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Bob Newhart Remembers Tim Conway’s Fearless Sense of Humor

This is for Tim. This is so everybody will remember him. I can tell just by the mail I’ve gotten in the last couple of days that he had a huge fan base that loved him, and they wrote me because they knew I was close to him.

Tim grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and his father thought that he was handy around the house. But he wasn’t. He decided to put in a doorbell. But he accidentally wired it in such a way that it rang all the time. It only stopped ringing when someone was at the door. So it would be ringing all day, and when it finally went silent, Tim’s dad would say, “I’ll get it.” Tim told me that story. Anyone who grew up in that house had to be a comedian. That’s the kind of life he had.

By the time I knew him, I think Tim was doing “McHale’s Navy.” He was already an established comedian. We used to get together on Tuesdays with Tim and his wife, Sharkey, and my wife Ginny and I, and Mike Connors and Marylou, Dick Martin and Dolly Martin, Don Rickles and Barbara, and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. We would just have laughs. We laughed the whole evening. No one was trying to top anybody. There was no competitiveness to it; you’d tell a story and it would remind someone else of a story. We were approached to tape it for some kind of television special or something. We all agreed that would ruin it. It was just 10 people getting together having a good time. The minute you introduce a camera into it, you become very aware of it and the whole reason for it falls apart. So we didn’t ruin it, and Tim was a major part of a lot of the stories.

Tim was just fearless. He would do anything. He told me that he and five buddies of his went to a Rams game and they rented actual ram costumes. They tried to pass themselves off as the halftime entertainers. They thought they wouldn’t have to buy tickets. The guy at the gate said, “Hey, hey, hold on! We don’t have five rams here on the list!” That’s what I mean when I say he was fearless. He really would do anything. He could easily have paid for the ticket. It wasn’t about him saving money; it was just being a part of a stunt. It was a gag, and he wanted to be a part of it.

That famous sketch on “The Carol Burnett Show” that he did, “The Dentist” with Harvey Korman, Harvey kept saying, “This is the dumbest sketch.” You see, Tim didn’t do any of the hypodermic needle stuff during rehearsals. He was saving that for Harvey when they were going to be filming it in front of an audience. Harvey was saying, “I don’t know why we’re even doing this. I thought they’d have thrown it out by now.” And of course he had no idea that Tim had added the needle. And Tim kept that straight face of his.

He did another one with Lyle Waggoner where Lyle was a flyer and he had been captured by the Germans. Tim was interrogating him, and he had a little puppet that looked like Hitler. So he’s trying to break Lyle down, and he says, “We have ways of getting information out of you.” And he proceeds to sing “Someone’s in the Kitchen With Dinah.” Then when you think he’s through, he had this pause. You think that’s the end of it, and then he’d start in with “Fee-fie-fiddle-ee-i-o. Fee-fie-fiddle-ee-i-ohhhhh.” And by then Lyle was a basket case.

Tim just loved laughter. He loved creating laughter. I think all comedians, they fall in love with that sound. It’s a beautiful, beautiful sound, and he just loved it. That was his goal in life.

As told to Joe Otterson

Bob Newhart is a comedy legend with a career spanning five decades. He was a celebrated stand-up comedian before he starred in the hit sitcoms “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Newhart.”

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