Hearing from her appearances on talk shows that Ellen DeGeneres considers me an influence in her early stand-up fills me with a great deal of pride. When I was starting out in stand-up, many people influenced me, including Jack Benny, George Gobel and the duo Bob and Ray. When you first do stand-up, you tend to hide behind someone else, so that it isn't you dying out there, until you develop your own voice and become confident. DeGeneres, 48, has certainly done that in a very short time, as embodied in her "Camping and Hunting" routine, my personal favorite. Benny once shared an old saying with me: A comic says funny things. A comedian says things funny. DeGeneres says things funny.
Benny was the bravest comedian I have ever seen work because he wasn't afraid of silence. He was also the most honest comedian I've ever seen. DeGeneres is the bravest and most honest female comedian I have ever seen work because she publicly announced she's gay. That revelation could have ended her career, as she had to be aware, but she also knew she had to be honest. Thank God for Ellen DeGeneres. And it isn't often you see the name of a gay person and God in the same sentence these days.
Newhart, the stand-up comedian, will have a new book, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, out in the fall