(Submitted)
Bob Newhart said I was the only thing on his agenda on a recent Wednesday morning.

I couldn't help but wonder, "Shouldn't that be the other way around?"

Newhart's phone interview was just one task on my to-do list. But it was definitely the only thing on my mind.

I interview people almost everyday and a few celebrities each month. It felt good to have butterflies - or a flock of geese in this case - in my stomach again.

Almost as soon as I heard his voice, I felt at ease. His easy laugh and self-deprecating manner, for which he's beloved, made to feel like we were just two people having a conversation. Or, rather, one person and one legend.

It also made me feel better to hear that even after decades in showbiz, Newhart, 81, still gets butterflies before stand-up shows.

"I'd miss it if it weren't there," he said. "It's been such a constant. You should never get used to that."

He said that the surge of adrenaline and apprehension can produce great results on stage.

He'll share laughs with area fans June 18 at the Majestic Theater as a headlining act for the Gettysburg Festival.

Newhart said he has fond memories of the place thanks to his son Tim.

Tim, who is now grown, was a Civil War buff as a boy. So after Newhart performed a show near Valley Forge, father and son made the 100-mile trek to Gettysburg.

He said he's not sure what gags he'll pull out for the Gettysburg show, but he usually brings his driving instructor routine, since most audiences identify with that skit.

Even the royal crowd ate it up when he performed for the Queen of England in the '60s. He started off the same as he would in the States, but he quickly corrected himself. Foreigners drive on the other side, he realized.

Maybe the butterflies work wonders or maybe Newhart is naturally poised.

Born in Chicago, Newhart first worked as an accountant. Another job as an advertising copywriter led to radio and stand-up work. He might be most known for his later work on TV. He was a regular on variety shows in the '60s and '70s. In 1972, own series, "The Bob Newhart Show" hit the air. It ran for six years and was nominated for multiple Emmys and Golden Globes.

He became known for his seeming lack of poise - a stuttered delivery. But there was a lot of smarts behind the schtick.

Newhart became a master of reading crowds. He used the immediate feedback of stand-up shows to adjust his act. Since TV shows were taped in front of a live audience, he still received that instant critique.

Growing up watching "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners," Newhart relished the roar of real laughter.

"It was like you were doing a new play every week and you have to . . . hope it works," he said.

These days, things are different.

"I stay away from shows that have laugh tracks," he said. "It's kind of too easy. People get hysterical over nothing."

Canned laugher is something Newhart said has probably led to the decline in well-written TV shows. He offered an anecdote about an episode of "The Bob Newhart Show" in which the characters went on a retreat. Newhart's character and his wife were placed in a nice room, and others had to settle for seedy accommodations.

Decades later, the line that the writers reworked on the spot is still fresh in his mind.

Newhart said something to the effect of, "We're all in the same boat together."

Mr. Vickers - a character Newhart said he loved for his sour attitude - retorted with the line: "I know - you're on the Queen Mary, and we're on the Titanic."

"The audience knew it was new," Newhart said. "They knew they were watching something in the moment."

Not that all modern shows are a drag, Newhart said. He praised "Everybody Loves Raymond" for its great cast and writing.

These days, Newhart still performs about two stand-up shows a month and keeps his hand in TV.

He played a doctor in an upcoming Lifetime series of stories that deal with breast cancer. The project included Patricia Clarkson, Tony Shalhoub and Jeffrey Tambor. Everyone is donating their time, Newhart said.

"I think part of the role of the comedian is to kind of help people get past the real tough times and laugh and move on," he said.

Newhart has a knack for finding the farce in any situation.

He shared a beer in an airport bar with Cary Grant. He remembers thinking "Cary Grant just called me 'Bob' ."

Newhart was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame with a group that included a posthumous nod to "Dragnet's" Jack Webb. Newhart thought: "When you were an accountant you used to go by the water cooler and talk about 'Dragnet' and how great it was."

But Newhart really isn't Mr. Hollywood. He's a family man who enjoys spending time with his wife, Virginia, four children and nine grandchildren.

His career is an aberration in Tinseltown. He attributes his longevity to adapting to change without changing his style.

"I'm constantly amazed at how long (my career has) lasted," he said with a chuckle. "I thought I'd have five years and then they'd be on to me. I was able to fool them for 50 years."

PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an e-mail to emccracken@ydr.com.

If you go

WHAT: Bob Newhart

WHEN: 8 p.m. June 18

WHERE: Majestic Theater, 25 Carlisle St., Gettysburg

COST: $65 to $125

DETAILS: www.gettysburgfestival.org; www.gettysburgmajestic.org