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How Bob Newhart’s smash 1960 comedy album launched his career

In early 1960, a 30-year-old unknown comic with no stand-up expertise walked onto the stage of a Houston nightclub to report an album.

On Aug. 1, “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” reached  No. 1 on the Billboard charts, the first-ever comedy album to take action, launching Newhart’s storied 60-year profession, together with the enduring CBS sitcoms “The Bob Newhart Present” and “Newhart.”

“I assumed [‘The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart’] may promote possibly 5,000 albums. I’d’ve been proud of that,” Newhart, 90, advised The Publish, on its 60th anniversary milestone. “I actually noticed it as an adjunct to stand-up, to possibly get 4 or 5 extra folks to come back [to a club] as a result of they’d heard about that album.

“After which it exploded.”

Lower than a yr earlier, Newhart was working half time and hoping for a profession in comedy — with no expertise and completely nothing to indicate for his efforts, save for being “the humorous man within the barracks” throughout the Korean Warfare (he served from 1952 to 1954).

Now, he was the most popular comic in America — with an enchanting “in a single day sensation” story behind his meteoric rise.

“A good friend of mine in Chicago, a disc jockey named Dan Sorkin, who was at WCFL, stated to Warner Bros., ‘I’ve a good friend of mine that I feel could be very humorous,’ ” Newhart stated. “They stated, ‘Inform him to place one thing on tape and we’ll hearken to it.’ So I put all three of my routines on tape — the Abe Lincoln sketch, the Driving Teacher and the Submarine Commander — and Dan performed it for them they usually stated they’d like to fulfill me.

Bob Newhart in 2019.
Bob Newhart in 2019.Getty Pictures

“So I met with Warner Bros., which was about to exit of enterprise. All that they had was the Everly Brothers,” he stated. “They stated, ‘We like your materials, we’d wish to give you a recording contract.’ However we had an issue — I had by no means performed at a nightclub . . . I had achieved one or two [stand-up gigs] for charities in Chicago. That’s all I had going. I imply, there was nothing.

“I’d graduated with a level in accounting [from Loyola University Chicago] and all my mates had been getting married and shopping for properties and having children — and I used to be working half time at Christmas in one of many malls.”

It took Warner Bros. “the higher a part of a yr,” Newhart stated, to discover a membership keen to let the novice slapstick comedian with no expertise report his act (even with the contract). He landed on the Tidelands Membership in Houston. “One of many first stuff you study in stand-up, the primary day if not sooner, is you could’t present any worry,” Newhart stated. “You’re in control of the stage. That’s your stage and if the viewers senses any reticence in your half, you’re useless meat.

“So I walked onto that stage in Houston with all of the bravado I might command.”

It labored. Newhart’s best-known surreal routines from that first album included “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue” (Lincoln’s New York press agent giving him recommendation over the telephone earlier than his Gettysburg Deal with); “Driving Teacher” (a TV collection imagining a dialog between a nervous driving teacher and his clueless consumer); and “The Cruise of the usCodfish” (a nuclear sub captain addressing his crew’s gaffes, together with “firing on Miami Seaside”). (Newhart later revived his celebrated “telephone routine” for the opening of “The Bob Newhart Present.”)

The album, subtitled “The Most Celebrated Comic Since Attila The Hun” (Newhart’s thought), started to rise steadily on the charts by word-of-mouth (largely faculty college students) and Newhart’s fortuitous tv appearances on the 1960 Emmy Awards and a visitor spot on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Present” (Betty White was the opposite visitor).

“The comedy golf equipment weren’t round then,” he stated. “There was a giant sea change in comedy. There was Mike [Nichols] and Elaine [May], Shelley Berman, myself, Jonathan Winters and Lenny Bruce. All of us type of occurred on the identical time and the humor was totally different than the humor earlier than that, when there have been loads of spouse jokes . . . they usually had no relevance to school children who picked up these albums, which had been about their fears and their considerations about life.

Bill Daily, Bob Newhart, Marcia Wallace, Suzanne Pleshette and Peter Bonerz of "The Bob Newhart Show."
Invoice Each day, Bob Newhart, Marcia Wallace, Suzanne Pleshette and Peter Bonerz of “The Bob Newhart Present.”Courtesy Everett Assortment

“They might get the report albums and go to somebody’s dorm room and get beer and pizzas and somebody had a report participant. These had been their nightclubs,” he stated. “I feel they actually created that demand.”

Following his look on the 1960 Emmys, hosted that yr by Fred Astaire, Newhart was invited onto “The Tonight Present.” “That was a giant break for any stand-up,” he stated. “They stated, ‘OK, there’s a star on the market. Stroll on it and do your routine and when it’s over . . . Jack will both name you over [to talk to him] or he’ll applaud.’ If he applauds meaning it didn’t go very effectively.

“So I stood there for what appeared like a lifetime and the entire sudden, Jack motioned me over.”

In April 1961, Newhart gained three Grammys for “The Button-Down Thoughts of Bob Newhart” and its follow-up, “The Button-Down Thoughts Strikes Again!”: Greatest New Artist, Album of the Yr and Greatest Comedy Efficiency, Spoken Phrase.

“They didn’t actually have a class for comedy at the moment,” he stated. “It beat out [Harry] Belafonte, Sinatra and an Elvis album [‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’] They stored calling my title and I stored strolling up there and thanking them for the awards.”

“The Button-Down Thoughts of Bob Newhart” continues to resonate. Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) listened to it in Season 1 of “Mad Males” and, within the opening episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Joel (Michael Zegen) ripped it off, regurgitating some Newhart bits in his (failed) bid to turn out to be a stand-up comedian.

“Years later I used to be giving Richard Pryor a Lifetime Comedy Achievement Award,” Newhart stated. “He was in a wheelchair on the time . . . and he regarded up at me and stated, ‘I stole your album. In Peoria [Illinois]. I went right into a report retailer and put it in my jacket.’

“I stated, ‘Richard, I get 1 / 4 an album,’ ” Newhart stated. “So he acquired 1 / 4 from somebody and gave it to me for my royalty.”


James M. Lowe
Explorer. Passionate creator. Typical writer. Tv guru. Freelance thinker. Web maven.

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