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Bob Newhart Live
Benaroya Hall, Seattle
April 24, 1999

Bob Newhart was killer.

I was afraid he'd just run through all the routines from his old albums, which I've only found mildly amusing to begin with. I'm much more a fan of his deadpan TV sitcom persona, acting nonplussed in the middle of a bunch of weirdos, so I would've been happy enough just to see him in the flesh, and then hope to enjoy his performance.

He entered to a standing ovation from the sellout audience while the theme from The Bob Newhart Show played away. There he was, 69 years old, in coat and tie, stammering into an imaginary telephone -- pretty much what I'd expected. But about 75% of the material I hadn't heard before. Some of it was fairly topical, such as the bit about O.J.'s recent golf course brush with a mugger. He told some "politically incorrect" jokes about Mexicans and dog-eating Asians, as well as relating some funny stuff about growing up Catholic in Chicago, and he did a decent Ernest Angley impersonation. No R-rated words, nothing blue. I was surprised I laughed as much as I did. The only stinker was a stupid joke about Polish airline pilots, which I remember my sister telling me when I was nine.

Near the end of the hour-long set, he narrated about ten minutes of footage from some old TV appearances which I hadn't seen before (a skit with Dean Martin and a bit on Ed Sullivan's show). Then he closed with three classic routines from his old records: "Bus Driver's School," "Edison's Most Famous Invention," and Sir Walter Raleigh "Introducing Tobacco to Civilization." I didn't see anyone younger than myself in the crowd, which looked to be all white, average age about 50 (go figure). One obnoxious woman repeatedly ran up to the stage waving her Newhart records at him to sign during his set, each time being hustled back to her seat by an usher.

Afterwards my dad and I waited about 20 minutes with the obnoxious woman and 40 or so other people to meet Newhart in the green room. I sheepishly said "Hi Bob" to his face (now sporting reading glasses), introduced myself, and shook his hand. I handed him a Heinous zine to autograph ("To Steve, Hi, Bob Newhart") and gave him one to keep. (I had written an article about him in that issue.) He didn't seem to recognize the zine, even though I mailed him a copy months beforehand. Ah well. I couldn't think of anything clever to say so I jokingly asked him if he was actually friends with Axl Rose, whom he once quipped that he was. It took him a moment to process as he gave me a perplexed look over his reading glasses, before he replied, "N-not really." My dad took a picture of us together, and told Newhart that he mispronounced "geoducks" onstage when he was tossing out local references to warm up to the crowd.

Incidentally, we sat low in the first tier, stage right, and looking down on the floor we spotted Bill Gates and his very pregnant wife. We had better seats than they did.

Originally appeared in issue #11 of the print zine Scram, Winter 1999/2000. Order it here.

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