Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Just Plain Bob

I’ve been a fan of Bob Newhart since I heard the Abraham Lincoln routine when I was about ten. He’s had two successful television shows since then, made several movies, was a regular guest of Johnny Carson’s, a headliner at Vegas, and the teller of the funniest golf joke I ever heard, as recounted in Rick Reilly’s outstanding book, Who’s Your Caddy?

Newhart appeared at a local Borders Bookstore last Friday, flogging his memoir, I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This. About four hundred people overflowed the store to hear him speak before the business of book signing began.

Some suit from the American Film Institute asked questions that were, unfortunately, both too long and obsequious. Newhart replied with stories, invariably funny, delivered in the style anyone familiar with him would instantly recognize. The stories were often forty years old, delivered in a style Newhart perfected that long ago. And they still killed.

Watching Newhart in person for the first time confirmed something I suspected about his longevity. His delivery hasn’t been “perfected;” that’s how the man talks. His body language and demeanor are unassuming, but confident. He’s been doing this too long to be surprised by a warm reception, but humble enough to still be delighted.

Newhart remains popular because there are few people as likable. The affection was palpable in the room. (Not adoration as for a rock star or athlete; affection wears much better.) Newhart sat in a comfortable chair and conversed with us, never mind that only he spoke. It was a relaxing pleasure at the end of a work week.

Bob Newhart is 77 years old and hasn’t lost an inch off the old fastball. True, his act is low-energy. It’s also high endurance. He wears on you like a favorite sweater you’ve had forever and can’t bear to part with. It’s too bad he doesn’t do stand-up anymore. There’s no higher compliment than to say I’d pay money to listen to this man talk.

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