FEW performers can claim to make zoo keepers nervous.
Then not many folk possess the mimicry skills of ‘voice-strumentalist’ Michael Winslow, a man millions will remember as Sgt ‘Motor Mouth’ Jones from the Police Academy films.
For among his repertoire of impressions lies a few animal sounds. He’s even pitted his unique skills against the real thing.
“The ears of animals can be fooled,” Michael says on the phone from Egypt. “I found that out by working with a couple of scientists. They gave me a Bengal tiger and a crocodile just to see what would happen. I’ve gotten those animals pretty upset.
“I don’t know what I said but it was enough to cause serious confusion. Now zoos ask me not to annoy the monkeys.”
Michael was already a comedy circuit performer when he was spotted by the producers of Police Academy.
The films, of course, took him to a different level and now there’s something of a “fortuitous renaissance” for his skills, which take him to the Memorial Hall on May 28 on his first British tour.
When we speak ‘the man of 10,000 voices’ is in Cairo. “Stand up comedy is kind of new out here and I guess being able to do certain things is kind of new here too so I’m watching and listening.
“Everybody’s really excited because technically they’ve got a new country. This is a brand new game for them. It’s new but at least they bring their curiosity with them and that’s the part I like anywhere I go.”
Millions of people will have seen a Police Academy film (they make the eighth in the series this November for 2013 release) and Michael has appeared in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs and provided the voice of evil Stripe in Gremlins – but people might not necessarily know him as a stand up.
“This has been one of those odd careers and I’m just glad I can do this.
“I don’t even know how it works. I don’t wanna know,” says a comic who once lived homeless in LA’s Venice Beach before cutting a break with the US TV series The Gong Show.
He has lived off his natural skills ever since – and prior to that at school, having grown up on a US airbase.
“You have to fend for yourself. I got lucky. A lot of people make noises. At school, kids would play army a lot and they hated me because I would choose to be the air force.
“It’s a defensive mechanism too, especially when the bigger kids wanna hold you down and make you make noises. You end up finding ways around that too. You’d sometimes get yourself in worse trouble but you could get them back in class.”
Now Michael is larger than life as his audiences hear things most people don’t expect to come from a fellow human being:
“I get to play with a few things.
“We’re covering everything from Armstrong to Zeppelin, A to Z. Hendrix is H, jet noises in J, so we’ve got a whole alphabet of things to cover and a lot of music in the show.”
Michael has worked with orchestras before and says he might bring a ‘virtual band’ with him to Holly Street.
“It’s a hybrid programme,” he says of the show. “My job is to help people forget they’ve got rent due.
“I want to give everyone a bit of as break, so there’s jokes, improv, theatre, music. It’s good physical therapy; this is better than Dr Phil.”
And Michael is determined to prove he’s no one trick pony – even if he can be a pony.
“It depends on what I’m wearing,” he quips.