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Interview With Bob Newhart

Aired November 29, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, the one and only Bob Newhart. He starred in two of the best and best-loved sitcoms in TV history.

BOB NEWHART, COMEDIAN: Excited can't begin to describe the feelings I'm feeling.


KING: And he quietly revolutionized American comedy in the early '60s.


NEWHART: Where anything can happen but never seems to.


KING: Bob Newhart, a living legend of comedy, one on one for the hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

My special guest tonight is an old friend, a dear man, and a legend in American comedy. He is Bob Newhart.

On October 29, Bob received the Mark Twain Prize, and then again, on November 13, PBS aired a 90-minute special surrounding that prize and a personal appearance that Newhart has made. And, by the way, even though this is playing after both of those, PBS will be repeating it frequently.

It's always a great pleasure to welcome him. He's not -- he hasn't been here often enough. It's good to see him. Bob Newhart, comedian, actor, star of the famed series "The Newhart Show" and "Newhart."

And when they gave him the Fifth Annual Mark Twain Prize, Michael Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center, said, "The Universal appeal of Bob Newhart's self-effacing yet clever and pointed humor makes him a perfect choice. He makes us laugh at ourselves with grace and great skill."

How were you informed of this prize?

NEWHART: It came totally out of the blue. I was -- I got a call from Peter Kominski (ph) who I had worked with before. We worked on a video together. And he said, "I just called to let you know you're the recipient of the 2002 Mark Twain Award," and I -- I certainly didn't think I was -- that I was in line for it. I mean, I thought there were a few more people in front of me.


KING: Well, it had to -- it had to blow your mind.

NEWHART: It -- Yes, it is. It's -- you think about where you started and here you are at the Kennedy Center. This is a long way White House -- when I was working for the Illinois compensate board. I worked behind the counter.

KING: Did you really? I thought you were an accountant?

NEWHART: I was in acc -- I left accounting. I went into copyrighting. That didn't work out. And so then, I decided I was just going to see what happened if I tried to get into comedy, and so I...

KING: And how -- how did you get in?

NEWHART: I got in -- I was working at the unemployment office, and we got $60 a week. This was in the late '50s.

KING: In Chicago?

NEWHART: In Chicago. The claimants -- the claimants got $52.


NEWHART: That's true.

KING: You made eight bucks a week more than the unemployment.

NEWHART: And they only had to come in one day a week. I was starting to figure out, "Whoa. Wait a minute."

KING: They got a better deal.

NEWHART: I was in Chicago. That's where I was born and, you know, grew up, and then a friend of mine was a disc jockey, a guy named Dan Sorkin, who was a very...

KING: Famous man.

NEWHART: Yes. Very big disc jockey in Chicago. So he -- I'd worked with him on a program he did following "The Parr Show," which was a big show in Chicago. So I was a writer/performer on that. So...

KING: While working in the unemployment office?

NEWHART: No, the unemployment office -- I finally had left the unemployment office. KING: OK.

NEWHART: That -- that was just to kind of tide me over.

KING: So your first comedy bit was with Sorkin?



NEWHART: And, right now, baseball is news. Dan, you want to tell him about our baseball catch?

DAN SORKIN, RADIO SHOW HOST: Well, it's your show, Bob.

NEWHART: And don't ever forget it, Dan.


NEWHART: And so the Warner Brother Record people came through town, and Dan said, "I have this friend of mine who I think is very funny." So they said, "Well, we'd like to hear him." Now I don't know if they said, "We'd like to hear him," or because Dan was such a big disc jockey, they really wanted to hear me.

So he said, "Put some routines down on tape," and I drew three routines. I had the -- I had Abe Lincoln. I had the submarine commander and the driving instructor. Those were the three I had.

KING: Still three of my favorite classics.


NEWHART: Our voyage has received a lot of coverage in the newspaper, and I'd like to present our side of it. I think our firing on Miami Beach can best be termed ill-timed.

It happened on what they call in the newspaper business a slow news day and, as a result, received a lot more space than I think it -- I think it deserved, since it was the off season down there.


NEWHART: So I put them down on tape and played them for them, and they said, "OK. OK. We like it. We'll record you at your next nightclub." And I said, "Well, see, we got a problem there. I've never played a nightclub." They said, "Well, we'll have to get you into a nightclub." So they booked me into the Tidelands (ph) in Houston, Texas, and...

KING: Is that where that was recorded?

NEWHART: February of 1960.

KING: Then why do -- why do I associate you with San Francisco?

NEWHART: Well, then, the second album was there, "The Hungry Eye."

KING: The first was "The Button-Down Mind," right.


KING: Now I was a disc jockey then in Miami. I played "The Button-Down Mind," and when I got...

NEWHART: I remember, yes.

KING: ... that album, I couldn't believe how funny it was, how dry your humor was, and how -- were you funny kid in high school? Were you the laugh of the class? Because you're so low key, Bob.

NEWHART: I was never...

KING: You have to admit...


KING: ... you're not Mr. Dynamite.

NEWHART: Oh, yes. No. Listen, I'm very happy the way I am. No, I was never the class clown. I was the guy on the edges of the crowd, and I would say something to the guy next to me, and he'd break up, and then the guy next to him would say, "What did he say?" and then he'd break up.

KING: So you never saw...

NEWHART: No, no.

KING: ... yourself as a performer?

NEWHART: No, I just wanted to -- I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life wondering -- I wonder what would have happened if I had done this. I just decided -- after I left accounting, I was going to try to break into comedy. If I didn't break in, then that was -- that was that.

KING: And that album took off, didn't it? "The Button-Down Mind."

NEWHART: Yes, it was wild. It just...

KING: And what did it do for you? Got you bookings? I mean, did it send you soaring so...

NEWHART: Well, yes. After the -- I mean, all of a sudden, I -- you know, two years ago, I was working at the unemployment office, and now I'm getting calls, "How many Ed Sullivan shows do you want to do?" You know -- so it was -- it was a heady time, and -- and I really --

I mean, the first time I walked out on a nightclub floor, I was terrified, absolutely terrified, but you can't ever let them know you're scared because, if you let them know you're scared, you're dead meat. So I had to learn my craft, you know. I had to go out there...

KING: How did you overcome it the first time? Depend on material solely?

NEWHART: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I just went from one -- one night, I went out. I had 18 minutes. That's all I had. I was the opening act for Ken and Mitzi Walsh (ph) who wrote a lot of Carol Burnett's special material. So I went out, and I did it, and it went -- it was well received, people were applauding, and I'm --

I walked off, and I walked by the maitre d's desk, and he said, "Go back out." And then, I said, "Well, that's all I have." He said, "Well, they're applauding. Go back out." So I went back out, and I said, "Which one would you like to hear again?"



NEWHART: I've just been notified that we'll be surfacing in just a moment, and you will be happy to know that you'll be gazing on the familiar skyline of either New York City or Buenos Aries? Is that -- I can't"...


KING: "The Hungry Eye" was a big hit, the San Francisco club. What was special about that place?

NEWHART: It was -- well, of course, a lot of people came out of there. Mort Sol (ph) came out of there. The Limelighters. The Kingston Trio. It was just...

KING: As far away as Miami, we used to dream that this must have been some magical place. Look at all these good acts that came out of "The Hungry Eye" in the '60s.

NEWHART: It was -- well, it was the young -- the audience was young. You know, the audience was in nightclubs where -- the guys in nightclubs were saying, "Take my wife, please." They were doing mother-in-law jokes, and we weren't doing mother-in-law jokes, you know, and it was a college audience, a lot of college kids.

KING: And they sure took to you.

NEWHART: Yes, it was -- yes. Then I played here at the Crescendo (ph), and -- and I come out, and there's George Burns and Jack Benny sitting in the front row. There's Danny Kaye over there, and it was...

KING: Did you, Bob, enjoy your fame?

NEWHART: Well, I'll tell you the truth I wish -- I wish I had married Jenny earlier because I would have liked to have shared that time with her. I really didn't have a -- one person.

KING: Someone to come home to to say...


KING: ... "Look what I did tonight."

NEWHART: Look -- yes. Isn't that wild?

KING: So you were a hit, then got married, right?


KING: Because the first time I interviewed you in Miami Beach -- and you were at the top of the game -- and you -- you walked on the -- you were coming across the street to the house boat. No one recognized you.


KING: And you said no one ever recognizes you, that you're a meter reader. You're like the guy who reads the meter.

NEWHART: No, I always say that people think that -- the guys think they were in the Army with me, and the women think I was their first husband, you know. They'll say to me, "Where's the check, you -- oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else."

KING: Our guest is the wonderful Bob Newhart, the certainly deserving recipient of the Fifth Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor or Comedy. It's given by the people at the Kennedy Center. You can't get a finer gift or honor.

We'll be right back.


NEWHART: Hello. Who's calling? Sir Walderalli (ph) from the Colony (ph). Yes. Put him on, will you?

Harry (ph), pick up your extension, will you? It's nutty Wald (ph) again.

Hi, Wald (ph), Baby. Good hearing your voice. Things are fine here, Wald (ph). The boat load of turkeys you sent us over here last November -- they're still here, Wald. Yes, they're walking all over London. See, that isn't a holiday over here, Wald (ph). Just in America.





NEWHART: I know you don't like maudlin kind, you know, things. JOHNNY CARSON, COMEDIAN: We're both the same.

NEWHART: We're very similar, from the Midwest, and kind -- you kind of go -- Don't go, Johnny! Don't go, Johnny! Don't go, Johnny! Please!

CARSON: All right. You -- now you won't have any place to go.

NEWHART: I lost it there. I'm sorry.

CARSON: You won't have any place to go to plug your shows anymore.


KING: We're back with Bob Newhart.

Is -- humor in difficult times. Harder?

NEWHART: No, not harder. You have to -- there's a distance between the event and the time you can do humorous things about it.

KING: So you wouldn't work on 9/12 after 9/11.

NEWHART: Oh, no. I had to cancel some dates, yes.

KING: Right, yes.

NEWHART: But I -- at one time, I was working with Dinah Shore. We were doing a theater in the round in Anaheim, and it was at the time of JFK's assassination in '63, November '63. So we were dark for a couple of nights, and the -- Sammy Lewis (ph) --

You probably remember Sammy Lewis (ph), the promoter. He -- he called us up, and he said, "Look, I'm getting killed at the box office," you know. He said, "Would you and Dinah consider doing a show tonight?" And I said, "Well, if Dinah will do it, I'll do it." So Dinah said she'd do it.

So I went out and did the show, and it was one of the best audiences I ever played to in my life because they had to get away from that horrible news, and that's one of the things that comedians do. We help people get past times like that.

KING: But we -- the trick is when to do it and what you do when you do it.

NEWHART: You can do it too early, yes. You can do it too early.

KING: OK. How did you get to television?

NEWHART: You mean the sitcom?

KING: Yes.

NEWHART: Oh, I was on the road for, you know, 12 years, from the '60s to '72.

KING: Working big clubs now.


KING: Big rooms. Big as Miami Beach?

NEWHART: Yes. As a matter of fact, I did a movie with Steve McQueen and Bobby Darin and Fess Parker called "Hell is for Heroes."


NEWHART: Wait a minute, Sergeant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, but we're taking your jeep.


NEWHART: I'm supposed to be throughout the whole movie. Don Siegel was the director. So now my money has gone out to nightclubs. So I go to Don Siegel, and I'm trying to get knocked off in the movie so that I can accept some of these offers.

KING: You want to get killed.

NEWHART: I want to get killed. So I'd come up to him every day with an -- I'd say, "One of the tanks -- you know, when the tanks come over the hill, I could like trip," and he said, "No, no, no. You're in the movie for the rest -- for the whole thing."

My manager, Arthur Price (ph), founded -- along with Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker MTM, and he said, "Would you like to do a television series?" and I said, "Yes, I would," because it would get me off the road, I could spend more time with the family, and he said, "Well, let me get some writers, and we'll try to come up with an idea."

So we shot the pilot, and the pilot was running a little long. So the producers came up to me, and they said, you know, "Can you run some of your speeches together because the pilot's running kind of long." We have to get it down to 30 minutes."


NEWHART: Emily, do you have any hostility to Mr. Carlin (ph)?



NEWHART: And I explained -- I said, "This stammer has gotten me a home in Beverly Hills. I'm not about to change it. So you better take some of the words out because"...

KING: Because you -- that stammer...

NEWHART: It's a stammer.

KING: That works with you.


NEWHART: Would you give Emily this -- this -- this message. I wish you were here. I miss you very much. I'll see you after the game Sunday. And I -- I love you.


KING: The idea of being a doctor, a psychiatrist...

NEWHART: Yes, psychologist.

KING: Psychologist. And the people in -- well, in that office building.


KING: Was that it from the start? They said, "Let's make you a doctor." And did you like that idea?

NEWHART: Well, originally, I was a doctor. They wanted to make...

KING: A doctor doctor? Medical doctor?

NEWHART: No, I -- they wanted to make me a psychiatrist, and I said, "I don't think I should be a psychiatrist. I think I should be a psychologist," because psychiatrists deal with more seriously disturbed people, you know, schizophrenics and bipolar people and that kind of thing. So I insisted on being a psychologist.

Originally, we were -- a lot of the pilot focused around the condominium we lived in, but then we dropped that idea, and we -- so we had the office, and we had the -- my crazy patients that I never helped in six years. I mean, Mr. Carlin (ph) was as bad off as when he first came to me six years later.

And then Suzy and Bill Daily at home. So...

KING: The pilot, right.

NEWHART: Bill, yes.

KING: Yes. Bill.

NEWHART: Yes. He was...

KING: It all...

NEWHART: He was a navigator. He never made to it pilot.

KING: Was it a hit right away?

NEWHART: We struggled a little bit. We were behind Mary Tyler Moore, which was a great time slot. It was -- as you remember...

KING: You followed her?

NEWHART: Yes. It was "All in the Family," "M.A.S.H.," "Mary Tyler Moore," us and "Carol Burnett." That was the Saturday night lineup on CBS.

KING: Not bad.

NEWHART: And it took us a while to get our legs. But, by the end of the year, we were pulling our weight.

KING: And how long was that show on?

NEWHART: Six years.

KING: And why did it go off?

NEWHART: I decided that six years was enough.


BILL DAILY, ACTOR: Ah, OK, let me get this straight. You're giving up your practice, you're moving out of the building, and you're moving to Oregon, and I won't be your neighbor anymore, right?

NEWHART: That's about it, Howie.


KING: It could have continued, right?

NEWHART: CBS wanted us to continue, but I wanted -- I didn't want it to limp off. You know, I had seen shows that stayed on too long...

KING: Too long.

NEWHART: ... and they lost -- they lost the luster of what they had been, and -- it's a tough decision to make. I mean, you're affecting a lot of people's lives. But I just felt that maybe there wasn't enough material for a seventh year.

KING: And, at that time -- and I remember talking to you -- you kind of thought you were -- that was it for you with television.

NEWHART: No, I always -- I always thought I was going to come back to television because I loved -- I loved television. I loved the medium. I loved the creative process of a situation comedy. I loved the ensemble, you know, Suzanne and Bill and Peter Bonerz.

KING: And it worked for your kind of droll approach.

NEWHART: Well, that's the -- see, that's the advantage that comedians or stand-ups like Roseanne, like Bill Cosby, like Ray Romano, like Seinfeld -- the advantage we have is that we come with a persona that people know, you know.

I mean, when I heard Cosby was going to do a situation comedy, I said, "It's got to be a hit," because he'd be talking -- he would be doing his act about, you know, the kids -- what the kids did, what his wife said to him, what his father said to him, and it was.

And when I was -- I was in about the sixth year of "Newhart," and they said, "Who do you think the next Newhart's going to be?" I said, "Jerry Seinfeld."

KING: You did?

NEWHART: Just because of the way he worked. Yes, I knew he was right for the medium.

KING: And so is Romano?


KING: Yes, because they are -- you're watching basically not an actor. They're actors, but you're sort of watching them...

NEWHART: Yes. You're watching them...

KING: ... take their act into the scene, right?

NEWHART: That's right. That's right.

KING: And you could -- did you also enjoy it, because one would think there's nothing like standing on a stage and making people laugh, alone on a stage doing stories. That would have to be the highest of highs.

NEWHART: Oh, there's no question. Yes, that's the highest of highs. The highest of highs is to have a new routine that you're just breaking in and that's working, and that's -- you're one step removed doing a situation comedy because you have a live audience there.

But the immediate response is what you really want. I always -- if they gave me a great line, the writers, I wanted to do it that night. I didn't want to wait until Friday to film it. "Can't we do it now," you know, "because I'm afraid I'll"...

KING: Did you write some of your own lines?

NEWHART: Yes, I would make suggestions and...

KING: We'll be right back with the Mark Twain recipient. He won the Mark Twain Prize this year at the Kennedy Center in Washington. He's Bob Newhart. We'll be right back.


NEWHART: Did you hear what Howard wants? Moo goo gai pan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what I want, too. Dr. Jerry Robinson wants moo goo gain pan.

NEWHART: And more moo goo goo goo...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear what you just said? You said moo goo goo goo. You said moo goo goo goo.

BILL DAILY, ACTOR: You said moo goo goo goo.

NEWHART: Maybe I'm ordering Chinese baby food.




NEWHART: I'm just a guy trying to do his job. Good afternoon, Sergeant.


NEWHART: What is it now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you want me to do with the chaplain?

NEWHART: Sergeant, from now on, I don't want anyone to come in and see me while I'm in my office. Is that clear?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. What do I say to people who want to come in and see you while you're in your office?

NEWHART: Tell them I'm in and ask them to wait.


NEWHART: Until I've left.


KING: You've also had a unique film career. You made some wild movies. "Catch 22."

NEWHART: "Catch 22." Yes.

KING: "Legally Blonde."

NEWHART: No, I'm starring...

KING: You're going to be in...

NEWHART: Not starring. I'm appearing in the sequel to it.

KING: "Red, White, and"...

NEWHART: "Red, White, and Blonde." Yes.

KING: Do you like film as well?

NEWHART: I enjoy film. I'm looking forward to working with Reese. She's...

KING: Real talent?

NEWHART: She's very talented because it -- with that part, it's very easy to go over the top, and she's always controlled. She always gives it just...

KING: And who do you play?

NEWHART: I play the doorman at the Watergate. She gets an apartment at the Watergate and I'm the door man.

KING: Perfect. You look like a door man. You could be a doorman.

NEWHART: I could. Yes, I could.

KING: You look like a doorman.

NEWHART: I look like everybody, you know.

KING: That's right. You do. That's what -- before we get to "Newhart" and then returning to television and other aspects, the Rickles thing. I know Don's nervous because we've gone into the third segment without mentioning his name.

NEWHART: I was hoping we'd go further.

KING: That strange friendship between this outspoken, cockamamie, Jewish comic and this introverted...

NEWHART: Irish Catholic.

KING: ... Catholic stammerer.


KING: How did it start?

NEWHART: Barbara, who you know -- Barbara was then Barbara Sklar, and she was a secretary for an agent here in L.A., and my wife, Jenny -- before she was my wife, obviously, was dating this agent. So they talked on the phone, you know, almost every day, and she said, "Could I talk to Jack?" And she said, "He's out right now, but I'll give him the message."

And so -- so now we get married, and we're married about three years, and we're in Vegas, and Don's in Vegas. Don's in the lounge. And Jenny said, "Oh, Don's in the lounge. I'm going to call Barbara, and maybe we can get together," you know. I said, "OK. Great. OK."

So Barbara said, "Come in." I guess I was opening the next day. And Barbara said, "Come in. We'll have dinner, and then you'll go and see Don's third show at the Sahara in the lounge." So we went in, and Don and Jenny and Barbara and I were sitting in there -- in the cafeteria, and we're talking.

And Don's saying how Mindy was just born, and, "Gee, I hate being on the road, and I hate being away from Barbara," and they hit it off right away, Jenny and Don. So we're -- now we're going in to see the show. So I said, "Honey" -- she said, "He's the nicest man I think I've ever met in my life. He's just -- he loves his family so much." And I said, "Honey, that isn't what you're going see tonight, OK."

So we go, and we sit down. He gets on stage, and he says, "Bob Newhart's in the audience, the stammering idiot from Chicago, and his hooker wife from Bengal (ph), New Jersey." And Jenny's jaw dropped like that. And we've been friends ever since.

KING: You just hit it off?


KING: You were at that time a much bigger star than him.

NEWHART: I still am, yes.


KING: At that time, you were working big rooms and Don was working lounges?

NEWHART: Well -- yes, yes.

KING: How do you explain it, this chemistry bet the two of you? So different.

NEWHART: We enjoy the same thing. We love being with the family. We love traveling. We make each other laugh. It's like -- it's like George Burns and Jack Benny. It's just...

KING: You go on cruises together.

NEWHART: Yes, we have. Yes.

KING: You live near each other. You have lived near each other.

NEWHART: Not too far, yes.

KING: And the real Rickles, of course, the public doesn't know, is a sweet...

NEWHART: Exactly, yes.

KING: ... almost humble kind of guy.

NEWHART: People say -- they will say, "How can you travel with him? How can you put up with that for 24 hours?" And I say, "It's like Musak in an elevator," you know. I mean, it's there kind of in the background and you hear it, but you don't listen to it. If you listen to it, it will drive you crazy.

KING: When the two of you go on cruise ships, though, do people still come over and ask, "What time are you on?"

NEWHART: Yes, yes.


DON RICKLES, COMEDIAN: I've got to go in. I'm nominated.


KING: So you come back to television. How long after "The Bob Newhart Show" does "Newhart" come on?

NEWHART: "The Bob Newhart Show" went off in '78, and I came back in '82 in "Newhart."

KING: As the manager of a resort.

NEWHART: An inn. An inn in Vermont, yes.

KING: Who came up with that idea?

NEWHART: I came up with it. To me, it had a lot of the elements of the first show, the success of the first show.

The guests at a hotel. We -- Jenny and I -- I happened to be playing the Paramount in Seattle, and we were in the cafeteria, and I just saw people coming in and out, and I knew I was going to return to television. I saw the guests come in, and they would sit down.

And then, I saw the people that worked at the hotel. They'd come in, and they'd have lunch. And I thought to myself that's -- that's like -- I mean, the guests -- you have to be nice to them. That's like the patients. I had to be nice to the patients, no matter what they said.

And the employees were Tom Poston and -- so I got the idea, and Artie (ph) put me together -- you know, Artie Price (ph) put me together with...

KING: A variation of the theme.

NEWHART: Yes, yes. Well, it worked. Maybe it will work again.

KING: And it did. We'll be back with more of Bob Newhart. Don't go away.


NEWHART: No, I'm sorry. We don't accept pets. We do accept children, yes. Well, I can appreciate that you think of your pets as your children, but we don't accept pets of any kind, except seeing eye dogs. I don't believe there's any such thing as a seeing eye cat. I'll tell you what. There's a very nice kennel in town. Well you can call them but I don't think they take people.




NEWHART: Oh, boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl. That's my other brother Darryl.

NEWHART: So how are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, okay, except I throwed my back out last week crawling under a house.

NEWHART: Sounds like a tough job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't a job. I just like crawling under houses.


KING: Now was "NEWHART" an instant hit?

NEWHART: No. There were -- I would say the middle of the first year, we got found. The time slot, 9:00 Monday night, had not been a hit time slot. After "MASH" was in there. So we kind of made it a hit time slot.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, guys. We just found this in the basement. What do you think?

NEWHART: I think that's a good place for it.


KING: How long did "NEWHART" run?

NEWHART: "NEWHART" ran '82 to '90.

KING: Eight years.

NEWHART: Eight years, right.

KING: And then you gave it up?

NEWHART: Again, yes.


NEWHART: I'm really, you know, I'm really going to miss you guys. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you hear that, Steph? He's begging us for a group hug.


NEWHART: No, that was.


KING: Again, because you were you tired of it?

NEWHART: I didn't know if we had enough material to do a ninth year. And in the sixth year, we were at a party. And my wife Jenny said -- I said, honey, I think this is going to be the last year, because CBS was moving us to 8:30, then to 9:30. I said I think this is going to be -- I'm going to pull the plug.

And she said, If you do, you ought to do a show -- at the end of the show should be a dream sequence where you wake up in bed with Susie, and you tell her about this weird dream you had about owning a hotel in Vermont. And I said, what a great idea. Oh, that's a great idea. Because "Dallas", you know, they did a year of a dream. And "St. Elsewhere" ended as a dream.

Anyway, I still had the problems with CBS. So at the end of the eighth year, I went to the writers and I gave them the idea for the final episode. And we never committed to it paper. We put in a phony scene where I get hit in the head with a golf ball and I go up to heaven and I meet God, who is George Burns. Well, we never intended to shoot that, but to keep the tabloids from finding out the end of the final episode.

So the final day, the crew went to dinner and we came in, brought Susie in. She was a sound stage or two over. And we had a float that, you know, covers the set. And we said to the camera guys, Listen, we've added a scene. So they said, OK. So just keep shooting. No matter what happens, you just keep shooting. So we pull the float away. And there's Susie and I in bed.

But they don't know -- the audience -- the live audience doesn't know that yet. They start applauding the set. They start applauding the bedroom because they recognized it from the first show.



NEWHART: Well, I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm happy for you. Good night.

NEWHART: Nothing made sense in this place. I mean, the maid was an heiress. Her husband talked in alliteration. The handyman kept missing the point of things. And then there were these three woodsmen. But... (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All right, the secret of standup and your concept of using one sided telephone conversations, you and Shelly Berman were the only two I know doing that -- Shelly did that right? It was very successful.

NEWHART: Walt Shelly did that, yes. And...

KING: How did you get the idea?

NEWHART: There are just...

KING: Talked to Lincoln -- Lincoln's agent?

NEWHART: There are just certain routines that lend themselves to the telephone. See, the audience becomes involved, because they're supplying the other end of the conversation. I mean, what I'm saying is not funny in the Abe Lincoln routine. It's what Abe is saying.


NEWHART: You talked to some newspaper men. Abe, we've asked you not to talk to newspaper men. Well, you always put your foot -- see, that's what I mean, Abe. No, no, Abe, you were a rail splitter, then an attorney. Well, Abe, you wouldn't give up your law practice to become a rail splitter. Hey, read the bio, will you? It'll save us a lot of trouble on this end.


NEWHART: You know, what Abe is saying is really what's funny.

KING: True. And then of course the other skits, the wonderful driving instructor. That right cut out of life, right? I mean, did you know that was funny before you even went on?

NEWHART: That came out -- again, I was working -- taking part- time jobs. So I get "The Chicago Tribune" every Sunday. And I'd look in the paper for a part-time job to tide me over. And every Sunday, there would be this full-page ad, "wanted driving instructors." Well, then I'd get the tribute the next week, "wanted driving instructors." Every week for five weeks there's "wanted driving instructors." And I thought that must be a huge turnover in driving. Why would there be such a huge turnover in driving instructors? And out of that came -- I finally figured out why there was a turnover.

KING: One of the funniest bits ever. We'll be right back with Newhart. Don't go away.


NEWHART: You know, it really might facilitate things if I just, you know, sort of, read ahead a bit to kind of familiarize myself. How fast were you going when Mr. Adams jumped from the car? Seventy- five. And where was that now? In your driveway. OK. (END VIDEO CLIP)



NEWHART: He was wearing a hood. And in one hand, he had a tombstone and in the other hand he had an hour glass. And the sand was running out. And in the other hand, he had a sickle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had three hands?

NEWHART: He had four hands. The other one was flipping a coin. Then his face moved and out of the fog and he said two words to me.




KING: Our guest is Bob Newhart, the winner of this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Probably coveted by anybody who every tried to make people laugh. Now I'm told that "The Bob Newhart Show" in reruns has spawned a college drinking game...


KING: which basically, you're supposed to take a drink every time someone on the show says hi, Bob.

NEWHART: Well, there are various rules that I've heard. I heard it started at SMU. I don't know if it's true or not, but that's what I heard. One of the rules I read -- it's every time someone says Bob, you have to take -- drink your beer. You have to take a swig of beer. If somebody says "Hi, Bob," you have to finish whatever. You have to chug a lug and finish whatever's left in the can.

KING: And was that said a lot during those shows?

NEWHART: There's -- yes. There's one -- there was one show, I think there were 140 Bobs or "hi Bobs." So the only thing I ask college kids is please don't drive. After you play hi Bob, just stay in the dorm and don't drive anywhere.






(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: How do you explain your popularity on campus?

NEWHART: I don't know. I re-recorded a video of some of the first early material, the first and second, driving instructor, Abe Lincoln and so on. And it was a young audience. And this was in the mid '90s. I would say they were 35, 40 years old. The laughs came in exactly the same place. Exactly with the same intensity. And it was mind blowing to me that they were laughing. And they were -- some of them hadn't been born when I was doing it.


NEWHART: Looking back on the mutiny, I think a lot of the problem there stemmed from the fact that you men weren't coming to me with your problems, as I tried to explain to you, as we started out. The door to my office is always open. I think you know why it's always open. That was stolen. I'd like that returned.


KING: You liked and were a fan of Pryor, were you not?

NEWHART: I thought he was the most deserving. He should've been -- received the first Mark Twain award, because he did the same thing. Mark Twain gave us an insight into the life on the Mississippi at the turn of the century. And Richard Pryor gave us an insight, at least me, an insight into the urban city, black, and what it's like to grow up, and the colorful people that our part of that life.


RICHARD PRYOR, COMEDIAN: I don't want to never see no more police in my life. At my house. Taking my [ bleep ] to jail.


KING: As someone who didn't use it, did you mind his off color language?

NEWHART: No, no. The language was so...

KING: Real?

NEWHART: It -- you couldn't do it the other way. I mean, you couldn't say, "gosh darn it." You know? I mean, it just -- I'd feel cheated, because that was -- and you become inert to it. It doesn't -- it's just the concept is so funny.

KING: Do you feel sorry that Lenny Bruce maybe missed his time?

NEWHART: Oh, yes, yes.

KING: Because Lenny worked as some of the same places with you?

NEWHART: Oh, yes, sure, sure.


NEWHART: It was -- Mike Lane, Shelly Berman, myself, Johnny Winters, Lenny Bruce.

KING: The new wave.

NEWHART: Yes. I mean, we didn't know it. You know, I mean, we didn't all get together at a restaurant and say let's change comedy, but that's kind of what happened. It was just a new way of doing comedy.

KING: And Johnny Winters was...

NEWHART: Johnny.

KING: Is or?

NEWHART: Well, I went to see Johnny at the Black Orchid in Chicago. And I was just starting out. And I hadn't even made the record, I don't think. And I watched him for an hour. And I thought, why bother? I mean, that's the funniest man in the world. Why would you bother -- why would you even think of going into the field of comedy? You've just seen the best men at it.

KING: It's hard to -- we don't -- it's hard to -- we don't know what's funny, right? If it makes you laugh, it's funny.


KING: Is there -- I mean, you can't -- it's almost impossible to discuss.

NEWHART: And you don't want to get too close to it, because it may go away. You know?

KING: Yes. Would you come back on TV? How old are you?


KING: You're a young 73 though.

NEWHART: Oh, okay.

KING: I mean, you look -- you don't look 73. And you don't act 73.

NEWHART: I don't know. I would be tempted if somebody came along with the right script. But I've had a great run. I mean, you know, I have no regrets of anything.


NEWHART: Thank you. Thank you.


KING: Still the same kick walking on stage?

NEWHART: It's the adrenaline rush. You know, it's -- I wonder what they're going to be like. The second night club I played was a club in Canada, Windsor, Canada, just outside Detroit. The record wasn't out. So they didn't know who I was. So I came out. There was a line of girls. There's an Italian singer. There was what they called a dumb act, which was dumbbells. They threw dumbbells, because they never talked to the audience, you know, because they couldn't.

They couldn't speak English. So the dumbbells. And then I came out. And two shows a night, seven days a week and died. I mean, every night, just nothing. You could hear the air conditioning. You know? And they -- I mean, they weren't rude. They just -- they never looked up. It's, you know, hmm, okay. So that's when I thought, okay, no, I'm going back to accounting. If this is what standup is, I'm going back. Then the next club I played in, it worked. And...

KING: Now what kept you going on when you're bombing? I mean, you just...

NEWHART: In that particular case, it was funny, because when you come out, you wonder is it going to work or isn't it going to work? I knew it wasn't going to work. You know? I mean, I didn't have any tension. KING: You knew it wasn't going to work.

NEWHART: I knew it was going to die.

KING: As Lenny Bruce said once, he got booked in Lima, Ohio. And the first show was at 6:00. So he knew he was in trouble, and especially when he walked on stage and they were eating Jello.

We'll be back with our remaining moments with the most deserving winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Bob Newhart.

Don't go away.


NEWHART: And Edison walks in the room. Newsmen are all over the room. And he takes the plug and he plugs it into the generator. And the bulb begins to glow. And it just fills the entire room with light. Well, the newsmen are just astounded. And they start to rush out to file their stories. And Edison walks to the door and he says, no, no, gentlemen. Please return to your seats. That isn't it. And he walks up to the bulb and he says, hello.




NEWHART: Now one of the most important parts of any fair is the midway, where we have all these different concessions. Now in the past at our local fairs, the biggest money maker has always been the hit the mayor booth, where the mayor is struck on the head through a hole in the canvas as we all threw baseballs. You remember that, Punchy, don't you?


KING: A "New York Times" magazine article once said Newhart is so diffident, that he can bite the hand that feeds him and make it feel like a manicure.

NEWHART: I just saw that the other day. I guess so I must say. If "The New York Times" says it, it must be true.

KING: Do you ever go wild? I mean, do you...

NEWHART: Well...

KING: I mean, really now, do you ever just let it loose?

NEWHART: If you would ask my family, they would tell you that what you see is about 85 percent. That's me. And the other 15 percent is a very dark dark human being.

KING: Oh, really?

NEWHART: Oh, yes, oh, yes.

KING: You're strange?

NEWHART: Yes, yes. Rickles always said, he said, you know, they always say I'm sick. He said, you're much sicker than I am.

KING: Give me an example of something weird about Newhart?

NEWHART: All right, here's a story. Lenny used to do this story.

There's a kid in the jungles. He's a missionary. And they're living in the jungle. And they're flying in a plane. And the plane develops engine trouble. And the plane crashes. And the kid is thrown out of the plane. And both his parents are killed in the crash. And he's raised by a pack of wild dogs. And he runs with you. And he becomes a wild dog. And 15 years later, a plane's flying over. And the guy looks down and he says, that's a kid. That's a kid running with those dogs.

So they land and they get the kid and they bring them back to -- then they put him in school. He's now 16 years old. And for a couple years, he doesn't do well at all. But then he starts to blossom. He goes through high school in one year. He goes on to Harvard. He goes through Harvard in two years. He's just about to go into Harvard Law School. And he was killed chasing a car.

KING: That's great humor. That is -- okay. When you look back at an extraordinary career, what are you proudest of? I mean, you've had an extraordinary -- you've been a...

NEWHART: You mean, aside from family?

KING: Yes.

NEWHART: You mean career-wise? I would say the Mark Twain Award and being inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. I was inducted with Phil Donahue, John Chancellor, Agnes Nixon from "ALL MY CHILDREN." Posthumously Goodson Toddman -- Mark Goodson. And Jack Webb and his daughters were there in the audience. And they came up and accepted the award. And I was sitting and I was saying, "When I an accountant, I used to stand by the water cooler and we would talk about dragnets that we had seen."

KING: Yes, what am I doing here?

NEWHART: And what am I -- and here I'm being inducted into the Television Hall of Fame with him. I mean, it was like...

KING: Is there still a -- then a pinch yourself quality about this?

NEWHART: Oh, yes. Every so -- I go back to Chicago and it's like, oh, wow, you know?

KING: Were you a poor kid?

NEWHART: Yes. We lived -- I always like to say not poor. I would say I came from upper middle class family. Well, I don't know what happened. I don't know what dad did with the money on the way home. Well, we never saw a lot of it.

KING: Upper middle class. By the time they got home, poor.

NEWHART: That's right. Not poor, but you know, my dad was unemployed during the Depression. He'd just gotten married and just had...

KING: Did you have brothers and sisters?

NEWHART: Three sisters.

KING: Were you the comic at home?

NEWHART: Yes, kind of. Yes, yes. I was -- Larry Gelhart said that humor is looking at life through a different lens. And I guess I just always had that different lens.

KING: Well, we have loved you, continue to love you. Long life.

NEWHART: Thank you, Larry. You're a good friend.

KING: Bob Newhart, he got the Mark Twain Prize on October 29th. They aired the special on November 13. PBS will be repeating it. We congratulate him as the recipient of the Fifth Annual honor. The great Bob Newhart. Thank you very much. He's laughing. You don't believe he's great.


KING: Great. And good night, Don Rickles, wherever you are. Thanks for joining us and good night.


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