Bob Newhart: An Original and a Genius

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BOB NEWHART | The buttoned-down mind

I wrote not long ago about Steve Martin’s memoir…the recently-released memoir of Bob Newhart, another unique and original voice among American comedians, is much lighter fare, but excellent nonetheless.

Where Martin was (and is) something of a tortured mind, Newhart – the accountant-turned stand-up act – is someone who sees life through an indelible comedic lens. This book details his journey from accountant to radio act to recording sensation, when at one point he had to top two-selling albums in the country, ahead of Elvis and Sinatra. I remember watching “The Bob Newhart Show” each week on TV, where he portrayed psychiatrist Bob Hartley, and his wonderful dry wit.

“I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This” is a thoroughly enjoyable book and includes a few of his better-known “telephone” routines. Publishers Weekly writes, “At age 77, Newhart is clearly in his anecdotage, with mirthful memories of his successes and failures. Treating the reader almost as a personal friend, Newhart covers everything in this guided tour through his button-down brain, from his 43-year marriage and fear of flying to fatherhood, Vegas, sitcoms, golf and assorted antics with celebrity pals. Aware that digression is the better part of valor, he interrupts the low-key autobiographical flow with amusing asides, and this rambling look at ‘the absurdist side of life’ is just as effective in print as on TV, adding depth and dimension to the familiar image of Newhart as a frustrated, flawed everyman. In the tradition of Max Eastman’s Enjoyment of Laughter (1936) and Steve Allen’s The Funny Men (1956), Newhart analyzes and compares comedy styles. The hilarity is heightened as he reveals how he created his best satirical sketches.”

In case you’re not familiar with Newhart, check out this (audio-only) version of his famous “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue” routine, where he imagines a telephone conversation between Lincoln and his press agent on the eve of Gettysburg…

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One Response to Bob Newhart: An Original and a Genius

  1. jonbowens says:

    Newhart is one of the funniest and most underrated comedians of all time. I used to watch Newhart everny night before bed growing up, but I had not seen his stand-up routines until college. His spic-and-span clean jokes are funnier than adult ones by most comedians today.

    I love the phone routine about King Kong. Classic.

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