When you book 88-year-old comedy icon Bob Newhart as a talk show guest, you imagine you know what you’re going to get. By the time someone lik Newhart has reached his sixth decade in show business, it’s pretty much a given that they’ve reached either the “greatest hits” or “forbearing pity applause” stage. Especially with Newhart, whose signature deadpan stammer should have shifted dispiritingly into actual hesitancy by this point. But, on Wednesday’s Conan, the still-touring octogenarian Newhart brought out some new wrinkles in his repertoire in the form of a spot-on bit about Joe Pesci as one of those custom celebrity GPS voices.
When host Conan O’Brien set Newhart up by claiming a Bob Newhart GPS would be a soothing in-car choice (you’d ... miss every turn ... but, sure), everyone’s favorite pre-Frasier iffy shrink delighted O’Brien and his audience with an unexpectedly nimble impression of his pick Pesci, getting increasingly and irascibly impatient when you don’t follow his directions. (“What are you, some kind of religious nut, you don’t take right turns?”) Shifting his usual perfectly timed pauses into Pesci’s impeccably irritated nasal complaints, Newhart might not have a third-act career as an impressionist or anything, but the bit was a killer nonetheless. (Earlier in the interview, his Buddy Hackett was almost as good.) Regaling Conan with tales of how his strategic comic timing was actually chopped to pieces and sped up by a well-meaning studio engineer on his legendary first album, Newhart kept O’Brien’s audience in appreciative stitches throughout, showing that, if you’re this good, it’s in fact just fine to stick around as long as you want.