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I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!: And Other Things That Strike Me as Funnyby Bob Newhart
Synopses & Reviews
The first book ever from an icon of American comedy — a hilarious combination of stories from his career and observations about life.
That stammer. Those basset-hound eyes. That bone-dry wit. There has never been another comedian like Bob Newhart. His comedy albums, movies, and two hit television series have made him a national treasure and placed him firmly in the pantheon of comedy legends. Who else has a drinking game named after him? And now, at last, Newhart puts his brilliant and hysterical world view on paper.
Never a punch-line comic, always more of a storyteller, he tells anecdotes from throughout his life and career, including his beginnings as an accountant and the groundbreaking success of his comedy albums and The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart, which gave him fifteen years on primetime television. And he also gives his wry, comedic twist to a multitude of topics, including golf, drinking, and family holidays.
Today, Newhart appears on Desperate Housewives, in hit movies such as Elf, and in theaters around the country. Reruns of his shows air constantly on Nick at Nite — have recently been released with great success for the first time ever on DVD. With this book, Bob Newhart gives his millions of fans a first ever opportunity to sample his unique brand of humor — including excerpts from some of his classic routines — on the printed page.
"Beginning with his 1960 Grammy-winning album, The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart, the comedian's 46-year career has included nightclub standup, TV series (The Bob Newhart Show), animation voices (The Simpsons), feature films (Catch-22, Elf) — and now his first book. At age 77, Newhart is clearly in his anecdotage, with mirthful memories of his successes and failures. Treating the reader almost as a personal friend, Newhart covers everything in this guided tour through his button-down brain, from his 43-year marriage and fear of flying to fatherhood, Vegas, sitcoms, golf and assorted antics with celebrity pals. Aware that digression is the better part of valor, he interrupts the low-key autobiographical flow with amusing asides, and this rambling look at 'the absurdist side of life' is just as effective in print as on TV, adding depth and dimension to the familiar image of Newhart as a frustrated, flawed everyman. In the tradition of Max Eastman's Enjoyment of Laughter (1936) and Steve Allen's The Funny Men (1956), he analyzes and compares comedy styles. The hilarity is heightened as he reveals how he created his best satirical sketches. Influenced by H. Allen Smith, Robert Benchley, James Thurber and Max Shulman, Newhart himself has now joined that lofty pantheon. (Sept. 19)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It just so happens that George Robert Newhart (no, I didn't know his real first name is George) is the funniest person on the face of the planet, probably in fact the funniest person who ever lived, but if you're looking for grand theories about the art and practice of humor, look elsewhere. 'I'm not a fan of books that examine humor in a scientific fashion,' he says. 'If I ever see another book called... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) "The Serious Side of Comedy," I'm going to throw up. ... The closer you get to understanding humor, the more you begin to lose your sense of humor,' though probably he should have added that the kind of person who conducts such solemn studies probably never had a sense of humor in the first place. In any case: 'Comedy is a way to bring logic to an illogical situation, of which there are many in everyday life. I've always likened what I do to the man who is convinced that he is the last sane man on Earth. This guy is like the Paul Revere of psychotics running through the town and yelling, "This is crazy!" ... A long time ago, I read a news item that illustrated this point nicely. An engineer at a Palm Springs TV station had a private porno tape that he was playing for his buddies in the late shift. Somehow, he accidentally transmitted the tape over the air. The strange thing was that the station didn't receive a single telephone call while the tape was playing, but the minute it was over, the phone lines lit up with outraged callers.' That's a classic Newhart situation, so of course he 'decided to do a routine based on this.' He's been doing just that since the 1950s, finding the ridiculous in the ordinary, as in 'the gag about a guy who is having an affair with his boss' wife. They are making mad, passionate love, and she says, "Kiss me! Kiss me!"' After which he 'looks at her very seriously and replies, "I shouldn't even be doing this!"' Newhart calls this the 'disproportionate side of life,' and he's made a career out of it, with his droll, understated monologues about airplanes and driving instructors and advertising executives and cigarettes and retirement parties and baseball, not to mention his glorious situation comedy 'The Bob Newhart Show,' in which he played the psychologist Bob Hartley and surrounded himself with a supporting cast of sublime looniness. Now he has added to the pleasure he gives the rest of humanity by writing this exceedingly funny memoir, or autobiography, or whatever. It's an agreeably rambling, discursive book, as low-key as Newhart himself and as funny. It includes excerpts from some of his most famous routines, and other laughs that just drop in from the blue, not all of which Newhart himself gets credit for: 'Viagra may be the word that causes people to become a little uptight because they aren't sure what's coming next. I was at dinner with Tim Conway and the subject came up. Tim said, "They say if you have an erection that lasts more than four hours, call your doctor. Hey, if I have an erection that lasts for more than four hours, I'm calling everybody I know."' When Conway reads that he'll probably call Newhart and accuse him of stealing his joke, but as Newhart points out, comedians are forever doing that. Milton Berle was famous, or infamous, for stealing every joke he heard. But Newhart also points out that he himself isn't so much a gag man as a storyteller. His stories do have punch lines — 'Same to you, fella!' — but the stories are as important as the jokes. Invariably, the stories are rooted in ordinary life. My all-time personal favorite, 'The Grace L. Ferguson Airline (and Storm Door Company),' was inspired by Newhart's own discomfort on airplanes. 'I'm one of those passengers who arrives at the airport five or six hours early so I can throw back a few drinks and muster up the courage to board the plane,' he says. 'Apparently I'm not alone because I've never been in an empty airport bar. I don't care what time you get there. Even at 8:00 A.M. you have to fight your way to the bar. At that hour, everyone drinks Blood Marys so no one can tell it's booze — at least until they fall off their chair.' From which Newhart imagined a hung-over pilot flying to Hawaii: 'Good evening. I'd like to welcome you aboard the Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airline (and Storm Door Company). I don't know how much you know about our airline. We've only been in business about a week. Our airline was founded on the premise that what the American public wanted was low-cost overseas transportation. We've attempted to eliminate what we call in the airline business "frills and extras' ... like maintenance and a whole bunch of technical instruments. ... Have you ever had one that hangs on for about four or five days? I don't mind the headache so much, but it's that damn double vision. ...' In that routine Newhart's medium of communication is an intercom, but usually it's a telephone. This seems to have started when he was a young man in Chicago, working as an accountant for the Glidden Company, bored out of his gourd, working on his own 'theory of accounting: If you got within a couple bucks, it was okay' and 'swapping absurd stories on the telephone with my friend Ed Gallagher, who worked in advertising.' They 'recorded routines that were extensions of our phone conversations' and managed to find three radio stations willing to air them. They ended up losing money on the deal, but Newhart kept plugging away. He 'wanted to see if I could somehow make a living at being funny. I had to find out if what people had been telling me up to that point in my life was true — that I was funny. I had to leave the world of accounting and see if I could earn a living at being funny.' So he took only part-time jobs — 'I didn't want to give the impression to a company that I had any intention of staying on' — and kept on writing routines, most notably 'Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue' and 'The Driving Instructor.' Then, in February 1960, a live recording of his best routines was taped at a club in Houston and released two months later as an album called 'The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart.' It was an utter, and utterly unexpected, smash hit. It 'shot to No. 1 on the Billboard record charts, and soon became a true phenomenon.' Newhart was 29 years old and had been living at home with his parents. Now he had a best-selling record album — quickly followed by a second, 'The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back' — and was on a roll: 'The culmination of my surreal year came at the 1961 Grammy Awards saluting the best of 1960. I won best new artist of the year, best comedy performance for "The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back," and album of the year for "The Button-Down Mind." In the album of the year category, I beat out Frank Sinatra. It just got back to me recently that Frank was mad that he didn't win. Amazing. But then again, it didn't take much to upset Frank.' Newhart arrived at a propitious moment for American comedy. He 'was part of that change that shook up the dull Eisenhower years, along with Shelley Berman, Mike (Nichols) and Elaine (May), Jonathan Winters, and, of course, Lenny Bruce,' though for some reason he doesn't mention Mort Sahl — perhaps because Sahl did political humor, which Newhart eschews. It was, in any case, a whole new generation with a whole new style: 'We did situational comedy. We told stories and comedic vignettes. Time magazine dubbed us the "sick comics' because our stories poked at supposedly sacred topics. I was dealing with a revered ex-president, Abraham Lincoln. Shelley did a bit on the taboo topic of suicide. Mike and Elaine did a funeral routine. ... Our audience was equally nontraditional. College kids made up our fan base. Nightclubs were expensive. ... So the college kids ordered pizza and beer and sat around listening to comedy records. Our comedy albums became their nightclubs.' All of which is absolutely true. I was in my junior year at Chapel Hill when Newhart's first album was released, and I clearly remember both the storm of excitement it created and the late-night sessions when my friends and I sat around roaring with laughter to 'The Button-Down Mind,' Sahl's 'The Future Lies Ahead' and 'At the Hungry I,' and 'An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.' All this most definitely was not your father's Oldsmobile: We sensed that we were part of something new, different and bold, and we reveled in it. So, obviously, did Bob Newhart. He was about a decade older than we were, but we considered him both our contemporary and our spokesman. He, meantime, smoothly moved into a long, successful and highly visible career: 'I recorded several comedy albums. ... I starred in several television series, all of which have my name in the title. ... I acted in several movies that didn't have my name in the title. ... All the while, I've been married to the same woman for forty-three years, had four children, played countless rounds of golf, and met some interesting people.' Into the bargain, he gives every evidence of being a nice guy. He's certainly written a very nice, and richly amusing, book. Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is yardleyj(at)washpost.com." Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Bob Newhart is a great comedian and a great American." David Hyde Pierce
"More of a routine than a memoir, but full of the wry, understated self-deprecation that Newhart has perfected." Kirkus Reviews
"The sitcom icon spins out anecdotes from his life pre-fame (as a Chicago accountant, he'd cheat to balance the books) and post- (boozing during the Catch-22 shoot), peppering them with bits from his best-selling 1960 album, The Button-Down Mind. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
About the Author
Bob Newhart is one of America's best-loved comedians. His career highlights include The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart, and ten major films including Catch-22, Legally Blonde 2, and Elf. He guest hosted The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 87 times and more recently earned an Emmy nomination for a guest-starring role on ER. He has been married to Virginia Quinn since 1963; they have four children and several grandchildren. He lives in Southern California.
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