Bob Newhart opens up about his stand-up comedy days

Before he was a television star, he was winning Grammys.

Associated Press

When you think of comedy legends, Bob Newhart always comes to mind.

The actor is known today as one of the most successful television stars of all time, appearing in The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart and countless television specials.

With all the success on camera, you almost forget Newhart is also an incredibly accomplished stand-up comedian. It's a part of his career that's often overlooked, but vital to understanding his success.

Newhart worked as an accountant after graduating college in the early 1950s. After a career change to the advertising industry later that decade, Newhart decided to test the waters of stand-up comedy.

The living legend had a candid conversation with the San Luis Obispo Tribune, talking about his early years, major influences and career highlights. 

Newhart says his informal schooling was watching The Ed Sullivan Show whenever a comedian was featured on the program. 

In the late 1950s, Newhart worked at nightclubs and was signed to Warner Bros. Records. In 1960, the label released his comedy album The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. It was the first comedy album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. 

Associated PressNewhart with his idols, (from left) George Burns, Gracie Allen and Jack Benny

Newhart contributes the success of that album to college students, who couldn't relate to the popular material of the time. 

"[Mainstream material] didn't relate to the college kids," Newhart told the Tribune. "They couldn't afford to go to a nightclub. They'd all get together in somebody's room in the frat house, and they'd get some beers, and they'd put on a comedy record." 

The album's success lead to two Grammy Awards — one for Album of the Year and another for Best New Artist. It also allowed for a string of television appearances, which eventually lead to The Bob Newhart Show in 1972.

"The censors would say, 'No, you can't do that,'" Newhart said about pushing the envelope with his eponymous show. "It seems like ancient history now, but when I did The Bob Newhart Show with Suzanna [Pleshette], up until then everybody on TV slept in separate beds."

Surprisingly enough, Newhart did not receive an Emmy Award until 2013, after a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory. 

"It never really bothered me," Newhart told the Tribune about being snubbed. "I was never really bitter about it. And I was against some pretty stiff competition — Alan Alda, Carroll O'Connor and Jack Klugman."

Despite all the success on television, Newhart never forgot his first love, stand-up comedy. At 87, an age when most of his peers are retired, Newhart continues to tour. 

"I mean, I'm slowing down," Newhart said. "But once you're there and you're on stage, it's worth it. I enjoy it."

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