Interviewer: So I just wanted to ask I have read where you said you you grew up listening to this because it may sound I wondered about this as well. You were familiar with them?

David Hyde Pierce: Yeah. I knew that button down comic.

Interviewer: Button Down Mind.

David Hyde Pierce: Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart. That's right. That I liked the nickels in my albums. My family had those. And so when I was little, I would hear them. And I think that was probably the first exposure I had to Bob, although probably some of the the variety shows like Dean Martin and stuff like that, I think in my distant memory. I also saw in there.

Interviewer: Do you remember any favorite routines from those albums or anything?

David Hyde Pierce: The the consistent thing I remember from Bob is always the phone calls and. I think for me, those were early acting lessons. You know, one of the things they tell you about a really good actor is that he knows how to listen. And that was always such an important part of Bob's both on the album and on. And when you're seeing him on screen, what he did when he wasn't speaking and what you imagined and what he caused you to imagine was being set on the other end of the line was such a great art.

Interviewer: And when did you first become exposed to this?

David Hyde Pierce: This means that would have let's say it came on in 72, I think. So I was. 12, 13, and I remember my family, my mom and dad would always watch that Saturday night lineup, which was know unmatched to this day. So that was a ritual for us. And. Again, I just I remember being. I could have been conscious of it, but but fascinated by his ability to do nothing, which is another great gift and a great acting lesson that his stillness and whether he's dealing with Howard or dealing with the crazy patients or whoever. Unlike anyone else on television, his ability to just let you see him thinking and imagine the horrors going on in his mind, how much courage does that take as a performer to just take that time? I think Bob was certainly very courageous doing it because. He was among the first in that format. I mean, it has its roots going back to Jack Benny, doing slow burns. But but Bob went beyond the slow burn. Bob was like a slow, damp, smoky fizzle that it was. He he took that gift to doing nothing to the absolute limit and and made it do everything. And I think I think that's very courageous.

Interviewer: Do you think would you see him making a line on a year, just by the way you listened or reacted or blinked or something?

David Hyde Pierce: He. I think what I took away from him as an actor was that he would make a line funny. By not spinning it, it wasn't his wacky delivery. It wasn't that he was falling over the couch when he said it. It was. The antithesis of what most people at the time and before incense do when they do what we think of as comedy. He always did less. He did less than you thought humanly possible. And and consequently, the lines were ten times as funny.

Interviewer: Is there something about the way audiences respond to that, that you're not sort of going out? Hey, look at me. Look at me and audiences. It appeals to audiences.

David Hyde Pierce: I think that although it's also a courageous thing to take those long pauses and be that silent, it also shows great respect to the audience because it shows that you believe that they can put the pieces together, that they don't need to be spoon fed. The comedy Spoon Fed the Lines told, Oh, this is where you laugh that you just allow them to come to you. Which has always been my favorite kind of comedy.

Interviewer: What about the I mean, he's also known for his delivery and the sort of stammer. I mean, I would think for some comedians that would be almost a liability. There their words is there are other tools, but for him, it works so well.

David Hyde Pierce: Well, he. He created the stammer as its own vocabulary. It's like the playwright David Mamet, who who uses every little sort of vocal interjection very in a metric way, it's almost like poetry. And the same thing with Bob. It wasn't like it was like they were words each each time. Hee hee hee hee. Had to, you know, wait to say something. There was a reason behind it. There was an actor's motivation. I mean, I don't know how much, if any, acting he actually studied, but he aside from being so funny. Those kinds of things were so specific that that's really the sign of a terrific actor.

Interviewer: Was that show. Do you think groundbreaking in any way, like looking back on it?

David Hyde Pierce: I don't know, in the great context of television, what's ground breaking and what isn't. But it. It's certainly in what seemed like a fairly traditional sitcom format. It stood out and I think it stood out because of the writing, because of the uniqueness of the characters and the combination of characters and the actors that played them. But above all, when I think back. It's that image of Bob. In the center of this maelstrom of insanity, just quietly trying to process it and I guess. Allowing us to sort of identify with him.

Interviewer: What about the fact that he had, I mean, came from a standup background and wasn't an actor at all? Is that do you think there were certain advantages or disadvantages not having that acting background that you can see on the screen?

Speaker I guess for me, even though Bob started out as a standup, the nature of his standup, the stuff that you can see when he does Johnny Carson or whoever, when he does those kinds of shows, it's all. It's still acting. It's not it's not joke telling. He creates scenes. He create situations. So I think he was completely prepared for going into situation comedy and also for his later career in films because that there's certain comedians who aren't standup. That's not what they're meant to be doing. They're meant to stand in and do jokes and a kind of aggressive way. And sometimes they can translate that into a sort of limited form of of. Film comedy or TV comedy, but Bob had that real gift of being a real actor, whether he knew it or not.

Interviewer: Do you have any favorite epsiodes or moments that you recall?

David Hyde Pierce: I have to say, I can't tell you a specific episode because I haven't seen them since I was 12 except seeing, you know, retrospectives and stuff like that. But I have very specific, fleeting memories of him sitting in the middle of his psychiatrist office surrounded by loons and in the apartment with Howard popping in and out in his flight suit and always, always an image of Bob trying to put the pieces together of something that made no sense. With with just craziness around him. But you had a feeling that probably no one was really as crazy deep down as he was.

Interviewer: Actually, that's something that. Do you think they did? They say that, you know, a lot of comedians come from pain or anger that's underneath it. And on the surface, Bob, would seem to be kind of an exception to that. But do you think when you see him, do you feel like there's more layers there than you know, more than.

David Hyde Pierce: I think there's more layers to everybody, and I think that, Bob, because of the choices that he made, because of the kind of actor he is, you know, a lot of people I think the stereotype of people who become performers become actors is there. Look at me. People want to get out there and show you their stuff. And Bob, I certainly identify with Bob in that way that he's very introspective. It seems to me I've seen him in social situations and he's a riot. And he can be great on his feet, you know, just spontaneously talking at parties and stuff like that. But he seems to me to be essentially a quiet person, and that automatically gives you more depth because it's a it's a complete contrast to what you're doing, which is performing.

Interviewer: And I read somewhere where you talked about that the idea of letting the audience come to you that way. And is that something that you also got from Bob in the way you're talking about?

David Hyde Pierce: From what I got from Bob, there's several things. First of all, he's one of the strongest early impressions of what acting in comedy is that I ever got. So and there was something about what he does, about the stillness, about the I'm not asking for attention about this sort of simple craft of acting, the part that I immediately identified with. And. The the. The simple communication. Between actors and allowing the audience to watch that and derive their own pleasure and laughter from it, as opposed to the more vaudevillian kind of performing of broadcasting it out to the house. Those were the things that I have, I think had the strongest influence on me, and probably also I have to credit him with a lot of my early success, because since most actors don't do that. And since he was such an influence on me than I think it allowed me to stand out in my own career as someone who tended to do less, hang back more, used things like silence more, and that I can directly credit with him with.

Interviewer: Has he ever given you any advice or he wouldn't.

David Hyde Pierce: So often he said, get out of the business. And he's he's a good role model that way. He's a real godfather to all of us. No. We've, you know, met on a few wonderful occasions. And mainly it's been me yammering on about how much I love him and respect him. So he hasn't been able to get a word in edgewise, which is perfect for him.

Interviewer: What about when you on Frazier, you obviously played a psychiatrist. I don't know. Did it occur to you did did you think about him on his show?

David Hyde Pierce: I certainly thought about Bob. When we were doing Frazier and Keelson, I were playing therapist. And of course, Kel's had more actual scenes with patients in the course of the series. But. But I had a few and I know I know that the archetype of Bob laboring with his patients was in the back of my head all the time. You just can't. That really is I mean, I sitcoms. That's the image of the therapist and his victims. And yeah, I can still see that couch in those terrible clothes that they all were.

Interviewer: I mean, at the time, I don't know. Again, you were 12 or 13 at the time. But did it all seem I mean, that was. People didn't really talk about therapy and nobody really. I don't know if that did that register at all. That was kind of it.

David Hyde Pierce: I don't think for me, I didn't notice that. Oh, my God. Their psychiatrist. And they're talking about issues that we shouldn't be talking about. But. Something that he did do, which I don't think consciously we imitated, but we also did on Fraizer, which was even though it was a comedy. And even though the patients were kind of loopy, he treated everyone with great respect. He was a good therapist. And that was an important choice, because if he was goofy and gave stupid advice just for the laughs, it really would have undermined the character. And I think that was a very smart thing for them to do, is that he was good at his job.

Interviewer: Although I was looking back and speaking a lot of cliches.

David Hyde Pierce: Yes. Well, yes. And then those patients never got better. So I think that's the definition of a good psychiatrist.

Interviewer: What about the ones I did watch that some.

David Hyde Pierce: And it was, again, a very, you know, great cast and a funny show, I think by that point. I was more off working in theater and stuff, so my hours weren't as conducive to TV. So I think the strongest impressions I got from Bob were from the first show.

Interviewer: And but as someone who's been on a hit show, though, I mean, it's incredibly rare, isn't it, for for some one person?

David Hyde Pierce: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, Bob did what what Kelsi eventually did, which was go, but Kell's wasn't the lead of cheers. But to have two successful shows back to back anyway is amazing. To have been the lead, to have been kind of the same character and kind of not. Yeah, it's very rare. And he's just it's he's a persona, obviously, that people love and love to watch and don't grow tired of. That's that's I don't think about that before. But that's also true because he gives himself a very restricted vocabulary in terms of physical behavior and the way he speaks and all that stuff. And yet he was able to be endlessly resourceful and creative and interesting through all the years of both those shows. So that's quite an achievement.

Interviewer: Does that no. I think this one was right in your space.

David Hyde Pierce: It's the other shoe falling.

Interviewer: Is he is he basically always playing a version of himself and is that something that. If that works, is that something that that great stars can do and yet bring something fresh to it at the same?

David Hyde Pierce: I don't know if Bob's always playing himself for different versions of himself. He's playing different versions often of that character that he's created for people. And. That has to be a huge part of who he is, that character, because he's so good at it. But there is a difference. I mean, when you talk to him in real life, he doesn't have the stammer and he doesn't know he. He is all those things that he does are very carefully crafted choices that he's made.

Interviewer: Although he's not like one of these performers as he sort of puts on character when he does. Feels organic to him.

David Hyde Pierce: Exactly that, that he's he's not he's not external. Again, something that I like about his acting is that it comes from the inside. And you sort of go as an audience. You go to the inside to see what's going on, because there's so little happening here. It forces you to somehow go in his eyes and into his brain to figure out what's happening. And that's pretty cool.

Interviewer: Do you think also that I've heard you talk about that you prefer? Doing TV to movies in some ways because of the scale of the performance. And do you think is that something that you can see for Bob as well?

David Hyde Pierce: I don't know, Bob. I think Bob works awfully well on film. He seems to be able to do just about anything. Having seen him on stage, haven't seen him in the TV show and film, I don't. I think his his gift sort of transcends what specific medium he's in or that he's able to adjust it just enough to make it suit the form.

Interviewer: I mean, he said, I guess that he prefers TV or comedy because the audience.

David Hyde Pierce: Yeah. Well, I think certainly for Bob, having started in standup, he would love that audience feeling. But I also know for me, coming, having a theatrical background, you can't replace the energy. The thing that happens in that three way between you and your fellow actors and the live audience, and I think I wouldn't speak for Bob, but I know for me, when you're on a movie set and everyone has to do everything they can, not to laugh, it sort of defeats the whole purpose.

Interviewer: That's true. You said you've. Appreciated him and in some of his movies, I wonder if you had any examples of.

David Hyde Pierce: No.

Interviewer: That's fine. Excuse me. Where do you see his his impact? And sort of later generations, how do you see on television or in the comedy?

David Hyde Pierce: I think his his impact is. Like his series- continuous. Because not only is it all available on DVD. They play it on TV all the time and younger generations are able to see it. But also there's a lot of folks like me who are carrying on the tradition. Who were, you know, really inspired by what he did. And either just through outright stealing or out of an understanding of that kind of comedy, I think that has its roots. There's a lot of that. I think Kelsey probably would say the same thing that he, I imagine, site Bob is as an influence as well. It's that whole school of deadpan comedy that that goes back to Buster Keaton and Stalin.

Interviewer: What do you see other influences on him and his style of comedy? Can you see the.

David Hyde Pierce: Well, I wouldn't presume to. I mean, Bob would have to say, you know, who his influences were. Certainly he's in the tradition, like I said, of of Buster Keaton, if Buster Keaton didn't fall down a lot. And. Who else? Jack Benny. Yeah. I don't know who he grew up watching and and whether his roots were in film and television or whether it was more seeing people live in clubs.

Interviewer: He cites Jack Benny.

David Hyde Pierce: He does. That makes sense.

Interviewer: And what about his influence on, you know, sort of just the observational stand up comic? Moving into sitcom territory, can you see that in some of the other shows that have.

Speaker Trying to think, I think if people like Jackie Gleason, who had obviously done The Honeymooners. So Bob's kind of in a tradition of performers, I guess, stage performers, standups doing. TV, but he was also really in the thick of that whole recorded standup time. And people like Bill Cosby and well, obviously now Jerry Seinfeld. But he certainly made it look like a good deal for any any standup. Who would think, gee, should I do a TV series? If he looked at Bob Newhart to say, well, it could be that good? Then yeah.

Interviewer: I mean, actually, I think he was one of the first to transition. Quite that way, so you can. Do you think he sort of has paved the way for people like I mean, it seems like before then now it's sort of common stand ups,.

David Hyde Pierce: Right?

Interviewer: That's what they want, is a sitcom.

David Hyde Pierce: Right. I think Bob may have paved the way for standups to do sitcoms, but. He he also it was a particularly gifted. Standup, although there are very fine stand ups who have done very successful shows, people like Jerry Seinfeld. I think there are people who fall along the wayside, too, because it is a different animal and not everyone can make that transition, and Bob was certainly sort of the template for the perfect person to be able to do both.

Interviewer: Why do you think he. What is it about that makes him so? His humor is so timeless. I mean, it's not that it wasn't topical or that it just wears well. What is it about?

David Hyde Pierce: Well, I guess his humor is timeless in part because it's not so topical. He wasn't. On. Let me think about that. I think the thing that makes his humor timeless is it's just so damn good. And I think it wouldn't matter if he were telling a topical joke. I think it would somehow still translate because he's just so funny and. He just has that gift of bringing you along with him into his, you know, button down mind, unbuttoning his button down mind, I guess you'd say. And that'll that'll go on forever.

Interviewer: And. Let me break for one second.

David Hyde Pierce: I'll drink a drink.

Interviewer: And I just wondered if you could, you know him, you've met him personally so many times, and what if there's any difference between his offstage person and his onstage persona.

David Hyde Pierce: I think the main difference between Bob onstage and Bob offstage is that when he's offstage, he's not actually on the stage. Other than that, there's no difference. No, I guess he yeah, he it's it's it's interesting, you have to really observe him because he's a low key guy. In a way he lights up more offstage because he's kind of got a deadpan thing he has to do onstage. So whereas most performers, when they go onstage, they suddenly their adrenaline shoots up and they go through the roof. He becomes very focused, but he's so busy doing whatever the scene or the sketches that he's doing that. It's just it's a more focused version of him, whereas offstage he's looser. And drinks like a fish.

Interviewer: He'll be happy. And just what do you think? You know, legacy will be.

David Hyde Pierce: I think if I can not humbly point to myself, I can say that Bob Newhart s legacy is certainly one of hair loss. And that's something that's gone on for many of us that we were so inspired by Bob's hair line that we just, you know, took it on as our own. And that's something you can always be proud of.

Interviewer: It gives you the faith to carry on. That's right. That's great. Do you have any stories or anything about.

David Hyde Pierce: No, I don't think so.

Interviewer: I hear that he's a little more PG13 then PG in private life.

David Hyde Pierce: He is I mean, I won't I wouldn't get into that because I couldn't give you great specifics about it, but. Yes, I hope. Hopefully your some of his colleagues will be able to tell you that stuff because, yeah, he is.

Interviewer: Thank you. Julia Duffy said that some. She's thinking of stories and she had a hard time coming up with any of that.

David Hyde Pierce: That's funny.

Interviewer: Very naughty.

David Hyde Pierce: Yeah, yeah.

Interviewer: I think that's it.

David Hyde Pierce: OK, great. Thank you.

Interviewer: And the room tone on two microphones, 10 seconds. Andrew, due to my favorite part.

David Hyde Pierce
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"David Hyde Pierce, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 31 May. 2005,
(2005, May 31). David Hyde Pierce, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"David Hyde Pierce, Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 31, 2005. Accessed July 02, 2022


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