|Bob Newhart: Button Down Concert (2006)
Starring: Bob Newhart
Director: Dick Martin
When we were putting together the inaugural class of Bullz-Eye’s Stand-Up Hall of Fame and I pitched Bob Newhart as a nominee, editor Jamey Codding responded with a comment that will haunt him forever: “I didn’t even know he did stand-up!” (Our fellow editor, David Medsker, responded snarkily, “Ask him if he knew Seinfeld used to do stand-up.”)
It will no doubt make Mr. Codding feel better, then, that as he opens his Button-Down Concert – a 1995 performance where he revisits routines from his Grammy-winning 1960s albums, The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart and The Button Down Mind Strikes Back – Newhart acknowledges that our man Jamey is not alone. “When I did ‘The Bob Newhart Show,’ if there was one question that I was asked more than any other, it was, ‘Did you do anything before this?’” After the laughter from those in the know dies down, Newhart then explains that “tonight’s show is to prove that, yes, I did do something before this.”
And prove it he does...handily.
Even if Newhart had never successfully made the transition into the world of sitcoms, he’d still be spoken of in hushed tones today as one of the all-time best stand-up comedians. His trademark schtick was to let the audience hear one end of a telephone conversation; the unheard person at the other end of the line could be anyone from Abner Doubleday (often referred to as the inventor of baseball) to Sir Walter Raleigh, with Newhart playing the skeptic to whatever the other person was discussing…like, say, the bizarre concept of rolling up a bunch of leaves and smoking them. Both the Doubleday and Raleigh bits are included here, along with the classic routine, “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue,” where Honest Abe gets a publicist. (“By the way, the Abe Lincoln t-shirt is coming out on Tuesday; any way to work that into the address?”)
There are also scenarios where Newhart plays just an average guy. Sometimes he’s in a bizarre situation, as in “King Kong,” where the doorman at the Empire State Building checks in with his supervisor about something not covered in the manual. (“He isn’t your standard ape, sir; he’s 18 to 20 stories high, depending on whether we have a 13th floor or not.”) Other times, it’s just a hilarious spin on a normal event, such as the retirement speech by a bitter and drunk employee. (“People ask me, ‘Charlie, what are you gonna do when you retire?’ I’m gonna sell tapes from office parties for $1,500 apiece…well, the June picnic will probably go for 17.5. You all remember the June picnic.”)While this is no substitute for watching black-and-white clips of Newhart doing some of these routines on variety shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show” or “The Tonight Show,” it proves conclusively that, even 35 years later, the man’s lost none of what some would call the greatest comedic timing ever.