How Bob Newhart Inadvertently Pioneered the Modern Drinking Game
Ninety-three-year-old comedy legend Bob Newhart has done so much great work throughout his long career, from iconic stand-up routines like “The Driving Instructor,” to his role as Papa Elf in Elf, to the time he randomly delivered the greatest twist ending in television history. In addition to all that, you can apparently add “getting a generation of college students completely trashed” to the list.
Drinking games are obviously nothing new, dating back to Ancient Greece, but pop-culture drinking games, as ubiquitous as they may be today, are still a relatively recent invention, whether they involve chugging a beer every time John McClane kills one of Hans Gruber's thugs, or doing a shot whenever Tom Hanks unexpectedly takes a whiz.
One of the earliest documented cases of viewers collectively imbibing in response to a TV show’s prompts is when college students would gather to watch The Bob Newhart Show. According to one article from 1984, the trend involved taking a “sip of beer” if someone said the word “Bob” and chugging a beer “when a character says, ‘Hi, Bob.’”
Newhart himself commented on the game, dubbed “Hi, Bob,” which he claimed may have originated at Southern Methodist University. Newhart didn’t seem to take offense at the trend but still seemed concerned. “I just hope when they play ‘Hi, Bob,’ they don’t drive,” he said, adding, “I would hate for my television career to be remembered for ‘Hi, Bob.’”
But because no trend, no matter how stupid, is immune from commodification, in 1991, TBS tried to turn the “Hi, Bob” phenomenon into a contest, which involved merely counting “Hi, Bobs” instead of getting drunker than Don Draper on a weekday afternoon.
“Hi, Bob” made such a cultural impact that it was even referenced in David Foster Wallace’s debut novel The Broom of the System:
And when Newhart hosted Saturday Night Live in 1995, there was an entire sketch predicated on the idea that Chris Farley and Chris Elliott have to breathlessly get blackout drunk as people continuously greet Newhart backstage. At one point, Newhart pleads to the camera, imploring any drunken frat guys watching at home not to do anything dangerous.
Of course, those concerns didn’t stop Newhart from using "Hi, Bob" as the name of his podcast.
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