Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned

Interview with Bob Newhart

Comedian Bob Newhart has enthralled audiences with his trademark stammer, one-sided telephone conversations and hysterical, historical “what if” routines for more than 40 years. What makes him tick? Below, Newhart provides some additional answers:

Q: You’re almost as hot now as you were in your sitcom heyday. How do you explain your longevity?

A: Really, it’s for somebody else to explain. I just keep showing up … I’ve finally come to the realization that I may just have a future in this!

Q: You’ve influenced so many of today’s comics. Who are your comedy heroes?

A: Well, of course Jack Benny, George Burns, any really good comedian who I’ve ever watched, because I would kind of examine how they worked, what made that so funny. And, of course, Richard Pryor. When you take away the language, the ideas underneath the language are so rich. I think he’s the seminal comedian of the last 50 years. I think he’s influenced us all.

Q: Of today’s comics, name a few of your favorites.

A: Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright, Jake Johannsen — but not too many people know about him. Garry Shandling, and many others. The other night on Letterman, I watched a comedian that was very funny and very original, but I don’t remember his name — I’m very open to the up-and-comers.

Q: Would you share one or two of your most memorable career moments?

A: I would say one has to be getting three Grammy Awards in (I believe) 1961, including Album of the Year.

Q: You do up to 40 stand-up dates a year. Where do you get the inspiration for your material?

A: The same place: the newspapers, television, just watching people. Comedians are never really on vacation because you’re always at attention … that antenna is always out there. You could be on vacation in Hawaii and all of a sudden you’ll see someone do something funny and you’ll say “Oh, I gotta remember that” or the waiter will have a funny accent. I suppose your source of material is the world. You never know when you’ll come upon something and it’s going to be fodder for new material.

Q: What was your reaction when you heard the recording of your earliest comedy routines unearthed by AMERICAN MASTERS?

A: One of my friends had a copy and AMERICAN MASTERS was nice enough to make me a copy. I didn’t even know it had existed. I listened to some of the bits and to hear Ed Gallagher’s voice, back to that place in time, which was probably 1957, and then to be considered for AMERICAN MASTERS from those humble beginnings, it just really is “you’ve come a long way baby.” Let’s just say that.

Q: Of all your accomplishments, of what are you most proud?

A: I’m most proud of the longevity of my marriage, my kids, and my grandchildren. If you don’t have that, you really don’t have very much.

Q: What’s the secret to a successful marriage and do you think your career choice made a difference?

A: Well, my career choice made a difference because I never would have met my wife, Jenny. I met her through comedian Buddy Hackett. He set us up on a blind date and then we got married. I think one reason for a successful marriage is laughter. I think laughter gets you through the rough moments in a marriage. If you look at Jack Benny, George Burns, or Don Rickles, they’ve all had long, successful marriages. So, I think there’s something about laughter and the durability of a marriage.

Q: Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to do in the coming years?

A: I think I’ve done more than I thought I was ever going to do. No, I’ve had a very long and very satisfying career.