"It was a very funny moment — I was amazed at the reactions," the comedy legend tells PEOPLE

By Scott Huver and Aurelie Corinthios
October 02, 2019 08:30 AM
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At this year’s host-less Emmy Awards, Bob Newhart stole the show.

When the comedy icon turned up at the awards ceremony last month to present an award with Ben Stiller, he was introduced standing beside wax figures of fellow comedy “legends” George Burns and Lucille Ball. Only there was one big difference. “I’m still alive,” Newhart, who turned 90 in September, reminded Stiller.

Vibrant as ever, Newhart drew more laughs yet as he threatened, “This legend is going to kick your ass,” and quipped, “I hated you, by the way, in Tropic Thunder.”

Speaking to PEOPLE in this week’s issue, Newhart says of the routine, “It was a very funny moment. I was amazed at the reactions.”

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According to Newhart, the idea for the skit came from Stiller, 53, and Jon Macks, who has written for over 20 of the Emmy Awards shows, as well as the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and the Tony Awards.

“[They] told me the idea, the two statues of George Burns and Lucy, and then the statue of me, and that I keep trying to tell him I’m still alive,” Newhart explains. “I thought it was a very funny idea. So we threw ideas back and forth.”

Continuing, he recalls, “One of them was I said to him, ‘If your parents knew you were telling people that I was dead, they’d wash your mouth out with soap and water.’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t think you can use soap anymore.’ I said, ‘Well, that just leaves water, right? That’s some punishment!’ Kind of a comment on the millennials and how everything is made easy for them.”

“We talked about various things [along the lines of], ‘I don’t want people thinking I’m dead,’ ” he adds. “It was fun. It was great. I loved working with him. Ben is such a great actor.”

  • For more on Bob Newhart, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
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After six decades in show business, Newhart was pleased that the joke, which was well-received at rehearsals, was such a hit the night of.

“They had maybe 100 people doing various things [at rehearsals]. We ran it once in front of them, and they were laughing a lot,” Newhart says. “So we thought, ‘Yeah, I guess this is going to work. Just imagine when 4,000 more people are in, what it’s going to be like.'”

“We got the reaction from the 100 people or so, then we tried to multiply it by 40. Then we went out and I was amazed the reaction we were getting,” he adds. “People were saying a lot of nice things.”

And luckily for comedy fans everywhere, Newhart has no plans to retire.

“I get this question a lot: ‘Why do you still do comedy?’ ” he says. “Why would you ever get tired of making people laugh? You never want to give up that sound, that great sound that you fell in love with 60 years ago.”