Comedy dates. Comedy records date very quickly.
The Charlie Chaplin movies which had your great-grandparents in guffaws barely rouse a smirk on you. The wacky comedies of the fifties and early 60′s now seem naive, innocent, and terribly dull. By rights, 40-year old comedy albums, particularly those with nary a nasty word on them, should be about as entertaining as a rainy afternoon with Aunt Clara showing you her collection of porcelain cats.
Somehow, perhaps because of the very simplicity of his act, Bob Newhart’s recordings escape that fate. They are as funny now as they were when they first came out. And that is VERY funny.
It’s a simple idea in most of Newhart’s monologues. Make your audience do at least half the work. Give only one side of a telephone conversion, strategically provide just enough infomation for the audience to work out what the other person is saying. Play the driving instructor, but let the audience do the driving. Put the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, like the Empire State Building security guard asking his boss if there’s anything in the manual to cover giant apes. Or put the extraordinary man in a commonplace situation, like Abe Lincoln talking to history’s first spin doctor.
Bob Newhart won the very first Grammy for Best New Artist. He’s the only comedian to ever win it. He has starred or co-starred in 5 TV series, with a 6th, co-starring rapper Sisqo (?!?), slated for September 2001. His 2nd series, The Bob Newhart Show, where he played a psychiatrist, and 3rd, Newhart, as a Vermont innkeeper, were the biggest successes. In both those series, he remained the stoic solid center, surrounded by people far odder than he. In effect, he played us, and his reactions more than his actions were the source of his humor.
As funny as his co-stars were, Newhart was funnier still. Often with saying a word, his silence drew laughs. That same timing, those same funny silences, remarkably are just as effective on record (or CD) as they are on video.
Buy this CD for yourself and enjoy it. Or buy it for your kids, so they know who that old guy with Sisqo is. Or buy it for your great-great-grandchildren.
Because, very likely, they too will find it funny.
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This is the first classic comedy I’ve listened to in several years, so a few things struck me immediately. First, some of the conventions of stand-up have changed. In the earlier days of stand-up, the comedy was based on sketch material (almost everything here is a monologue) and the characters were as funny as the lines they were given to say. Second, the audience members withheld their applause until the end of the sketch and then applauded every bit. The third thing I noticed was that this comedy still works.
It comes as a bit of a surprise to me that satire and dark humor were not invented by Saturday Night Live. Though his first album (Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart) came out in 1960, Newhart’s material and delivery are still every bit as contemporary today as they were then. Ledge Psychology, for example, is a sketch about a cop casually trying to talk a jumper down…and failing.
It helps that Newhart’s material is based on historical events and industry, neither of which has changed very dramatically in the last 40 years. Budget airlines still scare the heck out of us; there’s still a high turnover in driving instructors; and the more imaginitive bits (like “King Kong”) still play because the reference material is still in our culture.
Newhart is the perfect understated stand-up comedian and this album really demonstrates what Ray Romano and Steven Wright owe to the older guys. I laughed. A lot.
I’ve had this double disc set on my iPod for five days now, and I’ve found myself just listening to it over and over again. I’d heard much of this material before, but had forgotten just how funny it really was. It is sad that our culture has devolved to the point where most Americans would not find Bob Newhart’s routines funny. To truly appreciate his humor from the ’60′s requires a good education, intelligence, and a disdain for the present state of “comedy” (i.e. comedy channel vulgarity, def comedy jam ignorance, etc…).
I question some of the material included on the disc, especially disc 2, which has less of the abstract “man on the phone” type comedy. I would have included routines such as “an infinite number of monkeys” and “automation and a private in Washington’s army” instead of real world routines like “siamese cat” and “buying a house”. Newhart’s material really hits the mark when it is utterly abstract and ridiculous.
Classic “don’t-miss” routines included here are: 1. Abe Lincoln versus Madison Avenue – “Abe, do the speech the way Charlie wrote it, would you?”…classic. 2. The Cruise of the U.S.S. Codfish – “Looking back on the mutiny” 3. Retirement Party – “Of course, Mrs. Wilson is down in Mexico with her hundred thou…and i’m still up here..with this crummy watch” 4. Introducing Tobacco to Civilization – “Don’t tell me Walt, don’t tell me…” “You see Walt, we’ve been a little worried about you lately…” 5. Defusing a bomb – “I’m gonna give it to you straight, Willard, you’ve got yourself a live one there…” 6. King Kong – “Well, sir, when people come to work in the morning, they’re gonna see the ape in the street, notice the broken windows, and I think they’re gonna put two and two together…”
I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Buy this. It’s worth every penny.