Ahead of Hong Kong shows, Michael Winslow, Police Academy’s ‘Motor Mouth’, talks sound effects
The ‘Man of 10,000 Sound Effects’ explains why he steers clear of political jokes, how hard some sounds are to make and his wish to test Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson on his range of car engine sounds
Michael Winslow is a hard man to interview - the comedian makes so many sounds when you talk to him. The self-described “Man of 10,000 Sound Effects” spoke before the start of his December 17 show, the first of three, at the Udderbelly Festival on the harbourfront in Hong Kong’s Central district.
What is about imitating sounds that appeals to you?
They’ve called me a voice-strumentalist. This is always something I did coz for me, sound has no language barrier even among the hearing impaired. They come to my show because I can do subsonic bass tone and they can hear it. Even if they couldn’t hear it, they would come up to the speaker to feel it. So I was communicating with the deaf. I don’t know why that worked, but I figured maybe I’m supposed to be doing this. Maybe there’s a reason for me to be here. Maybe I’m here to help Hong Kong with new noises.
What would you consider the turning point of your career?
The first Police Academy [movie]. That was one of the turning points. I wasn’t in the original screenplay. They wrote me in and put me in the movie. They decided we need a break between each scene and somebody to link them all together, so we’ll have [my character] causing trouble. From there, this is my 38th year in entertainment and so far nobody has been able to do [what I did].
How long does it take to get a sound right?
It can take years or it can take a moment. Each one is alive. It’s like each child you have is different. One child will evolve differently from the other. Like the sound of a bottle cork is easier than a diesel engine, because the latter hurts [to imitate]. It takes more energy and power and sometimes it’s very tough on the voice.
Watch: Michael Winslow of Police Academy making sound effects in a restaurant
Any unfulfilled desires in your career?
I want to go on Top Gear but the [BBC Television motoring] show got cancelled before I could do it. I want to do engine noises to [presenter] Jeremy Clarkson and get him to guess what is the brand of the engine I’m doing. I’ve fooled people before.
I bet you can pull off some of the most wicked pranks.
I don’t do prank calls any more. And also the airlines have made me promise not to make any more noises on the airplanes. I can do the sound of the flight attendant’s button being pressed and they thought it’s real. They would look around the corner and at their panels and argue with each other that they did hear it. So I can’t do it any more.
Do you get recognised on the street a lot?
Oh yeah. I was in Melbourne when a bloke walked up to me and says ‘excuse me, Mr Murphy, I want to welcome you to Australia.’ He thinks I’m Eddie Murphy and so I was Eddie for a minute coz I make them happy.
It’s impressive to watch you switch from voice to voice, but you also remind me of Billy Milligan.
I do have multiple personalities, that’s true. They call me the Man of 10,000 Sound Effects.
What voices would you not do?
Politics. As a comedian, one of the rules that I’ve learnt is if you wish to have a long career, no jokes about politics, religion, sex. Everything else is OK. Some comedians, they’re good at politics and they specialise in it. Fine, you go ahead and get in trouble. I’ll pass and just stick with the small things. And when I work with children, they don’t want to hear politics, religion or any of that. They want to hear Peppa Pig. I hear that all the time coz I’ve 1 15-month old grandson and he hears it. He will start to scream if we turn it off. It’s in my head.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I want to go back to making movies again. Thanks to this very strange device called YouTube, I can now go back to production. I can now make movies again coz it’s a level playing field. It’s even; everyone has a chance. It’s a platform for a person to express their ideas and I think it’s great. It used to be just the studios control things. Not any more.
There’s a new Police Academy coming, but under a new studio. So we shall see. I don’t have a clue [whether I’ll be playing in it] – it’s up to the new writers. Production should start next year. I hope they start soon. It’ll be good to see everyone again. I miss my friends. I miss everyone.
Michael Winslow, December 17, 9pm, December 18 and 19, 9.15pm, Udderbelly Festival, Central Harbourfront Event Space, Central, HK$385-HK$523 HK Ticketing