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October 13, 2009

Bob Newhart - Funniest Man on the Face of the Earth? Or Just One of Them?

(apologies: one of the clips below automatically starts playing. It's funny as hell, but you may want to go pause it until you've read the post)

In the "Who's Writing This Blog" section of, well, this blog, I mention that the title of the blog makes it obvious that I'm a fan of Bob Newhart.  However, that may not mean anything to some of you who are, well, younger than me (or at least a few years younger, at least).  Sure, you may have heard of Bob Newhart.  You've probably seen him in a few commercials or in a movie here and there (he was Will Ferrell's father in Elf, for example).  But you probably have no idea why my title was inspired by him.  Basically, it's an homage to the name of Newhart's first comedy album (or one of them, anyway) in the 1960s called "The Buttoned-Down Mind of Bob Newhart."  And there's a reason I worship the ground this man walks on.

I first became a fan of Bob when I was a kid and the Newhart show was on.  This wasn't The Bob Newhart Show, where he played a psychiatrist.  This was the one set in Vermont.  I was 12 years old when it first came on, and I think I loved the show from day 1, or shortly thereafter, anyway.  I had seen Bob's earlier show in syndication, but it was always on at an inconvenient time and I was probably too young to really appreciate it.

Bob's famous for his stand-up comedy, though he has had two successful television series and three relatively unsuccessful ones.  His stand-up is full of routines where he either gives one side of a phone conversation or some other type of conversation, reacting to the other person who the audience can't see or hear.  One hilarious bit has him playing a new security guard in the Empire State Building on the night King Kong decides to climb it.  Another has him as the captain of a submarine, the USS Codfish, just about to come into port after a year-long cruise, addressing his crew.  It has to be heard to be believed, as a quote can't do it justice.

One of the things I love about him is that he comes off as just one of us normal guys.  He has a stammer that just adds to his comedic talent (and hearing him talk, it is not part of his act).

I had the privilege (ok, we had to pay for the tickets, but I still consider it a privilege) to see him in concert a couple of years ago.  He's now 80 years old, so he was 78 at the time, and he's still going strong.  He tours some, I don't know how much.  But the fact that the's still on the road at all shows what a performer he is.  I am so glad I got the chance to see him live before he decides to stop performing.  It was a true pleasure to see him.  He does tell some jokes, but it's largely routines that he's known for.  He also played a wonderful tribute to his friend Tom Poston, who had died just a few days before, which I found incredibly touching.

I also reviewed his biography, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! on Epinions.  It's a fabulous book with great anecdotes from his life as well as a couple of his entire routines.  This book, along with some of the interviews of him I've seen, shows what a family man he is, how much he loves his wife and children, and just what an all-around great guy he is.  He's a clean comic, too.  I think I heard one mildly dirty word in his performance here in Vancouver, and I've never known him to swear.  While he does mention in the book that he has no problem with comedians who do, and finds quite a few of them funny, it just isn't him.  Personally, I think it would destroy the natural purity of his comedy if he resorted to it.

Being 80 years old, it's very possible that he won't be with us that much longer.  Personally, I hope he beats George Burns and lives to be over 100, but you never can tell.  I'm so glad that I finally got a chance to see him, and if I ever met him, I'd shake his hand and tell him what a wonderful brightness he brings into a bad mood or whatever, just sitting down and listening to his comedy.  He is truly a comedic treasure.

I'll leave you with a couple of clips of him.  The first is my favourite routine, and probably the most recognized of his routines.  It's called "The Driving Instructor," and you'll fall out of your chair laughing.


The second is a sketch with Dean Martin that I had never seen until he showed it at his performance that we attended. Watching Martin trying to keep a straight face is priceless, and I love it both times they break character and make a comment on what's happening.



  1. You gave me my laugh for the day. I never heard those . Would like to hear more.


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