Dateline: Chicago, late 1950's. An accountant named Bob Newhart supplements his income by writing and performing comedy sketches on the radio. And comedy albums were hot in America then.

Newhart's material was fresh and different. His "button-down mind" was creating cool, calculated and controlled sketches, satiric but in a new way. Newhart was part of the audience himself, gently mirroring the faults and foibles of the unassuming average man. When some of his comedy radio tapes found their way to Warner Brothers Records, Warner assumed Newhart was ready to become its star comic.

Within months of the release of his first album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, it became the first comedy LP to reach #1 on the charts. The album stayed at #1 an amazing 38 weeks -- a record which stood for over three decades -- and today the album ranks 20th in Billboard Magazine's all time Hall-of-Fame. The album went "'Gold" in 1960, one of only 15 that year. Newhart was voted "Best New Artist" at the Grammy Awards in 1960, and The Button-Down Mind received "Album of the Year."

Newhart was inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame in 1993.


Says Newhart: A combination of artists shaped my sense of humor: Robert Benchley with the printed word. Max Shulman and James Thurber, and then it would have to be Jack Benny. I've always said that he was the bravest comic that I've ever seen work because he wasn't afraid of silence. That's something you have to learn. You have to take the time to tell it right and not rush it. Not think, "Oh my God, they're not laughing." Jack was a master of that. His timing was incredible.

Newhart has released a CD of the old record routines. "I always wanted to redo them because they were edited in a way that always bothered me. Whoever edited them at Warner Brothers would take out pauses, and the pauses are very often as important - or more important - than the actual words that you're saying. It's like - maybe the biggest laugh that Jack Benny ever got, was when the mugger approached him and said, "your money or your life." Then there was a long pause and the mugger asked which it was going to be. Benny replied, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking." Without the pause it's not the same joke."


For Bob Newhart, being funny includes meeting an ethical standard that years of Catholic education and upbringing instilled in him.

He has incorporated part of his Catholic experiences into his work. "I do have a bit on what it was like growing up Catholic, going to confession, learning the commandments," Newhart said.

"I used to listen to my Jewish comedian friends talk about what it was like being Jewish and decided maybe I should talk about what it's like being Catholic. It's gone over well, not just among Catholics, but among non-Catholics, too."

Says Newhart: Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event over which we have no control and deal with it and then move on with our lives. It helps distinguish us from animals. No matter what hyenas sound like, they are not actually laughing. It also helps define our sanity.


  • "Hi, Bob!"
  • Lincoln coached for the Gettysburgh Address
  • Abner Doubleday laughed at for inventing a complex game called baseball
  • The merchandising of the Wright Brothers.
  • The classic "Driving Instructor" routine
  • and many more...

  • The Button-Down Mind
  • The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back
  • Behind The Button-Down Mind
  • The Button-Down Mind on TV
  • Bob Newhart Faces Bob Newhart
  • Windmills Are Weakening
  • This Is It
  • Bob Newhart Deluxe Edition
  • Best of Bob Newhart
  • Very Funny Bob Newhart

Bob Newhart has appealed to each generation for the last forty years. Most know him for his role as Dr. Robert Hartley, a Chicago psychologist, in the Bob Newhart show. And yet another generation is laughing with Bob today...
Menu Bar Hometown Comedy of Bob Newhart Bob Newhart on Television Bob Newhart in the Movies Bob Newhart on the Web

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Comments to Updated February 2, 1998