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BOB-ING FOR LAUGHS

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Bob Newhart hasn’t changed.

He acts the same, sounds the same, makes audiences laugh the same, and - lucky guy - even looks the same. It must be his ability to find humor in any situation. Be it himself, Dr. Robert (Bob) Hartley, Dick Loudon, Papa Elf or Morty Flickman - just some of the characters he’s played in his more than 40-year career as funnyman extraordinaire - he’s still the same talented guy he was at the start.

And from the looks of his list of credits, his career is far from over. In fact, he’ll perform in this borough - for the first time ever - as part of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts’s series at Brooklyn College in Midwood on Saturday, March 25.


Keeping busy

Last summer, Newhart, 76, spent some time in South Africa shooting the sequel to the 2004 TV movie "The Librarian: Quest for the Spear" with Noah Wyle (from "ER"). At the end of the month, he’ll embark on a three-city stand-up tour to Philadelphia, Englewood, NJ, and Brooklyn. The back and forth, however, is nothing out of the ordinary for Newhart who has been city-hopping to make people laugh since 1960.

His routines are infamous. A few of his ’60s recordings topped the charts; "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart" hit No. 1. He recorded seven more after it and won three Grammys. During his upcoming tour, he’ll perform two of the tried and true - most likely "The Driving Instructor" and "Sir Walter Raleigh," he told GO Brooklyn in a recent interview. He’ll throw in a new routine as well, something sure to make audiences laugh - nothing about politics.

"I’ve never thought of myself as an educator," said Newhart. "I see myself as an entertainer. With politics you automatically alienate half of your audience."


Fresh material

His new routine will involve observations on the "crazy" planet we inhabit, traveling today, everyday experiences and religion. (Newhart was raised Catholic, which allows him to poke a little fun, based on personal experience.)

On average he makes 30 to 35 stand-up performances per year. All of that, on top of movie roles and TV appearances. His three-episode guest appearance on "ER" garnered him an Emmy nomination in 2004, and most recently, he’s been checking in on ABC’s hit series "Desperate Housewives."

"I was highly complimented when [’Desperate Housewives’ creator] Mark Cherry called my agent," Newhart said. "They could’ve gotten anyone in the world. They probably could’ve gotten [Dick] Cheney. He’s probably tired of all the flack for the recent [shooting] incident. He probably would have said, ’to hell with it.’ "

On "DH," Newhart plays Morty Flickman, husband to Sophie Bremmer (played by Leslie Ann Warren), mother of Susan (played by Teri Hatcher).

"Morty is a departure from Bob Hartley and Dick Louden," Newhart said. "He’s very short-tempered. [Sophie] drives him crazy. But I fell in love with Cherry’s writing. He wrote for the ’Golden Girls,’ and it doesn’t get much funnier than that."

Yes. Those - and then some - were the days. The days when the Saturday night lineup consisted of "All in the Family," "MASH," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Bob Newhart Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show"; they triggered pain-in-your-side, tears-streaming-down-your-face laughs.

It isn’t quite the same today, acknowledged Newhart.

"I hate reality shows," Newhart said. "They’re so manipulative and scripted. Why does the pretty person always win?"

Hence the reason there’s no "must-see TV" on his evening schedule. When he isn’t traveling from his Los Angeles home, Newhart is all about his family, grandchildren and friends.

"I’m not a road warrior," Newhart said. "It’s about what I’m comfortable with, so I am able to have time off."

With the scraps of free time that he has left, Newhart writes. He polishes his stand-up and recently finished his memoir, which will be published by Hyperion in the fall.

"It’s about my career and before," Newhart said. "I’d been putting it off for a long time. I knew I had to commit to it or else I’d never do it."

Newhart’s certainly had a career worth recording for posterity. Besides those Grammys, he has also received many other prestigious awards.

"It’s like, ’You’ve come a long way baby,’ " Newhart chuckled. "I mean look at the people I joined [in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame] - Lucy, Jackie Gleason, Johnny Carson. It was mind-boggling."

There’s no doubt that Newhart has talent - acting, performing and writing - although he’s quick to credit his wife, Virginia Quinn, with the idea for the final scene of "Newhart," in which Dick Louden wakes up as Bob Newhart beside Emily, his wife played by Suzanne Pleshette, on the set of "The Bob Newhart Show," rendering the whole eight-year "Newhart" series at the inn in Vermont just a nightmare. Although he has all areas covered, his passion lies in stand-up.

"I enjoy the immediate gratificat­ion," Newhart said. "There’s no delay on stage as there is with TV and film."

He feels comfortable on stage and will bring his straight-faced delivery out East to add a little more "immediate gratification" to his resume. He’ll stammer a bit as he always does and keep his jokes and one-sided telephone conversations flowing.

"It’s about making people laugh," Newhart said, "and I enjoy the sound of laughter."

Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts presents "An Evening with Bob Newhart" at the Walt Whitman Theatre (on the campus of Brooklyn College, 2900 Campus Rd. at Flatbush Avenue in Midwood) on Saturday, March 25, at 8 pm. Tickets are $20-$40. For more information, visit the Web site www.brooklyncenter.com or call (718) 951-4500.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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