EmptyIn his late 20s, Bob Newhart was still living with his parents. Then, in 1959, Warner Bros. signed the Chicago native to a record contract, and his debut album, "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," shot to No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart, won two Grammys and made Newhart a household name. With two long-running TV series behind him, Newhart on Monday will be inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Bob Newhart: Coming from good Midwestern stock, you go into a profession. Comedy was never a viable alternative until one day I decided to see if I could make it a career. They had a thing called the DEW Line, which was an earlywarning system in northern Canada, where they paid you a lot of money to live for two years because it's so desolate. I considered doing that to get a bankroll, then coming back and trying comedy.
Newhart: It didn't matter to me whether it was radio, television or stand-up. In my case, I made a comedy album, and it went through the roof. Then I had to learn stand-up because that's what I was being offered. Normally, comedians toil in nightclubs for 20 years and then get their big break, but my path was backward.
Newhart: When I started, I played clubs with a lot of protest songs — "If I Had a Hammer" and that kind of thing. We didn't have Comedy Stores yet, but from what I understand, that was a rough existence. Today, you just go on the Internet and do Facebook or YouTube and, if you get enough hits, you get your own TV show.
Newhart: Oh, yeah — that's the adrenaline that precedes every performance. It's funny: Other performers, like dancers or singers, will talk about how well their last gig went. Comedians always talk about the last time they bombed. We think, if we talk about it, hopefully it will never occur again.
Newhart: Occasionally, but it's so rare that it isn't a factor. I almost look forward to it because you can just go off on them. Milton Berle used to hide his mother in the audience to heckle him so he could practice all the put-downs.
Newhart: For a long time it was Jewish comics in New York, but then along came Ed Sullivan. They were doing material about subways and hailing cabs, but when you went on "Sullivan" it had to have national appeal, so humor became very Midwestern for a while. Chicago had (Nichols & May), Lenny Bruce and myself. Ohio had Jonathan Winters and Tim Conway. Jack Benny was from Waukegan, Ill. I've always said you could fool a New York audience or a West Coast audience, but you can't fool a Midwest audience. They don't put on airs; they just look back at you and go: "I'm sorry, I don't get it. I don't see what's so funny."
Newhart: His bravery. Jack wasn't afraid of silence; he relished it because he realized the payoff was going to be that much bigger. Comedians like Henny Youngman would get nervous if there wasn't a joke every seven to eight seconds, but Jack would go a minute and a half without a joke. People always said my timing is the same as Jack's. I don't think you can teach or emulate that; it's something you hear inside your head like a metronome. There's a voice that says, "OK, now!"
Newhart: I had it tested in the (military). It was 119 or 129, which either makes me a genius or not very bright. I think I fall somewhere in between.
Newhart: Maybe become a psychologist — not a psychiatrist, but a psychologist. Comedians are observers of people; you're never on vacation. You go to Oahu with the family and see someone walking on the beach, and you think: "That's a funny walk. I have to remember that." (partialdiff)