Bob Newhart performed at Overture Hall on Saturday night to an eager and large audience. Opening for him was jazz singer Jackie Allen and her three-piece band.
I was excited to see Bob Newhart. He's one of the rare performers that people just really seem to like no matter what. With his Midwestern upbringing and background in accounting he seems like a funnier version of someone we know (I've always thought of my dad as Stevens Point's own Bob Newhart). I'm happy to see Newhart wherever he turns up: re-runs of his own TV shows, the funny "stop-it" sketch on MadTV, Buddy the Elf's dad in Elf and Conan O'Brien's shtick during the Emmys. Obviously his successful comedy albums show that he's funny on his own, but what I've always appreciated about him is how he seems to make the people around him funnier.
The show began with an orchestra playing just a few bars of The Bob Newhart Show theme song and then vanishing for the rest of the evening. One surprise was that Newhart was more animated and lively than I anticipated. He even busted out some accents while telling jokes about Germans, Brits and the Irish. Of course if I try to share his jokes with you there will be much lost in translation since a lot of the funniness is in his deadpan, slightly stammering delivery, but my favorite joke of the night came early on as Newhart discussed country music. When he asked for a show of hands from audience members who like country music he said, "I don't mean to denigrate country music. Oh, for you country and western fans that means put down or make fun of..."
A good percentage of his act was quirky stories plucked from the news, usually punctuated by his comment that "this is really true, I couldn't make this up." I preferred anecdotes from his own life. When sharing his background as German/Irish he described the result as meticulous drunks. His musings on growing up in the Catholic Church, while not sidesplitting, were amusing. Before Newhart began his driving-instructor bit he acknowledged its popularity by warning the audience that it throws him off to watch their lips moving with his. Famous for his one-sided phone conversations, Newhart played a caterer taking a reservation for the Last Supper.
At the end of the set a screen dropped and Newhart narrated film clips that began with a "history of the Newharts in America," plunking Newhart himself, Zelig-style, into photos and videos of significant events in American history. This was not exactly funny, but Newhart's mournful eyes peeking out from these costumes was sort of endearing. This was followed by photos of his wife and kids and early performance clips of Newhart on television as a fledgling comedian, and finally a few scenes from his popular TV shows.
He apparently felt that he needed to remind the audience why we liked him in the first place, but it wasn't really necessary. While the performance wasn't as stellar as I had hoped, it was funny enough that I will continue to hold Newhart in high esteem. With his long track record, how could I not?