“That’s Close Enough” Bob Newhart’s Short, Undistinguished Accounting Career
Aug 01, 2019 | By John Siegel
Bob Newhart is known for a lot of things, but being an accountant isn’t one of them.
Born George Robert Newhart, Newhart’s cutting wit, legendary late-night television appearances spanning multiple decades, and a completely non-trademarkable look that can only be described as “great uncle-chic” place the comedian in rarefied air in the world of comedy.
But before Bob Newhart became one of the most famous comedians in the world, starring in such films as “Catch-22,” “Elf,” and, regrettably, “The Big Bang Theory,” Bob Newhart was an accountant — and a terrible one at that.
The Roots of Greatness
A proud Chicago native, Newhart’s burgeoning career as a failed accountant almost never got off the ground. After graduating from Loyola University of Chicago, home of the Fighting Nuns (citation needed), with a degree in business management, Newhart was drafted into the U.S. Army. Instead of being assigned to a combat role in Korea, however, Newhart was assigned to a stateside post where he served as a “personnel manager,” which is almost assuredly not a real position.
Upon receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, Newhart returned to his alma mater with the intention of studying law. That didn’t last long. According to my very rudimentary research, Newhart dropped out of Loyola University Chicago School of Law after being directed to behave unethically during an internship.
And that is when Bob Newhart, future comedy legend, decided to enter the prestigious trade of accounting. Hired as a staff accountant at United States Gypsum (now USG Corporation), Newhart did everything possible to distinguish himself from his accounting colleagues — that is, except doing a good job.
“That’s Close Enough”
By his own admission, Bob Newhart was a terrible accountant. In his 2006 autobiography — fittingly titled “I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This: And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny,” Newhart adopted an unofficial motto of “That’s close enough.” He quickly developed a penchant for adjusting petty cash imbalances with his own money, which is honestly something I would probably do if I were an accountant (I’m not).
Upon leaving United States Gypsum — we don’t know when, because Bob Newhart never made a LinkedIn — Newhart was hired as a clerk, of all places, the local unemployment office, earning $55 a week. This proved to be a shortstop for the future comedian, as he quit shortly after being hired when he learned that unemployment benefits were $45 a week, and he only had to come into the office once a week to collect his check. That’s the kind of logic that makes you stand up and cheer.
Later Life and Success
If the trajectories of comedy legends like David Letterman, Richard Pryor, and Jerry Seinfeld are what young comedians aspire to today, then Bob Newhart’s journey to comedic superstardom is more like fishing a winning lottery ticket out of a dumpster.
In a remarkable rebound, Newhart found himself working as an advertising copywriter for a major film and television producer in 1958 when he struck gold. To entertain himself while doing boring things like, ya know, work, Newhart would entertain himself for hours on the phone with a colleague, proposing absurd scenarios that entertained him so thoroughly, he began recording them. After submitting the tapes as auditions to local radio stations, Newhart was introduced to the head of talent at Warner Bros. Records by a radio station disc jockey, and promptly signed to a recording deal.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Newhart dominated comedy, winning awards and developing a unique, deadpan style that I’m starting to realize sounds a lot like mine. Between the wildly successful “Bob Newhart Show” and its successor, “Newhart,” Newhart starred in 324 episodes between 1972 and 1990, making him one of the most prolific comedians in his time. During that time, Newhart developed an affinity for computers, developing into what Wikipedia describes as an early “home-computer hobbyist,” which may or may not actually be a thing. In 2001, Newhart was featured in an article by the Los Angeles Times writer David Colker titled “Happy birthday, PC!” In the article, Newhart detailed his love of the Commodore PET and remembering how he thought 64 KB of memory was excessive. The more you know…
Since then, Newhart has continued to work occasionally, starring in the aforementioned “Elf” in 2003. It wasn’t all beer and Skittles, however, as appearances in “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blond,” and “Young Sheldon” litter his otherwise stellar (minus the accounting thing) career.
In 2016, he sold his Wallace Neff-designed mansion in Bel Air for $14.5 million in a deal he personally oversaw (just kidding).