A Conversation with Bob Newhart
In the mid-1950s, Bob Newhart was just your average accountant. He was moonlighting for a local radio station, writing and performing comedy sketches. Somewhere along the way, he realized his motto of "That's close enough" meant he wasn't cut out for a life of balancing the books. Lucky for us.
Host Alan Rosenberg talks with the venerable comedian about his fifty-some years in show biz, and living life with grace, vitality and humor. And there is much to talk about.
With his deadpan delivery, slight stammer and one-sided conversations, Newhart is everyone's "every man". In his classic "Driving Instructor" routine, Newhart plays a harried fellow dealing with an inept student driver. The routine was featured on the album The Button Down Mind, which won a Grammy Award in 1961 and established Newhart in the pantheon of great comedians. There have been many albums since then, as well as countless television appearances on The Tonight Show, The Dean Martin Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. His movies span the decades, including Hell Is For Heroes, Catch-22 and Elf. His first sitcom lasted just one season in 1962, but it won an Emmy.
Newhart talks about the pleasure he's had making people laugh through the decades. His hit sitcoms, The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart, were an indelible part of the 1970s and '80s. And Newhart often encounters fans that feel like he's an old friend. "When you're on TV," Newhart says, "You become part of their lives." Newhart's website even tells fans seeking autographed photos that "Bob handles all of his fan mail personally so be patient."
Though Newhart is nearing 80, he still performs numerous concert dates throughout the year. He's been nominated for an Emmy for a guest-starring role on ER, and he has a recurring role on Desperate Housewives. He's also voiced a character on The Simpsons. And in 2006 he published I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, a memoir about his life in show business. There's just no such thing as retirement where Newhart is concerned. "When an idea strikes me, what, am I going to do it for the cat?" he says. "I need it as much as the audience."
He will admit, though, that there are the attendant aches and pains that come with his age and keeping up his performing pace. But he's philosophical: "You just have to remind yourself how lucky you are to still be doing it," Newhart says.
In this interview excerpt, Newhart explains his favorite part about growing older: "learning what's really important."