producers of the first Police Academy movie and hastily written into the script. He wound up being one of the few cast members who went on to appear in all six sequels.
The Police Academy movies paved the way for Winslow to appear in other films, including Spaceballs and Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams.
He also supplied the voice of Stripe, the evil little creature in Gremlins, and produced Michael J. Fox's foot-shuffling sounds in Back to the Future 3.
He's also created sound effects for a pair of popular attractions at Universal Studios theme park in Florida - the sound of flying saucers in "Men in Black: Alien Attack" and the voices of aliens and the roar of a jet plane for "Terminator 2: 3D The Battle Across Time."
Among his comedy CDs is an ambitious self-released concept album called "Noise-a-Tivity," in which he layered 36 tracks of voices and beats atop one another.
Every sound on the album is produced by Winslow - without any instruments.
Comic Michael Winslow appears at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, 314 East Liberty St., tonight and tomorrow night, with show times at 8 and 10:30 both nights. Tickets are $17 in advance and $19 at the door. Information: 734-996-9080 or www.aacomedy.com
Winslow will also appear next Friday and Saturday at Toledo's Connxtions Comedy Club, 5319 Heatherdowns Blvd., with show times at 8 and 10:30 both nights. Tickets are $16.50. Information: 419-867-9041 or www.connxtionscomedyclub.com
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