Bob Newhart, 'I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This' After all his success in TV, movies, on records and in stand-up, Bob Newharts' first book is just out. It's called I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! The book tells the story of a kid from Chicago who turned the trademark stammer and one-sided telephone conversations into a career.

Bob Newhart, 'I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The last time we saw Bob Newhart was at the Emmy Awards, where he faced almost certain death at the hands of host Conan O'Brien.

(Soundbite of “58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards”)

Mr. CONAN O'BRIEN (Comedian): Tonight I have placed beloved TV icon Bob Newhart...

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. O'BRIEN: an airtight container with exactly three hours worth of air.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, we're happy to report that Mr. Newhart made it. And after all of his success on television, in movies, on records and in standup comedy, his first book is just out. It's called I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!: And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny. Not a memoir exactly, it's his story of a kid from Chicago who turned a trademark stammer and one-sided telephone conversations into a lifetime of laughter.

Later in the program, another new book looks at the jokes people told in Adolph Hitler's Germany, where, by the end of the Second World War, jokes could get you killed.

But first, Bob Newhart. We already know a lot of you love him. So if you have questions about his standup, his TV shows, and about his career, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail. The address is We've also posted an excerpt from the book at our Web site. You can read it and watch video clips from his new DVD at the TALK OF THE NATION page at

And now Bob Newhart joins us from the BBC studios in New York City. Thanks so much for coming in today. I'm glad to hear the Emmys didn't run over.

Mr. BOB NEWHART (Comedian; Author, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!: And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny): Thank you, Neal. Yeah, I'm still alive.

CONAN: This radio stuff, this isn't new to you. You actually started out sort of on radio.

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah, another - a friend of mine in Chicago - I was an accountant and was just bored silly with accounting - so late in the afternoon, like four o'clock, I called this friend of mine. We were in a stock company in suburban Chicago. And just to break the boredom I would do these bits over the phone. We'd like improvise. I always called it a kind of poor-man Bob and Ray, because there's nobody better than Bob and Ray.

But so there was some interest in our doing a syndicated radio program and we got three stations to sign up. And they asked us what we wanted, and Ed and I had no idea, so we made it $7.50 a week for five five-minute comedy slugs.

CONAN: And it turned out that your accounting wasn't so good.

Mr. NEWHART: No, my accounting was terrible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: Because - well, we took in $21.50 a week and it cost us $40 a week in tape and postage. So at the end of 13 weeks one station stiffed us and two of the stations wanted to renew. And we wrote them back and said, I'm sorry, but we can't afford to do this anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So in a way you invented public radio. It's...

Mr. NEWHART: In a way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The telephone routines, did they develop right out of that? Because your partner eventually got a real job and moved to New York and I guess you were left with just holding the phone by yourself.

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah, I had to make a decision whether - I'd left accounting and I'd just decided I was going to find out if I can make a living in comedy. Everybody would tell me, gee, you're very funny. You think funny. And so I said, well, I'll take one or two years out of my life and see if I can make a living out of it.

So I had to decide whether I wanted to try to find another partner as good as Ed or want to go out on my own. So I decided to go out on my own, and the telephone conversation really takes the place of Ed when you think about it.


(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The delivery - the fascinating thing about reading this book is that one of the reasons it's so funny is that in my head I can hear you reading it.

Mr. NEWHART: Well, that's great, because that's really what I wanted. I worked with a collaborator, Josh Young, because I knew if I didn't I'd - the book - I'd still be on page one...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: ...because I procrastinate a lot. And so I knew I had to have deadlines set up where I'd have to meet with Josh. And we'd have three hours together and I'd have to find something to talk about.

But I told Josh at the beginning. I said, Josh, this - it has to have my voice. That's the one thing. I don't want it to sound like you. I want it to sound like me. And, Neal, I'm glad you feel that we accomplished that.

CONAN: Well, thanks. There's - when you were in that period - you were also still living at home in that period, so I guess also...

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah. Well, I couldn't...

CONAN: ...a slacker ahead of your time.

Mr. NEWHART: I couldn't afford to live anywhere else.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But you were getting a lot of part-time work, a lot of which turned into some of the most famous bits you did.

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah, some of the jobs I had - I once worked for the Illinois State Unemployment Compensation Board. I worked behind the counter and that became a part of my act when I would explain that we got $65 a week and the claimants got $55, and they only had to come in one day a week, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So you're working four extra days for 10 bucks extra.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: That's right. It took me awhile to figure that out, because, as you can figure out, I wasn't the swiftest guy in the world.

CONAN: Yeah, and the album that made you a star really came out of - you had another pal in Chicago, a disc jockey, who gave you an opportunity to do some bits. And a guy from Warner Brothers Records heard it and gave you an opportunity to produce a record album.

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah, the Warner Brother - it was the president of Warner Brothers, Jim Conklin. They were coming through town and this friend of mine was a very popular disc jockey, so it was incumbent on them to kind of call on him to play, you know, Warner Brother records.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NEWHART: And he said, I have this friend of mine that I think is funny. And they said, well, have him put some of the material down on tape and we'll listen to it. And so Dan(ph) called me up and he said borrow a tape recorder and record, you know, three of the routines you have, which I did and brought downtown to Ed, and he - to Dan. And he played it for Jim Conklin. And Jim said, well, yeah, we like it. We like it very much, and we'd like to make a comedy album out of it and we'll record it at your next nightclub. And I said, well, see that's going to be a problem because I've never played a nightclub before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Your next nightclub would be your first nightclub.

Mr. NEWHART: This is my first nightclub. So I went down to Houston, Texas to the Tidelands. And I had two weeks to - I was the opening act for Ken and Mitzi Welch, and I had two weeks to fill up the other side of the album and get ready to record. And of course none of us - nobody expected it would do nearly anything like what it did. It sold over a million copies, which we never - you know, I hoped maybe it might sell 25 or something like that.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. Our guest of course Bob Newhart. If you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is And let's begin with Jim. Jim's calling on line five. Go ahead, Jim.

JIM (Caller): Mr. Newhart, what a thrill. I was enjoying you early in your career when The Button-Down Mind albums were coming out, but what I had no idea was that you lived down the street. I'd like to ask you about your time in Oak Park. Was that home? Tell me about Oak Park.

Mr. NEWHART: Well, I say Oak Park - I was born in Oak Park. I was born at West Suburban Hospital but actually lived in Austin. But I always said Oak Park because it sounded more posh and…

CONAN: Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright were from Oak Park.

Mr. NEWHART: And Ernest Hemingway - yes, that's right also. Yes.

CONAN: But now Austin can say Bob Newhart grew up here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: If they want to, yeah.

JIM: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Jim. Let's see if we can get - this is Mark. Mark's with us from Cleveland.

MARK (Caller): Mr. Newhart, it's an honor and a privilege.

Mr. NEWHART: Thank you.

MARK: I'd like you to tell me about your doing the voice of Bernard in the two Rescuers films made by Disney in 1977 and 1990.

Mr. NEWHART: That's right. I was approached - in '77 my daughter had just been born, Courtney, and she was born in 1977. So I actually, I - yeah, I probably recorded it, yeah, in '77. And recorded - I enjoyed it very much. I'd never done a, you know, a voiceover. I'd never done a Disney animated film. And I did it largely so my kids would have something to listen to - and grandkids - and they do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Mark, thanks very much.

MARK: You did a great job, Mr. Newhart. Thank you.

Mr. NEWHART: Thank you, Mark.

CONAN: So long. This is Paul. Paul with us also from Cleveland.

PAUL (Caller): Yes. Hello, Bob. I'm a big fan of your, and I'm also the curator of the submarine Cod...


PAUL: ...national historic landmark submarine docked here in Cleveland, and we want our royalty payments.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: You're right. Well, my submarine was a cod...

PAUL: Can you tell me how that came about?

Mr. NEWHART: You know, I think the submarine commander, which is what you're referring to, The Cruise of the USS Codfish was I - I'd gotten out of service. I was in service from '52 to '54. And looking back I think it was probably - what brought it up was that in large corporations, such as the military or large bureaucracies like the government, people tend to be promoted two to three levels above their competency, which was certainly true of the submarine commander of the USS Codfish, because they had this disastrous cruise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So instead of the telephone here, you were talking on the intercom to the men on the Codfish as they were returning home and asking to return the executive officer, for example.

Mr. NEWHART: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PAUL: It's an incredibly funny bit. When you're in Cleveland, can we get you down on the Codfish and we can give you a sweatshirt in honor the greatest comedian on television.

Mr. NEWHART: Uh, sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. NEWHART: I don't know that I - I'm not sure I qualify for all that, but certainly. For a T-shirt, I...

PAUL: Well, let's put it this way. You're a good friend to Suzanne Pleshette.

Mr. NEWHART: I'll go anywhere for a T-shirt.

CONAN: Paul, thanks very much and good luck.

PAUL: Thank you.

Mr. NEWHART: Thank you.

CONAN: Speaking of royalties, he says you owe him. You write in the book that you - this is - your album The Button-Down Mind is the 20th best selling of all time and you get $1.18 every quarter from Warner Brothers?

Mr. NEWHART: Well, originally, yeah. That's based, I understand, on how many weeks it was on the Billboard chart, because they can't measure how much money it grossed because, you know, albums cost a lot less than they do today and...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NEWHART: So the measurement they used was how many weeks the album had been on the chart, and - the charts, the Billboard charts - and I found out it was. See, I had never known that. I found out it was the 20th best selling album of all time. And I also - I had a record which - a selling record which I wasn't even aware of them. My daughter told me about it, because my son-in-law's in the music business. And I had the number one and number two album in the country for eight months, and that's because my first album went to number one and then my second album went to number two.

CONAN: And I guess we - this is NPR News. We'll be back after a break.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Bob Newhart is with us today. We managed to dig up a copy of a movie from 1960 called Hell Is for Heroes starring Steve McQueen and introducing Bob Newhart. He's part of an under-strength platoon during the Second World War and tries to fool the Germans, who are listening into his conversation, on a field telephone.

(Soundbite of movie “Hell Is for Heroes”)

Mr. NEWHART: (As Pvt. Driscoll) Temple(ph) red, this is Lieutenant Driscoll. Well, don't send them up here. Sir, I have five men in each foxhole now. I don't have any room for anymore, sir.

Oh, I see. Well, sir, there's still a war going on in Japan, you know, sir. You might send them over there.

CONAN: Bob Newhart in an excerpt from Hell Is for Heroes, an experience he describes vividly in his new book as something that he tried to get out of and tried to get himself killed throughout the movie so he could get out of there and get back home. Bob Newhart.

Mr. NEWHART: Well, not quite back home. When I first agreed to do the movie I was making a certain amount of money and then - in nightclubs - and then my money kind of quadrupled when they started shooting the movie. So I kept going to the director, Don Siegel, and trying to talk him into killing me off...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: ...but he wouldn't go along with it. But I would tell him like, you know, when that tank comes down the road, I could trip or something and fall. He said, no, no, you're in the movie to the end of it.

CONAN: So you had to stick it out until the end.

Mr. NEWHART: So I had to stick it out. I kept turning down these offers.

CONAN: Though apparently the studio decided after a while that the cost overruns were - look, all you've got, director Don Siegel, is this amount of film. When the film is done, the movie's over.

Mr. NEWHART: They said - exactly. They said we're not sending you any more film. And they said but we aren't finished with the movie. They said, well, when you run out of film, come home. And the movie, if you ever watch it, it just kind of ends abruptly. Steve McQueen charges this pillbox and then they start running the cast credits over it.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is George. George calling us from St. Louis.

GEORGE (Caller): Yes, sir, Bob. I believe that show about the hotel, that was The Bob Newhart Show, right?

Mr. NEWHART: The hotel was Newhart.

GEORGE: Okay. We were such fans of that that we named our first two sons Darryl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GEORGE: Anyway, I think one of the best skits that I've ever heard you do was the one about the invention of golf and that was really great. And I don't know where I can find that. I suppose it's on a record, possibly.

Mr. NEWHART: The invention of cigarettes?

GEORGE: The invention of the game of golf.

CONAN: Is that a bit that you did?

Mr. NEWHART: Oh, I - no, I did one on Abner Doubleday trying to sell the idea of baseball to a game company. I don't think I ever did one on golf.

GEORGE: Yeah, you did, and it was about you go out in the pasture and you hit a ball, and then what do you do? Well, you go over and you find it. And then what do you do? Well, you go and hit it again.

Mr. NEWHART: Oh, all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GEORGE: Yeah, you did that one.

Mr. NEWHART: All right, I'll...

CONAN: If he didn't, he's taking credit now.

Mr. NEWHART: I'll take credit for it, yeah.

GEORGE: Right, right.

Mr. NEWHART: I'm glad you enjoyed it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GEORGE: Thank you, Bob.

Mr. NEWHART: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, George.

And we should mention there's a new DVD out this week: Bob Newhart Button-Down Concert. We've posted video clips from the DVD along with the excerpt from your book at our Web site at the TALK OF THE NATION page at And let's get another caller on. This is Hayes(ph), Hayes with us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

HAYES (Caller): Hi, Bob.

Mr. NEWHART: Hi, Hayes.

HAYES: Just want to ask you a quick question. Who - was it you that came up with the grand finale episode of Newhart with the dream?

Mr. NEWHART: That...

HAYES: Because that was hysterical.

Mr. NEWHART: That was my wife.

HAYES: That was your wife.

Mr. NEWHART: That was my wife's - we were at a party...

HAYES: I guess she's as funny as you, then?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: Funnier I think. Maybe she did the golf routine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Do you mean funny ha-ha or funny peculiar? Oh, we'll leave that alone.

Mr. NEWHART: Funny ha-ha.

CONAN: The bit, we should explain - this is where the show at the inn in Vermont is ending and the last scene we see the bed come in from the set of The Bob Newhart Show, the old one with Suzanne Pleshette. And I understand when your wife came up with that idea at that party, Suzanne Pleshette was at that party too.

Mr. NEWHART: She was there, and we explained the idea to her. And Suzie said - she said I'll be there in a New York minute. So I straightened out my problem - I was having problems with CBS, which is why I was going to pull the show, and I straightened those out.

So two years later, in the eighth season, I decided that was going to be the final year, and I went to the writers and gave them the idea of - that Jenny had come up with of me waking up with Suzanne and explaining this dream I'd had about owning this strange inn in Vermont, which was the maid was an heiress, and there was Larry, Darryl and Darryl who were, I always felt, right out of Deliverance, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: I felt there was a lot of intermarriage in the family to create Larry, Darryl and Darryl.

CONAN: That's a very northern part of Georgia perhaps.


CONAN: Hayes, thanks very much for the call.

HAYES: Thank you.

CONAN: And for those who want to hear the end of that show, we have the tape of the last scene from Newhart.

Mr. NEWHART: Oh great.

(Soundbite of TV show “Newhart”)

Ms. SUZANNE PLESHETTE (Actor): (As Emily Hartley) You all right, Bob?

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Ms. PLESHETTE: What is it?

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: (As Dr. Robert Hartley) I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Ms. PLESHETTE: I'm happy for you. Good night.

Mr. 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...

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: ...but only one of them talked.

Ms. PLESHETTE: That settles it. No more Japanese food before you go to bed.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

CONAN: Now this bit, it's been noted now as one of the great moments in television. Wait a second. There's the mic. We apologize for that. This has been noted and now is one of the great moments in television, Bob Newhart.

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah, originally it was - well, I guess I'm trying to remember some of the accolades it received, but I think it was voted the number one most unexpected moment in the history of television by TV Guide.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Thomas. Thomas in Mayer, Arizona.

THOMAS (Caller): Doctor Bob.


THOMAS: How are you, my friend?

Mr. NEWHART: Very good, Tom.

THOMAS: Did you know - call me T.C., if you don't mind.

Mr. NEWHART: Okay.

THOMAS: Did you know that there was a game that was played in honor of you called Doctor Bob?

Mr. NEWHART: Yes, I had heard that. Yes, on college campuses.

THOMAS: Did you hear that where every time Emily would say Bob, you'd have to take a shot?

Mr. NEWHART: That's what I heard, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMAS: Well, I grew up watching you, you know, and every night when you'd do your little squats, you know. You'd put your arms out and do your little exercises before bed and stuff. But anyway, I was too young to be taking shots then. But as I got older, my friends and I - I don't know who came up with the game, but you would be surprised how many times Emily says Bob in an episode, something like upwards of 50 times.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah.

CONAN: Ooh, that's a lot of liver damage to be responsible for, isn't it?

Mr. NEWHART: Yes, I know.

THOMAS: That's why it was so fun to play, because you got schnockered.

(Soundbite of laughter)

THOMAS: And I remember you in that Hell Is for...

CONAN: Heroes.

THOMAS: ...War is for - what is it?

CONAN: Hell Is for Heroes.

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah.

THOMAS: Hell Is for Heroes. I remember that exact scene. That was hilarious.

Mr. NEWHART: Oh, thank you.

THOMAS: You're a great - you're a great guy. You're so funny. I loved you, and I loved watching Bob Newhart. And your new show with the innkeepers, Larry, Darryl and Darryl, that was huge too.

Mr. NEWHART: Oh, well, thank you, T.C.

THOMAS: Did you know that people went around - I'm a firefighter in Arizona..

Mr. NEWHART: Uh-huh.

THOMAS: ...for the Phoenix Fire Department - and people still to this day will say, hi, my name's Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: I've heard that, yes.

THOMAS: So you're an icon. My gosh.

CONAN: Thomas, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

THOMAS: You bet ya'. Bye-bye.

Mr. NEWHART: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Joyce(ph) in Rochester, New York. Back in the ‘70s I remember watching a Bob Newhart routine at the end of an IBM meeting, several meetings actually. The topic was technical, the IBM punch card, and it was just hilarious. Would Bob tell us how that routine came about. Was he really a nerd at heart?

Mr. NEWHART: That came about - I did quite a few things for IBM. That was very similar to the Sir Walter Raleigh routine, because it was a phone conversation and I was talking to Herman Hollerith, who came up with the punch card.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NEWHART: And he was explaining to me how the punch card worked, and I just kept laughing more and more and more as he tried to explain how the punch card worked.

CONAN: Punch cards, a primitive form of data transmission before megabytes and all of that, before gigabytes.

Mr. NEWHART: Exactly, yeah.

CONAN: Let's get - this is Bill. Bill's on the line with us from Lakeville, Indiana.

BILL (Caller): Hi.


BILL: I think, Mr. Newhart, one of your most brilliant roles was as Captain Major in the movie Catch-22, and I would love to hear you repeat your line about how captain was your rank, major was your name.

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah, my name was - this was Catch-22, of course, Heller's great World War II book. And Mike Nichols directed Catch-22, and Buck Henry wrote Catch-22. And a lot of the people were a compilation of many of the characters in Catch-22. And I was Captain Major Major. I was a laundry officer and then the - my head, he was killed and I was made major. I was promoted from captain to major. So I became Major Major Major.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: And I was in charge of the laundry and quartermaster. And I didn't want the job at all. And I explained to Norm Fell, who was my assistant, to not bring people into my office when I was in my office. But once I had left my office, it was all right to bring them in. And Norm said but you won't be here. I said, that's right, and then I crawled out the window.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BILL: A brilliant scene.

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much.

BILL: Neal, you're brilliant, too.

CONAN: Oh, well, thanks for being very kind.

MR. NEWHART: You sure are, Neal.

CONAN: Thanks. It's interesting, one of the things that you wrote in the book that I found fascinating was that success for a comedian, in a sense, cuts you off from the source of your material. For one thing, I don't think you're going out for part-time jobs anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: Well, it's true. You know, the more success you attain, the more recognizable you become, the less you're able to overhear conversations that might be potential routines, you know. And when I go - of course, when I go into a city - and this is a true story - the comment I always get is boy, you sure look like him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: And I say thank you very much, you know, because the alternative is saying I actually am him, you know.

CONAN: In Chicago in the early days, you were apparently mistaken for a guy named Fred…

MR. NEWHART: Oh, I forget.

CONAN: Well, anyway, Fred Murphy, whatever his name might be. But who you didn't know and you never met.

MR. NEWHART: No, and people would wave at me, you know, in cars, roll down the windows and yell, hey Fred, how you doing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: And I'd keep yelling out, I'm not Fred. I'm not Fred.

CONAN: The other things about Chicago that you reveal about yourself - and boy, the tabloids are going to have a field day with this one - that famous opening scene in, of course, your first and most successful television program where you're seen walking across that bridge in Chicago with a coat on - that's not you.

MR. NEWHART: That's not me, no. I was there with my wife and my daughter Jennifer, and she developed - I think it was roseola. And so I had to call in the producers, Dave Davis and Lorenzo Music, and I said guys, I won't be able to shoot today because we've got to go to the hospital with my daughter. And so they got a guy who they taught to walk like me. And he doesn't walk like me at all. So every time I see it I scream at the television, I don't walk like that, you know.

CONAN: We're talking with Bob Newhart about his new book, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get a caller in. Judy. Judy calling from Vermillion, South Dakota.

JUDY (CALLER): Hi. I just wanted to relate a story. When I was in high school, years ago, we had a creative writing assignment. And one of my friends handed in an assignment that he said was his. It was called Abe Lincoln versus Madison Avenue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JUDY: And the teacher read it in class and oh, we laughed. You know, one of the lines - it was an ad executive saying Abe, do you have to write your speeches on the back of envelopes? And it was really clever. And it was not until I was in college and somebody played me a Bob Newhart album that I realized it wasn't my friend's creation.


(Soundbite of laughter)

JUDY: Now I know why it was so funny.

MR. NEWHART: Oh, thank you.

CONAN: I have to admit at this point, I've stolen a line of yours for years. The line from the bit of Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company, where the pilot comes back and asks one of the passengers anybody ever been to Hawaii? And they said, look where we come up to - kind of liver shaped isn't it?

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

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: Well, that was - Grace L Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company, because if the airline didn't work out they still had the storm doors to fall back on, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The company had done away with a lot of the frills like maintenance and seats, and so you were ahead of your time - Southwest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: That's right.

CONAN: Judy, thanks very much for the phone call.

JUDY: You're welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's get another caller in. This is Ed. Ed's with us from Freeport, Illinois.

ED (CALLER): Yes. Thank you for taking the call.

CONAN: Sure.

ED: Mr. Newhart, your routine on the USS Cod, were you aware of the fact that when the album came out that there was an actual USS Triton that was on a submerged circumnavigation of the globe voyage? And, of course, you refer to that in your routine as that's what the Codfish is finishing, and I didn't know if there was some connection?

MR. NEWHART: You know, I think the Triton kind of, I think was a spur for that routine as I think back. Because I then imagined what a trip like that would have been like with a totally incompetent commander, and the cruise of the USS Codfish was the final result.

ED: I see, well the commander of the Triton as Edward Beach, and people often told him that he sounded like you when he announced things over the PA system.

MR. NEWHART: Oh, that poor man.

CONAN: Yeah. He was also a novelist in later life.

ED: That is correct. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Ed, thanks…

MR. NEWHART: My pleasure.

CONAN: Thanks very much. And do you realize the - you know, hearing all of these stories about the people who you've affected now for more than 45 years since you've achieved national fame back in 1960 - there are generations of people who know your face, know your voice. And all we have to hear is that bit that we played at the beginning that Conan O'Brien introduced you at the Emmy Awards. They hear, you know, the great Bob Newhart, and they start to laugh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: Isn't that nice?

CONAN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That must be awfully nice. You say…

MR. NEWHART: It's nice comment on a life. People come up to me and say, you know, thank you for all the laughter over the years. And my standard reply -because it's true - is it was my pleasure. Because I was having just as good a time as they were listening to it.

CONAN: When we come back from a short break, we'll talk more with Bob Newhart about his career in comedy and about his new book, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny. Plus, a different new book that looks at the jokes that people told about the men in the top in Adolf Hitler's Germany. By the end of the Second World War II, jokes there could get you killed.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. The House and Senate have all but officially given up their quest for a major immigration bill this fall. Today, both chambers went to work on bills aimed at parts of the problem. The Senate considered a 700 mile fence along the U.S. border with Mexico, while the House voted to require that voters show proof of citizenship before taking part in Federal elections.

And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lashed out at the United States and President Bush today at the United Nations. Making the sign of the cross, Chavez described President Bush as the devil and decried Washington's global power.

Details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, some schools send students out to raise money for sports, others to hire new teachers. The questions of equity in school fundraisers. Bake sales for all. Plus, the history behind the story of Helen, Paris, Achilles and Odysseus. You can read an excerpt from Barry Strauss's the Trojan War at our Web site,, then join us tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Right now we're continuing our conversation with Bob Newhart about his book I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny. And let's try to get a few more phone calls. Let's begin with Cathy(ph) - Cathy with us from Cleveland, Ohio.

CATHY (CALLER): Yes. Hello.


CATHY: Hi. I just wanted to share a story. We've been huge fans of Bob Newhart right along and let our 16-year-old daughter listen to some of the routines. And she's currently learning to drive. So when we're driving around in the car and practicing and you'd say turn right here, she'd recite the driving instructor sketch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: This could turn into a disaster very quickly, Cathy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CATHY: Well, it's pretty amusing because she's got it all and she's got it down. So I'm familiar with the routine, too, so I can just hear it coming.

CONAN: Yeah. I've remembered that ever since I've first heard it as a kid myself. You were blinded by the light, the flashing red light. Hello, officer.

MR. NEWHART: Yes. That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CATHY: Exactly. Every bit of it. And it just makes us laugh as we're driving around, and she's not licensed yet. So she's still in driving instructor mode.

MR. NEWHART: Oh, I'm sure she will be.

CATHY: Well, yeah. But it's been fun, and we've enjoyed that sketch and many others.

MR. NEWHART: Oh, thank you.

CONAN: I wonder, do you get a lot of people coming up - idiots like me - doing your routines to you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: No, some people will come up and say that, you know, they did -they were in elocution contests, and they did the driving instructor or Sir Walter Raleigh or whatever. And I only say did you win. They said yeah. I said, great, you know. I get it a lot. The fact that people enjoy it is - that's what I do.

CONAN: Cathy, thanks very much. And good luck with the driving lessons.

CATHY: Thank you.

CONAN: So long.


CONAN: This is David. David's calling us from Cincinnati, Ohio.

DAVID (CALLER): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

DAVID: I just wanted to comment, you know, growing up - I'm in my mid-40s - and just growing up, sitting around with the entire family watching the show, just we never missed them. And I always appreciated - more now so than back then -but I appreciated the fact that it was clean, you know, safe for children, nothing offensive and just exceptionally enjoyable. I just have great memories. Thank you very much, Bob.

MR. NEWHART: Well, thank you. That's what we tried to do.

CONAN: And when you worked at - David, thanks very much for the call - in nightclubs, did you work - as they say - blue?

MR. NEWHART: No. I worked clean, I always worked clean. I talked to Jerry Seinfeld about this, because Jerry works clean also. And, you know, I know the words. I was in service and was very often called some of them, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MR. NEWHART: …by the sergeant. But funnily enough, I think the most seminal influence in comedy in the past 50 years is Richard Pryor. Even though he and I don't work alike at all. It's just the richness of the concepts that Richard came up with were phenomenal. I think they rose above comedy.

CONAN: He once - you wrote in the book - paid you an enormous compliment at one of these award dinners.

MR. NEWHART: That's right. Yes. I was giving him the - it was at the Comedy Awards. I was giving him the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Richard was in the wheelchair at that time, so he couldn't come up on stage and accept the award. So during the commercial break I went over and stood next to him and handed the award to him. Then we went into a press room, and Richard turned to me and he said I stole your album. And I said what, Richard? He said I stole your album in Peoria. He said, I went into a record store, and I stuffed in my jacket, and I walked out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEWHART: And I said well, you know, Richard, I get 25 cents an album. And he turned around and said somebody give me a quarter, give me a quarter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last caller in. This is Doug, Doug with us from Sacramento.

DOUG (Caller): Yes, Bob. It's truly an honor to speak to you, and you are my favorite all-time actor. And I've got a couple quick questions for you. Do you still keep in contact with actors from previous shows?

Mr. NEWHART: Yeah, when I can. I keep in touch with Suzie and Tom - Tom Poston. And Jack Riley I see quite often. Marsha I run into quite a bit. Bill Daley is living in Albuquerque, but occasionally we'll have a reunion, and then Julia Duffy and - Peter Scolari, of course, has been on the road in plays. But yeah, we were a family, and we had a lot of laughs together. And yeah, we very much stay in touch.

DOUG: Yeah, that's great. I'm looking forward to buying the entire Newhart series on DVD - I just found it the other day on the Internet, and can't wait to get it.

CONAN: And I think he gets more than a quarter these days for each copy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DOUG: I hope so. Do you have any plans on doing anything on TV anytime soon?

Mr. NEWHART: I have a movie coming out in December. It's called The Librarian. It's a sequel to a movie. I did it with Noah Wyle of ER and Jane Curtin, and we shot it in - it's on TNT, and we shot it in South Africa, which was an incredible experience. And then my wife and I took a short safari trip, which is one of the most memorable trips we've ever taken in our lives. It just - it changes you forever.

DOUG: I bet. It was great talking to you, and I hope you have a great afternoon.

CONAN: Doug, thanks for the call.

Mr. NEWHART: Thank you.

CONAN: One final thing. You write in the book: here are some of the towns I played last year: Carmel, Indiana, Hutchinson, Kansas and Huntsville, Alabama. I even played Peoria. So why not limit my dates to easy-to-reach cities like Toronto, Chicago and Reno? Easier still? Why not just retire?

Mr. NEWHART: It would leave a hole in my life. It's just - it's something I've been doing - you know, it's very tough to get, you know - you go through security, and you have to take your shoes off, and they lose your luggage, and you know, and they delay the flight. So the travel is really difficult, but once you're there, and once you're on a stage and people are laughing, you know that's what you were born to do. And why would you ever get tired of making people laugh? I just can't imagine it.

CONAN: Bob Newhart will make many people laugh with his new book. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Mr. NEWHART: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Bob Newhart's book, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny. Again, there's an excerpt at our Web site,

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