American comedian Bob Newhart never expected success
Bob Newhart is a legendary figure in American comedy. Alongside a 50 year career as a stand up comic, Newhart starred in two self titled sitcoms, and won a Grammy for his comedy record "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart." According to Newhart, the road to success was long, and utterly unpredictable.
At 83 years old, Bob Newhart continues to perform comedy routines around the country. He's had an extensive career in the funny business.
Newhart began his professional life not as a comedian, but as an accountant. Newhart said he knew early on that accounting wasn't his future, but was too practical to fully devote his time to comedy. For years, Newhart juggled a day job in accounting, while his mind was at work developing sketches. Neither career was proving successful.
"There were moments along the way where I thought 'you've really screwed up your life,'" Newhart said. "Guys I went to high school with were getting married, buying homes, and I was still docking around Chicago with really nothing on the horizon. But it paid off, far in excess of what I'd ever expected."
Newhart said he was deeply influenced by the comedic duo Bob and Ray. While on the job at a stock company, Newhart would call his coworker Ed Gallagher, and the two would stage elaborate comedic phone calls in the deadpan style of Bob and Ray. The duo began recording their routines and sending them out to radio stations, but did not encounter much success.
"It was scary, but I had to find out if I was any good or not. So I set aside a year, and then a year became two, and two became three. At about year four I made a record album, and it went through the roof," he said.
Newhart struck gold when friend and well-known disc jockey Dan Sorkin recommended Newhart to a young and struggling record label, Warner Brothers Recordings. At the time, Newhart had been recording short comedy pieces unsuccessfully for close to ten years. He had never performed at a comedy club, or gained any recognition for his work. His debut album "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart" would change all of that.
"I was thrust into the lime light totally unprepared for what was happening. I never expected the album would be as well received as it was. It was new years every night," Newhart said.
Newhart's debut album soared up the Billboard charts, becoming the first comedy album to take the top position. Soon afterward, Newhart was offered his own variety show, which was followed by two hit sitcoms "The Bob Newhart Show" and "Newhart." In the early 1970s, sitcoms were not the terrain of stand up comedians. Newhart's dry delivery and close collaboration with the cast became the model for stage comedians in sitcoms that followed.
"I think what a stand-up brings to a situation comedy, is they know how to time the joke. They understand the construction of the joke. More importantly what a comedian brings is his knowledge of himself," Newhart said.
Newhart has continued his career performing on the road, and regularly acting in TV shows including NCIS, ER and Desperate Housewives. He has no plan to stop doing the work he loves anytime soon.
"If I think of a great routine, am I going to do it for the dog?" Newhart said. "As long as I'm physically able to travel, and stand up, and still make sense, I just don't see myself stopping. Why would you stop making people laugh?"
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