Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This"

I first met Bob Newhart when I was ten years old.  Well, I didn't actually meet him, but I felt like I did on The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978).  His character, Dr. Bob Hartley, became a friend and continued to be a friend even when he moved from Chicago to Vermont and inexplicably changed his name to Dick Loudon (Newhart, 1982-1990).  In his memoir, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, Newhart himself said, "If I had to place a number on it, I would say that Bob Hartley was 85% me and 15% TV character."  As I read this book, it became increasingly clear how true that statement was.

Born and raised in a lower-middle class Catholic family in Illinois, Newhart would be educated by the Jesuits in childhood and his Catholic-based education would continue at Loyola University where he earned a bachelor's degree in business management.

I'm pleased to report there is no indulgent retrospection in his memoir.  Newhart breezes over a challenging relationship with his father in a manner for which I have great appreciation.  He doesn't wallow in victimhood.  He simply says that's the way it was.
I really didn't get much recognition from my father.  I don't think it scarred me for life; it's just the way it was. The more I read, the more I think that's just the way fathers were at the time.  I was a little bit like the son in the novel The Kite Runner who was always trying to gain his father's attention and affection but never succeeded.
While Newhart's sweet home (town) Chicago would provide the stage for his future career, boredom provided the genesis.  As a young man, to handle the tedium of his accounting position, he would call up a friend and make up absurd stories. These stories became the basis for his trademark telephone routines.

Another one of his trademarks is his stammering speech.
Stammering is different than stuttering.  Stutterers have trouble with the letters, while stammerers trip over entire parts of a sentence.  We stammerers generally think of ourselves as very bright.  My own private theory is that stammerers have so many ideas swirling around their brain at once that they can't get them all out, though I haven't found any scientific evidence to back that up.
[Aside:  If that quote didn't crack you up, watch some YouTube of his routines and then read it again.]

This is the autobiography/memoir that fans crave - the one that reassures you the celebrity you admire is worthy of that admiration.  It is also full of stories that make you smile or literally laugh out loud.  One of my favorite stories involves Newhart and his best friend, Don Rickles.  After his wife's first meeting in Las Vegas  of Don Rickles:

. . . Later, as we were walking in to see Don's third show, Ginnie [Newhart's wife] said to me,          "He is such a family man and his values are so solid."
"Honey," I cautioned her, "his act is a little different than the man you just met."
We sat down, and soon Don walked onstage. When the applause died down, he opened his act with this:
:Well I see that the stammering idiot from Chicago is in the audience tonight with his hooker wife from Bayonne, New Jersey."

This is also an insightful book, not only about comedy,
Comedy is a way to bring logic to an illogical situation, of which there are many in everyday life.  I've always likened what I do to the man who is convinced that he is the last sane man on Earth. This guy is something like the Paul Revere of psychotics running through the town and yelling, "This is crazy!" But no one pays attention to him.
but also about our culture:
 Comedy has changed again since the sixties, as the once acceptable limits of raunchy humor have been breached, but audiences have changed too.  We have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves. . .I don't have a joke   on albino cross-dressers, but if I did, I guarantee you that I would receive a letter from the local chapter of the ACD asking me to cease and desist making fun of albino cross-dressers. . . The problem is we live in an uptight country.  Why don't we just laugh at ourselves?  We are funny.  Gays are funny.  Straights are funny.  Women are funny.  Men are funny.  We are all funny, and we all do funny things.  Let's laugh about it...
Comedy can help us make it past something very painful, like death.  Laughter gives us distance.  It allows us to step back from an event over which we have no control, 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.  The schizophrenic has no sense of humor. His world is a constantly daunting, unfriendly place.  The rational man is able to find humor in life.
To help you have some laughs today, watch this and this.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Letting Go of Dad's Quarters

I put a handful of Bicentennial Quarters in my change jar this morning.  While that may not seem worthy of a blog post, it is.

For years I made my parents Christmas Stockings.  My Dad and I had a longstanding deal:  He kept me in Chanel No. 5 and I made sure any "wheathead" pennies and bicentennial quarters I came across during the year were in his stocking. The first year I did this I found a tiny box in which to place the coins.  Dad labeled it "My Money" and that box was used every year.

Dad entered Heaven eight years ago, but I have continued to collect bicentennial quarters.  I'm sure a psychologist would have a field day with the reasons why, but for me it was just because every time I saw one it made me think of Dad.  And that was always a good thing.

These quarters are worth 25 cents; there's no added numismatic value for these circulated coins.  Dad had a tin can he threw change in that said, "A Penny Saved is a Penny."  Nothing more.  So today these 1976 quarters joined other spare change in our coin jar.  I think Dad would approve.