Now in his mid-70s, comedian Newhart riffs lightly on his life and career, publishing along the way portions of his most popular routines.
His book is a memoir only in the most superficial sense. There are no revelations, dark or otherwise, only an amusing and repetitive PowerPoint presentation by a writer determined to keep himself concealed. Oddly, Newhart’s observations about the art of comedy often veer close to banality—e.g., “Comedy can help us make it past something very painful like death.” He opens with some comments on comedy and comedians, then segues into chapters about his youth in Chicago. His father drank a lot; we don’t learn much about Mom. Newhart attended Catholic schools, got a bachelor’s degree in management and left Loyola’s law school sans degree. He was drafted, spent two years as an army clerk, then worked as an accountant. On the side, he wrote comedy routines, selling a few to radio stations. He lived at home until he was 29. His first comedy album (The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart) skyrocketed, as did the follow-up. The ensuing years were filled with stand-up dates in Vegas, TV shows, movies and lunches with glitterati. A treacly sequence about meeting his wife and some Erma Bombeckian pages about a disastrous family trip in a Winnebago are among the weaker sections. More interesting behind-the-scenes segments discuss his TV shows and films, especially Hell Is for Heroes and Catch-22. Playing one scene in the latter with a wicked hangover, Newhart was taken aback when director Mike Nichols declared that was exactly the quality he was looking for in the character. It’s one of the book’s many drinking stories; the author writes with less good cheer about smoking, which nearly killed him. His best friend is Don Rickles; he met Stan Laurel; he wishes he’d met W.C. Fields. He still loves doing stand-up.
More of a routine than a memoir, but full of the wry, understated self-deprecation that Newhart has perfected.