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What to Read this Summer, Part 1.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan gives her recommendations for books to read this summer.

05:18

Other segments from the episode on June 9, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 9, 1998: Interview with Bob Newhart; Review of Pere Ubu's album "Pennsylvania"; Commentary on books for summer reading.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060901NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Bob Newhart
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This Friday night, my guest Bob Newhart will revive some of the standup comedy act that first made him famous in the early '60s. He'll perform at Carnegie Hall as part of the Toyota Comedy Festival. With the help of Nick at Night, several generations have become Newhart fans. You can still him playing psychologist Dr. Bob Hartley on "The Bob Newhart Show" which had its initial run from 1972 to '78.

Nick at Night also runs the Newhart Show, which ran from '82 to '90, in which he played Vermont innkeeper Dick Loudon (ph). His latest series, "George and Leo," was just canceled by CBS.

Before we meet Bob Newhart, let's listen to an excerpt of his first comedy album, "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," recorded in 1960, in which he does the kind of one-sided phone conversation that became a trademark. The premise of this phone call is: what if Abe Lincoln was being advised by a Madison Avenue advertising executive?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE BUTTON-DOWN MIND OF BOB NEWHART")

BOB NEWHART, COMEDIAN: Hi Abe, sweetheart, how are you kid? How's Gettysburg? Sort of a drag, huh? Well, Abe you know, them small Pennsylvania towns. You seen one, you seen them all. Right.

LAUGHTER

Listen Abe, I got the note, what -- what's the problem? You're thinking of shaving it off? Abe, don't you see that's part of the image? Right -- with the shawl and the stovepipe hat, the string tie. You don't have the shawl? Where's the shawl, Abe?

LAUGHTER

You left it in Washington. What are you wearing, Abe? A sort of cardigan? Don't you see that doesn't fit with the string tie and the beard? Abe, would you leave the beard on and get the shawl, huh?

All right -- one thing -- now what's this about Grant? You're getting a lot of complaints on Grant's drinking, huh?

LAUGHTER

Abe, to be perfectly honest with you, I don't see the problem. I mean, you knew he was a lush when you appointed him...

LAUGHTER

Your gag writers -- yeah, your gag writers -- you want to come back with something funny, huh? Maybe an anecdote about a town drunk? Well, I can't promise you anything, Abe. I'll get 'em working on it.

All right, Abe, you got the speech. Abe, you haven't changed the speech have you? Abe, what do you change the speeches for? A couple of minor changes, I'll bet. All right, all right, what are they?

You what? You typed it. Abe, how many times have we told you, on the backs of envelopes? I understand it's harder to read that way, Abe, but it looks like you wrote it on a train coming...

LAUGHTER

Abe, could you do this? Could you memorize it and then put it on the backs of the envelopes? We're getting a lot of play in the press on that. How are the envelopes holding up?

LAUGHTER

You could stand another box. All right, I'll send...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Now, how did you come up with the one-sided phone call bit?

NEWHART: Well you know, I'm credited with that and I actually -- I don't -- I certainly didn't invent the form. One of the first records ever was a thing called "Cohen (ph) on the Telephone." One -- and there's of course George Jessel used to do phone calls to his mother; and then Shelley Berman did a lot of one-sided conversations. Mike and Elaine did two-sided conversations, but again they were telephone conversations.

There are just -- there are some routines that lend themselves to the telephone. And I think -- I think what happens is the audience -- the people listening to it, it makes it a hot medium in Marshall McLuhan's words, because they're involved. They're supplying something. They're not just sitting back and saying: "oh, that's funny; oh, that's funny." They're supplying the other end of the conversation.

I was -- I belong to a country club out here and George Scott belongs to it, and he asked me one time -- he said in that kind of gruff voice of his, he said: "let me ask you something. How do you do those -- how do you do those telephone conversations?" And I said: "well, George, I just, you know, I ask a question and then I wait long enough for the person on the other end to answer it, and then I start talking again."

He said: "that's amazing. That's absolutely amazing." And I thought to myself: "no George, 'Patton' is amazing. This is just a telephone conversation." I don't know how else to do it. That's the only way you can do it.

GROSS: Bob Newhart is my guest. Now, you're Catholic and when you were coming of age as a comic, I think a lot of the comics were Jewish comics who were getting their start in the Catskill Mountains, which was a largely Jewish resort area. And I'm wondering if you ever felt that ethnic comics had a built-in constituency i.e. people of their ethnic group. And did you feel like you -- you had that kind of, you know, 'cause there was no Borscht Belt for you.

NEWHART: No.

GROSS: Did you play the Borscht Belt at all?

NEWHART: No. I never have.

GROSS: Right.

NEWHART: The Catskills -- no.

GROSS: Right. So, did you feel like that...

NEWHART: I played the Poconos. That's as close as I ever came to the Catskills.

GROSS: Right. OK. Did you feel like you were missing out on something -- not being identified as an ethnic comic?

NEWHART: Well you know, humor I think at that time was -- was very regional, as I recall. It was -- I remember Phil Foster doing -- doing routines about the Brooklyn Dodgers. And then, television came along and you had to make your humor continental. You couldn't make it regional anymore. It had to be -- you had to find ways of not making it regional, is what I'm trying to say.

I -- after some time, I realized that a lot of my friends -- a lot of the comics are Jewish that I know -- and they would refer to their Jewishness and then I began referring to my Catholicism, and what it's like to grow up as a Catholic. And began to realize how funny it is in many ways to grow up. It gives you a chance to kind of stand back and look at it. And find the humor in it.

GROSS: What did you find funny about your Catholic upbringing?

NEWHART: Well, for instance I said what the difference between Catholics and other religions is basically we have confession, and non-Catholics don't understand how you go in this little dark room and tell another human being like terrible things you've done during the week.

But if you're raised Catholic, there are -- there are certain tricks you learn about going to confession, like you -- you sit in the very last pew and you watch the two lines move into the confessional, and whichever line moves the fastest, that's the one you get in, because that -- that priest wants to get out of there.

And I remember the first time I did that, and it got a big reaction from the audience. And I realized, oh, I'm not the only one who -- I'm not the only one who -- who did that.

GROSS: You kind of treat it as if it was a long line at the supermarket instead of...

LAUGHTER

... instead of the confessional.

Well, can you remember for us what the venues -- yeah?

NEWHART: You know, that's interesting because it does suggest, they might have a confessional like, you know, 10 sins or less, you know?

LAUGHTER

GROSS: The swift-moving line.

NEWHART: I just thought of that.

GROSS: That's good.

Oh, can you recall for us what your early venues were like? What the smaller clubs, if there were such things at the time; and you know, what Reno and Vegas were like when you started doing them in the '60s?

NEWHART: Oh, wow. They were clubs -- they weren't comedy clubs per se, much as they'd be referred to today as, with just one comic after another, getting up and doing five minutes. There was -- they were folk music clubs -- places like "Mr. Kelly's" in Chicago and the "Hungry I" in San Francisco, and "The Crescendo" in Los Angeles.

And you'd get up and do half-hour, 35 minutes, and then this folk group would come out and sing, and then a guy who played the banjo and do protest songs, and then you'd be on again.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Now, what about Vegas?

NEWHART: Vegas was -- Vegas was fun. It was -- it was a chance to -- you'd be there for a month, so it was a chance for the family to come up and be with you on the weekends, and have some kind of normalcy to your life, as much as walking on a stage twice a night and trying to make people laugh is normal, you know.

But that would be the -- and there was a camaraderie among Vegas people that still exists. I still see Steve and Eydie and Shecky Green (ph) and Dick Martin and Don Rickles. And these are all friendships that were developed in Vegas.

GROSS: You mentioned Don Rickles. I know you and he are, or at least were best friends. And it seems like such an incongruous pairing because...

LAUGHTER

... you know, I mean the last thing in the world you would do is insult people on stage. And Don Rickles is like "Mr. Insult" comic, that your temperaments couldn't seem more opposite.

NEWHART: Well, I don't know...

GROSS: Are you really nasty off the stage? And is he really nice?

NEWHART: Oh, he's very nice. He's -- yeah, I'm probably nastier off the stage than I appear. And he's nicer than he appears. But we feed each other. We both -- our wives enjoy each other's company. And we enjoy each other's company and we go away on vacation and we're together for two or three weeks and -- and we have laughs. We just have a good time. It's something -- I wish everybody could have a friend such as the Rickles'.

GROSS: So, where do you guys go on vacation? Not to Vegas?

NEWHART: Oh no, no, no. That would be -- no, that would be a working vacation.

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

NEWHART: That'd be a -- what do they call it? -- a busman's holiday. We would -- the last trip we made, we went to Southeast Asia. We went to -- we flew to Singapore and got aboard a liner and made stops in Bangkok and South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and then Hong Kong. And then we flew to Beijing in China and then flew home from Beijing. And it was a wonderful, wonderful trip.

It was -- we went up the Saigon River, and it's very narrow at points. And they have a pilot who was a local Vietnamese who knows the river very well, and we happened to be up in the -- where, you know, with the captain -- invited us up. And he -- this Vietnamese was yelling out, barking out: "two degree right; four degree right; two degree right; two degree left; four degree" -- that kind of thing.

And because at the time -- at times, you could actually -- you could almost hit the bottom of the Saigon River because it was such a large cruise ship. And the captain said: "you see that man who's the pilot?" I said: "yes." He said: "he's the third mostly highly decorated Viet Cong in Vietnam." And that was weird. That was a weird sensation. It was approximately -- I think it was just about 20 years, almost to the day, that the Vietnamese War ended.

And it just -- it was chilling. And you realized going up, especially going up the Saigon River, how impossible that war was to win. It just -- the jungles were so dense that someone could be four feet away from you and you wouldn't have the slightest idea. And it was their country. You wonder: what were we thinking?

GROSS: You know, I'm wondering -- I'm thinking like how odd it would have been if like say I were a journalist in Vietnam and there was Don Rickles and Bob Newhart going up the river...

LAUGHTER

I thought I was hallucinating or something.

LAUGHTER

Did you run into any people who -- did a real double-take seeing you and he go by?

NEWHART: Met a man -- this may -- I'm confused now whether it was China or Vietnam. But anyway, he -- they kind of knew who I was, but they didn't know who Don was. And I think that upset him. And I derived a great deal of satisfaction from it.

LAUGHTER

But then -- but that has happened before. We traveled in Europe and of course they -- they don't really know either of us, and they certainly don't know what to make of Don. Here's this loud American who's just yelling things at people and insulting them.

GROSS: Well, does he do that when he's touring?

NEWHART: Oh yeah; oh, sure; oh, sure. And so, they don't quite know what to make of Don when we're on vacation.

GROSS: I mean, does he do that as schtick? Or is that just the way he treats people when...

NEWHART: He can't help it. He sees things and he makes observations that are just -- they're scary at times, they're so -- they're so right, you know?

GROSS: My guest is Bob Newhart. He's performing his standup act Friday night at Carnegie Hall as part of the Toyota Comedy Festival. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Bob Newhart. I have another question about when you started doing standup comedy. You started doing standup during the era I've come to think of as the "you dirty rat" era, because every standup comic was compelled to do impersonations of James Cagney. And they also were required to do impersonations of Armstrong and Bogart. And you did some of those yourself.

NEWHART: I was never much of a impersonator. Comics kind of have an ear for that sort of thing...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

NEWHART: ... but I was never real good at it. What -- I found what was -- what was interesting and it certainly wasn't planned in any way, but the people I mentioned -- Mike and Elaine and Shelley Berman and myself and Johnny Winters, Lenny Bruce -- it -- it was a different kind of comedy than had preceded it.

What had preceded it was -- was material that could be stolen. In other words, "take my wife, please"...

GROSS: Jokes.

NEWHART: ... or -- jokes. "I burned a whole in the coat" -- you know, "do you like this jacket? It's a beautiful jacket. I got eight pairs of pants with it. With my luck, I'll burn a whole in the coat." You know, well anybody could deliver that line. It wasn't personalized at all.

But without realizing it, 'cause I -- I certainly wasn't aware of it. It's only in hindsight that I'm aware of it, you couldn't steal a Mike and Elaine routine or a Shelley Berman routine or a Bob Newhart routine or Johnnie Winters routine. They would say: "oh, that sounds like Johnnie Winters."

And so it became -- it was a shift in American comedy that just happened. And I think why it happened was our audience was largely college kids, and they would -- they didn't have mother-in-laws, so mother-in-law jokes didn't...

LAUGHTER

... mean anything to them.

GROSS: Thank goodness.

NEWHART: And so to that extent, the humor that was being done in nightclubs was irrelevant to them. And so, they would -- and it was also very expensive. Nightclubs had a cover charge and it was very expensive to go to a nightclub and they didn't have the money, obviously. So they would buy -- they would buy a record and get some pizza and some beer and they'd all sit around and listen to one of us and -- and that was their nightclub.

And I think that's what happened.

GROSS: Right. And -- and -- I mean, you had an on-stage persona. Like you say, it wasn't just jokes, it was a whole character that was telling these stories.

NEWHART: Exactly. And as in Abe Lincoln, which you played, this is -- I mean, he's despicable, this man. Really, his disdain for...

GROSS: The ad-man, you're talking about.

NEWHART: Yeah, the ad-man, the spinmeisters -- his disdain for the intelligence of the people is reprehensible, you know? Those were the people I liked to make fun of -- the heavies -- the heavies in our life.

GROSS: Bob Newhart is my guest. Let me ask you about the first sitcom that you did -- the first Newhart Show. And you played a psychiatrist. It's common now to have standup comics with their own sitcoms. In fact, it's almost obligatory.

NEWHART: That's right.

GROSS: What was it like when you were a standup comic having a sitcom built around you?

NEWHART: Well, it was -- it was paternalistic, really, because my manager -- and my manager still is Arthur Price (ph), and he and Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker formed MTM Productions. And with the success of Mary's show, he came to me and he said: "would you like to do a sitcom?" And I said: "yes, I would" -- because it would keep me home; it'd keep me off the road, and I could spend some time with the family, which was very important.

So we then went about trying to come up with a sitcom. And we -- we started out with a -- OK, what occupation is he? First of all, he's married, right? OK. He's married and -- I insisted on -- that we not have children; that we not have precocious children 'cause I hated that -- those kind of shows where the -- the kids are always bailing the dumb father out some scrape he's gotten himself into, you know, and "we love you daddy. Daddy's an idiot, but we do love you." And resolved I wasn't going to do that -- that kind of show.

And so then we started looking for occupations, and sat down with Lorenzo Music (ph) and Dave Davis (ph), who I'd worked with before, who were -- had been writers on Mary Tyler Moore Show and I knew Lorenzo from the Smothers Brothers Show.

And he said: "well you know, Bob is -- he's a listener. He's a like a reactor. He reacts to people. What occupation would lend itself to somebody who listens?" And they said: "well, how about a psychiatrist?" So they came to me and said: "what about a psychiatrist?"

And I said: "well, let's make him a psychologist because I think a psychologist tends to deal with less severely disturbed people" -- and I didn't want to be making fun of severely disturbed people. I didn't want me making fun of people with multiple personalities or schizophrenia or any of that stuff.

GROSS: Right. Suicidal depression -- yes; right. Just Mr. Carlin (ph).

LAUGHTER

NEWHART: Yeah, Mr. Carlin actually was -- was worse at the end of six years than he was when he originally came to me. He has a class action suit against me, I think, as do most of my group.

GROSS: Bob Newhart -- he'll perform his standup act Friday night at Carnegie Hall. He'll be back with us in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Bob Newhart.

He's performing his standup act Friday night at Carnegie Hall as part of the Toyota Comedy Festival.

When we left off, we were talking about the Bob Newhart Show in which he played psychologist Bob Hartley. Here's a scene in which Bob and his wife Emily, played by Suzanne Pleshette, have just found out their respective IQ scores.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE BOB NEWHART SHOW")

LAUGHTER

SUZANNE PLESHETTE, ACTOR, PORTRAYING "EMILY": You know, Bob, ever since you took that IQ test, you've been sitting around acting petulant.

BOB NEWHART, ACTOR/COMEDIAN, PORTRAYING "BOB HARTLEY": What do you mean by that?

PLESHETTE: Petulant -- means suddenly irritated by the trivial.

NEWHART: Emily, I know what "petulant" means. You don't have to talk down to me just because I'm not as intelligent as you are.

LAUGHTER

PLESHETTE: Bob, you are intelligent.

NEWHART: Well, maybe I am, Emily, but ever since I found out what our IQs are, I've -- well, I think it's affecting our marriage.

PLESHETTE: What do you mean by that?

NEWHART: Marriage is a wedding between two...

PLESHETTE: Oh, Bob, I know what marriage means.

LAUGHTER

What's it got to do with us? We've got a perfect marriage?

NEWHART: Emily, a perfect marriage is where the husband and the wife have the same IQ.

LAUGHTER

PLESHETTE: Bob, it is not important.

NEWHART: Next to perfect is where the husband's is higher than the wife's.

LAUGHTER

PLESHETTE: Bob, forget it.

NEWHART: Third is where the wife is one point higher than the husband.

PLESHETTE: Please, Bob.

NEWHART: And the fourth, which is us, which is the worst, is where the wife is 151 and the husband is 129, which is a difference of...

PLESHETTE: Twenty-two.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Bob Newhart.

Now, part of your persona in the Newhart Show was -- he was the straight-laced, middle-of-the-road guy who was kind of dull.

NEWHART: OK.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Right? How did the writers come up with that aspect of it?

A lot of -- surrounded by a lot of nutty eccentric people, but he was -- he was kind of dull.

NEWHART: Well, he -- part of the success of Newhart was we tried to isolate what made the Bob Newhart Show work. And what seemed to make part of the Bob Newhart Show, at least the working environment of the Bob Newhart Show -- the psychologist's office -- was you had to have a situation where, no matter how outrageous the statement was made by one of the patients, you couldn't react to it.

You couldn't say: "that's the craziest thing I've ever heard, Mr. Carlin." You know, you'd have to say -- I remember one time we -- I said, "how did this week go?" He said: "it went very well." He said, "oh, Saturday, I was possessed by the devil."

LAUGHTER

And I think my line was: "OK, you want to go with that, Mr. Carlin?"

LAUGHTER

I couldn't say: "you were what?" So we tried to find those elements in Newhart, and we found them in the guests. No matter how unreasonable the guests were, you still have to kind of say "certainly, sir; certainly, I'll send the maid up to the room right away."

GROSS: Do you have a favorite episode from the first Newhart show?

NEWHART: I have several. I have -- there's one that kind of summed up comedy to me. It was a -- I had an African-American insurance salesman came in. He was very tall and muscular and he wore the djibouti (ph) and he had a -- he had a black Great Dane that he called "Whitey" and he came to me and he said: "I don't seem to be able to sell insurance policies."

And I -- I said: "well, it had nothing to do with your personality, it's just that you kind of -- you kind of scare people, you know." And he said: "well thank you very much."

So then we -- we leave my office and he said: "is the men's room?" -- and I pointed out just down the hall. And then he let the Great Dane stay there. So with that, Jerry comes out and he comes over to me and we started talking, and the black gentleman comes back in. And he says: "sit, Whitey." And with that Jerry sits right on the reception desk, you know. And it was -- it got a huge laugh.

And to me, it summed up what comedy does. It defuses tensions in many areas. It gives you -- it gives you distance so that you can stand back and laugh at things.

But there were a lot of Bob Newhart Shows and Newhart Shows that I loved. I loved one that Julia sang -- we did a telethon -- it had nothing to do with me. I mean, I was the host of the telethon, but Julia...

GROSS: This is on the Vermont show.

NEWHART: Yeah, Julie Duffy (ph) -- Stephanie (ph) -- everybody was doing something on the telethon to try to raise money. I forget what the cause was. And Julie did an up-tempo "Old Man River," and it's one -- it's -- one of the funniest things to this day that I've ever seen. It was hysterical. It was -- I mean, her lack of understanding of the lyrics was incredible.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Well, that was a great show, too -- the show in which you played an innkeeper in Vermont and you also, at least for several years, hosted a local TV show called "Vermont Today"...

NEWHART: That's right.

GROSS: ... in which Michael, your producer, would -- would either book you the most ludicrous or just incredibly boring guests, and I'd love the look on your face when you were interviewing somebody just outrageously dull. You know, an outrageously pointless interview.

LAUGHTER

NEWHART: We had -- we had Estelle Getty on one show before "The Golden Girls," and she was a librarian who had come up with a new Dewey Decimal System. And Michael was trying to jazz it up. He had all kinds of things going in the background to kind of jazz up.

GROSS: You know, your shows have been rerun a lot on Nick at Night, and I think there was one -- I don't know -- 24, 48 hour period when they did a whole Bob-a-thon. They were bringing on, I guess, a new series of yours -- new in rerun series of yours -- and to introduce it and celebrate it, there was just hour after hour of continuous Newhart programs.

What was that like for you?

NEWHART: Well, that's a tribute to the cast and to the writing -- that the writing is still valid. And I had something to do with that. I said -- I told the writers: "don't put any -- in any Gerald Ford jokes, you know, because this is going to be rerun and rerun and rerun, and we're going to look silly, you know." Because I knew then that it would go into syndication and people would be watching it. And we tried to get away from being trendy...

GROSS: Right.

NEWHART: ... for that reason. And it holds up. The material holds up, which is largely a tribute to the writing.

GROSS: The lapels and the sideburns don't hold up.

NEWHART: That's the only thing.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: You wore a lot of plaid also.

NEWHART: Oh yeah. Well, see...

GROSS: Whose idea was all the plaid?

NEWHART: ... my dresser -- my dresser was colorblind.

GROSS: Are you kidding?

NEWHART: Name was Ralph, yeah. And he was such a nice guy, we didn't want to say anything, but...

GROSS: Oh, that's so Newhart.

LAUGHTER

NEWHART: My wife...

GROSS: It's like quintessential Newhart.

NEWHART: ... my wife was going to -- and I was ready -- to go out and -- I'm not good with colors either, so she would say: "oh, my God you're kidding." I said: "what?" She said: "oh, take the jacket off. It doesn't even come close to going with the shirt."

LAUGHTER

GROSS: That's funny.

NEWHART: But you know, of all -- of all careers to choose, when you're colorblind, I mean wardrobe seems like the last one.

GROSS: Yeah, you'd think somebody might have said something about it at the studio or...

NEWHART: I remember reading an article in the paper about a one-eyed bullfighter in -- again, we get back to material coming out of the papers. A one-eyed bullfighter in Spain who was reapplying to -- for a license to fight the bulls. And it occurred to me then that if there's one occupation where you really want to have two good eyes, I think bullfighting would be right up toward the top, you know. I mean, of all professions to choose.

GROSS: When you started on television, it was in the days when there were three networks and many cities, a couple of, you know, syndicated kind of channels, but no -- when a show was popular, everybody seemed to watch it. And television has just become such a different experience now 'cause there's so many channels. Do you feel the difference?

NEWHART: Well, of course, we were -- we used to get shares like 42, 43 shares.

GROSS: That's an enormous amount of people.

NEWHART: I mean, you know, those are -- those are Super Bowl shares now.

GROSS: Exactly.

NEWHART: Because there was no competition. I just found out -- the engineer told me that I was the "I Love Lucy" of the United Arab Emirates, which I had never known.

LAUGHTER

He said that they showed the Bob Newhart Show on the United Arab Emirates and people would go home early from work to see them. I never knew I was a hit in the Middle East.

GROSS: Huh. The first Newhart show was on Saturday night right after the Mary Tyler Moore.

NEWHART: Yeah.

GROSS: Was it...

NEWHART: It was "All in the Family," "MASH," "Mary Tyler Moore," us, and Carol Burnett.

GROSS: Was Saturday night a good time? I remember, you know, like when I didn't have something to do, and I was feeling really bad about it, at least I could stay home and watch you and Mary Tyler Moore, so it wasn't a total loss.

NEWHART: Well, it was a time shift. People stayed home Saturday because of that lineup, as they stay home Thursday because of NBC's got -- must-see Thursdays. And it used to be, I think Monday was Lucy, I think -- wasn't it?

GROSS: I don't remember.

NEWHART: I think Monday and then I think Berle was Tuesday. And so, it shifted. That was must-see -- must-see Saturday.

GROSS: When I think of the Newhart character and your shows from the '60s -- from the '70s and the '80s, I think of somebody who stammers a lot, not because he's unsure of what he feels, but because he can't really afford to reveal what he really feels 'cause it might be a little harsh or it might be a little too something.

So there's this constant kind of like stammering to just -- you know, cover up and to try to kind of package in a better way what it is that he's really thinking or feeling. Does that -- does that work for you?

NEWHART: Well, that's interesting because the stammer is -- the stammer is real. I didn't invent the stammer. I remember in the first year of Newhart and we were doing an episode and it was running long. And one of the producers came up to me and said: "can you -- can you run some of the words together 'cause we're -- the show is really spreading?" And I said: "look, this stammer got me a home in Beverly Hills and I'm not about to change it, so..."

LAUGHTER

"... you better cut some words out of the script." No, it isn't -- it isn't an affectation. It's a way I speak. Although I do use -- I know what you're saying. It -- it does help to get you over an uncomfortable moment. I mean, I think that he's -- I think of him as a nice person who doesn't want to hurt anybody's feelings.

GROSS: Right.

NEWHART: But at the same time, has difficulty saying, you know, what he means.

GROSS: So listen, you're performing in New York at Carnegie Hall as part of the Toyota Comedy Festival on June 12. What kind of material will you be doing? And what will be the mix of old and new material -- you know, classic Newhart and new Newhart?

NEWHART: Probably I'll do one of two of the old record routines, 'cause I think people show up for that. And then, the rest of it is conversational. It's observational. What it's like being Catholic. And what it's like not liking to fly. What a strange place we inhabit.

GROSS: I'll say.

NEWHART: This planet...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Well, it's really been a pleasure to talk with you. I want to thank you very much.

NEWHART: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Bob Newhart will perform his standup act at Carnegie Hall Friday night. Here's an excerpt of part of his 1995 video of his button-down concert. This is "The School for Rude Bus Drivers."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE SCHOOL FOR RUDE BUS DRIVERS")

NEWHART: So what we're gonna do, we're gonna take one of the students -- Johnson, yeah, you want to get in the bus? And Miss Selkirk -- yeah, you want to get back to your marks. And we're going to present you with situations you'll very often encounter on your buses.

All right, Johnson, yeah, you pull your bus in. All right, discharge your passengers. Now, out of the rearview mirror you notice this old woman running for the bus. Yeah, you want to start running, Mrs. Selkirk?

LAUGHTER

Let's see how Johnson handles this. You're pulling -- you're pulling out much too fast, Johnson, hold it. Hold it, yeah, she gave up halfway up the block that time. Yeah.

LAUGHTER

No, what you want to do is just kind of gradually ease out, you know, and you're kind of always holding out the hope they can catch up with the bus, you know what I mean?

LAUGHTER

Another thing you have to watch -- a lot of these older women, they'll run at three-quarters speed, then they'll put on a final burst and catch up with the bus. So...

LAUGHTER

All right Johnson, let's try another one. Graham, you want to try your hand, the same problem? Yeah, you want to get back to your mark Mrs. Selkirk? OK. Same situation. You pull in. Discharge your passengers. All right, you want to start running Mrs. Selkirk. Let's see how Graham handles this.

Did you see how he slammed the door right in her face that time?

LAUGHTER

That's called your perfect pull out. And...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Coming up, Ken Tucker review Pere Ubu's new CD.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Bob Newhart
High: Standup-comic Bob Newhart. This Friday he performs at Carnegie Hall in New York City as part of the Toyota Comedy Festival. Newhart has been a part of the American comedy landscape since 1961 when his debut comedy album "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart" became a surprise hit. Since then he's starred in three TV shows, including the Peabody award-winning original "The Bob Newhart Show." And appeared in numerous films. There's also a live concert performance by Newhart on video, featuring him doing some new and classic routines, "Bob Newhart: Button Down Concert: Off the Record."
Spec: Media; Movie Industry; Television; Bob Newhart
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bob Newhart
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060902NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Pennsylvania
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Pere Ubu formed in Cleveland in 1975, and anticipated much of the far-more publicized British and New York punk rock with its fractured melodies and vocals sung or spoken in ordinary voices.

In the case of Pere Ubu, the voices were those of Peter Laughner (ph) who died in 1977, and David Thomas, who has remained the most recognizable sound of Pere Ubu through numerous personnel changes.

Pere Ubu's latest -- its 11th studio recording -- is called "Pennsylvania." Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "PENNSYLVANIA")

PERE UBU, ROCK GROUP, SINGING:
Between Vegas and Los Angeles
The world and his brother too
Look down on me
(Unintelligible)

KEN TUCKER, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Pere Ubu's Pennsylvania has been out for a couple of months now and has caused nary a ripple in the commercial tide pool of rock and roll. On one level, there's no reason why it should. For much of what comprises the cult of Ubu, the album doesn't break new ground. It's another collection of careful clatter, intentionally monotonous beats and vocals.

But on another level, I think Pennsylvania may prove to be the most overlooked album of the year, if you hear its restatement of the usual Ubu strategies as being played with fresh intensity and earnestness.

No where is this more clear than on the lead-off cut, a song called "Wooly-Bully" (ph) that has nothing to do with "Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs'" 1960s hit.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "WOOLY-BULLY")

PERE UBU, SINGING: There's a diner out on Route 322
In Western Pennsylvania
I spent my life there one afternoon
I can't get that stretch of road out of my head

(Unintelligible) taking a shower
(Unintelligible)
I'd look up and see it cross the valley
They tore down the starlight (Unintelligible)
Down at the end of the road
(Unintelligible)
But I know that road's still there
I can feel it wherever I go
(Unintelligible) still here
And it's waiting.

TUCKER: Wooly-Bully is, I think, an almost literally stunning song. That is, whenever I listen to it, I'm transfixed by David Thomas' narrative, which is like something out of a David Lynch film like "Blue Velvet" or "Lost Highway." The song is essentially a memory cast as a dream or a nightmare. "There's a diner out on route 322 in Western Pennsylvania. I spent my life there one afternoon" -- he begins.

But then the song moves beyond its parameters as an ominous-sounding reverie. In its long second verse, this Wooly-Bully suddenly becomes a diatribe: "we are abandoned," Thomas says flatly. He says everything flatly with remarkable, career-long variations on flatness.

He begins a low-key rant about how it's not just people who abandon us, but also all of artistic endeavor, when he castigates museums as "a shell and pea game played by the clever people to bilk the rubes."

He insists that "culture is a weapon that's used against us."

MUSIC RISES

PERE UBU, SINGING: Reality is a sign that we need (unintelligible)
History is rewritten faster than it can happen
Culture is a weapon that's used against us
Culture's a swampland, a superstition, ignorance and abuse
Geography is a language that can't screw up
Land and what we add to it cannot (unintelligible)
But we choose to turn away
Watch it now
Watch it
Watch it

TUCKER: The rest of Pennsylvania proceeds from the argument and mood set up by that song. It's full of hypnotic, narcotic music -- music that takes back the culture that Thomas says is being used against us, as he does on this quite pretty song.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "PENNSYLVANIA")

PERE UBU, SINGING: One day
I will be your man
One day
I will be your (Unintelligible)

TUCKER: When Pere Ubu started out 20 years ago, they sounded like an exceptionally well-oiled, well-drilled noise band from the heartland -- guys cut off from the punk rock in New York and L.A., stuck in Cleveland and determined to make the angry best of it.

Twenty years later, they sound like men in control of their destinies, and full of music that punk rock could only begin to suggest.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Ken Tucker; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "Pennsylvania" the newest CD by Pere Ubu.
Spec: Music Industry; Pere Ubu
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Pennsylvania
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060902NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Summer List Part I
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: It's not officially summer yet, but book critic Maureen Corrigan has gotten a jump on her vacation adventures, as well as her vacation reading.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Last month, I packed my husband and mother into the car and took off for what turned out to be the vacation from hell. Driving around Charleston, South Carolina one sunny afternoon, we were hit by a very wide station wagon. Nobody was hurt, but our formerly pristine little car now sported a whistling crater on the driver's side.

Then, my mother began coughing ominously. Doctors in the hospital where she eventually continued her vacation were divided over whether she'd picked up pneumonia or Legionnaire's Disease.

If I hadn't had a good book with me to take my mind off these troubles, I would have done some serious damage to the hotel room minibar. I was reading "Birdsong" -- Sebastian Falk's (ph) devastating 1993 novel about World War I. But I have some more recent books to recommend in case your summer getaway also goes haywire.

Like Birdsong, Charles Todd's remarkable mystery "Wings of Fire" also deals with the Great War and its aftermath. Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge (ph) is aided on his investigations by the ghost of a young Scottish corporal who fought under his command in France.

This detective pairing of the quick and the dead might easily have produced something contrived and cute. But the mournful and highly literary texture of Todd's novel places it in a category closer to Pat Barker's World War I trilogy than to "Topper."

The mystery here takes place in Cornwall, where members of a distinguished family are dying with suspicious frequency. The prime suspect is a gifted war poet who may also be endowed with a talent for murder. Wings of Fire is Todd's second Ian Rutledge mystery, and I'm devoting my upcoming free time to tracking down the first.

Of course, it's a snap to find Sue Grafton's steadily-expanding series of alphabet mysteries in almost any bookstore. But the latest, "N" is for Noose" is a standout because of its eerie atmosphere. Our saucy, city girl detective Kinsey Milhoun (ph) is hired to check out the death of a sheriff in the isolated mountain town of Nota Lake (ph).

The dinky motel she stays in is straight out of "Psycho" and so are many of the Nota Lake's residents. As always, Kinsey's feminist-inflected asides about domestic life are as incisive as her detective work. Like me, Kinsey would have saved herself a lot of grief if she'd never left her house.

In "Speaking With Strangers," however, Mary Cantwell invokes a time after her divorce when she frequently fled her house to travel to far-off places to escape grief. "I rolled about the world like a billiard ball looking for a pocket," she recalls. Speaking With Strangers completes the autobiographical trilogy Cantwell began in 1992 with "American Girl," and continued in 1995 with "Manhattan When I Was Young," which described her early married life in Greenwich Village.

Here, Cantwell recalls struggling to maintain her editorial career at Mademoiselle and to raise her two daughters on her own. She also ruminates over her long affair with an unnamed famous author and her eccentric friendship with Frederick Exley (ph). But she could write about eating Jello and she'd command my attention. Cantwell makes even the most mundane material extraordinary by the lyric precision and ferocious nostalgia with which she recalls her past.

I usually try to avoid sensational critical declarations, but here goes. If you take one recent non-fiction book with you on vacation this summer, make it Bernard Lefkowitz's "Our Guys," which is just out in paperback. Our Guys chronicles the notorious 1989 case in which a retarded girl was raped by a bunch of popular high school athletes in upscale Glen Ridge, New Jersey.

In the best tradition of social inquisitors, like the late great J. Anthony Lucas (ph), Lefkowitz peels away the glossy surface of this not-so-unusual American suburb. What he finds at the heart of Glen Ridge is a culture in which women learn early that submission is the price of acceptance, and where male achievement, especially athletic achievement, is respected, as one resident puts it, "almost to the point of pathology."

Our Guys deals with grim material, but you should also know that when it was published in hardback last year, it was deservedly nominated for all sorts of awards, including the Edgar, for best non-fiction work of suspense. Just be sure that if you do read Our Guys, you're near a beach or a park -- some wide-open space. You're going to need plenty of room to walk off your anger.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She'll recommend more books for summer reading next week.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan gives us her part one of her summer reading list: "Wings of Fire" by Charles Todd; "N" is for Noose" by Sue Grafton; "Speaking With Strangers" by Mary Cantwell; "Our Guys" by Bernard Lefkowitz.
Spec: Books; Authors
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Summer List Part I
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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