Sunday, September 06, 2015

Bob Newhart: The Master of Dry, Subtle Humor

Comedy legend Bob Newhart just turned 86 years old. There are very few showbiz personalities of his generation that are still around. Some that come to mind are Jerry Lewis and Don Rickles. For over 50 years, Newhart has been a beloved star of television, film and standup comedy. He has always had a calm demeanor, and he delivers his jokes with a quiet subtlety. He is not an over-the-top wacky goofball comic like Jerry Lewis or Martin Short. He can say a lot with just a few words and a deadpan expression on his face. In this way he is similar to one of his idols, Jack Benny. He is known as a clean comedian who does not find it necessary to resort to using profanity. He has released 10 comedy albums. Some may not be surprised that before hitting it big in comedy, he worked as an accountant. He has the analytical, serious personality of one who would work well with numbers.

One odd fact is that he starred in 3 different TV shows that bore his name. Okay, technically 4 shows, but the details on the first show, from 1961-62, are sketchy. IMDB says that he appeared in 8 episodes. But, there are writing credits for 15-18 episodes. The premiere of each show after that was 10 years apart.

In 1972 he launched The Bob Newhart Show (142 episodes). He played a Chicago psychologist named Bob Hartley. The subject matter made for fertile comedy material, focusing on his odd patients and their psychological struggles. This show was a big break for co-stars Suzanne Pleshette and Marcia Wallace.

In 1982 he starred in Newhart (184 episodes). He played the owner of an Inn in Vermont named Dick Louden. His co-stars included Mary Frann, Peter Scolari (who did Bosom Buddies with Tom Hanks) and Tom Poston. Some may recall the quirky trio of Larry, Daryl and Daryl.

In 1992 he starred in Bob (33 episodes), where he played Bob McKay, a cartoonist. This was the shortest lived of his TV shows that bore his name. Various celebrities appeared on the show such as Betty White, Tom Poston, Lisa Kudrow and Steven Wright.

He was a favorite guest of Johnny Carson on his NBC Tonight Show. Newhart was Johnny's frequent guest host, filling in for Johnny a staggering 87 times. After Jack Paar left the show in 1962, Newhart was considered as his replacement, but the job went to Carson. Groucho Marx and Jackie Gleason were also in the running to host the iconic late night show.

In the 1960s Newhart appeared on shows hosted by some of entertainment's biggest stars. He appeared on shows hosted by Judy Garland, The Smothers Brothers, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason. He appeared on Dean Martin's show 24 times.

In more recent years he has appeared on a variety of TV shows including The Simpsons, Murphy Brown, Saturday Night Live, ER, NCIS, The Big Bang Theory and Hot in Cleveland.

Newhart has been married to his wife Ginny since 1963, and they have four children.

* Some information from

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