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Clint Eastwood's empty chair routine came from Newhart, Amsterdam

August 31, 2012|By Patrick Kevin Day
  • Clint Eastwood argues with the unseen Barack Obama.
Clint Eastwood argues with the unseen Barack Obama. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Clint Eastwood's awkward argument with an invisibleĀ President Obama in an empty chair at Thursday's Republican National Convention isn't something that sprang out of the movie legend's imagination. As many people have already pointed out, Eastwood was channeling the 1960s era stand-up comedy of Morey Amsterdam and Bob Newhart.

As Time magazine's Mark Halperin explained on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday, "I think everyone has missed that Eastwood's performance is very closely based on a Morey Amsterdam performance from dinner theater in Bayonne. Kind of night at the improv."

Amsterdam was a stand-up comic who had his own sitcom on TV from 1948 to 1950 and also appeared on "The Dick Van Dyke Show "as Buddy Sorrell.

But the argument could be made that Eastwood was also evoking a little Bob Newhart, whose classic "Driving Instructor" routine first appeared on his "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart" album in 1960.

Though Newhart's routine doesn't involve an empty chair, it does feature Newhart interacting with an unseen presence on stage.

Thursday night on Twitter, Newhart acknowledged the homage with the tweet, "I heard that Clint Eastwood was channeling me at the RNC. My lawyers and I are drafting our lawsuit..."

Here's Newhart performing his driving instructor bit earlier this year.

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Join Patrick Kevin Day on Google+ or Twitter. Email: patrick.day@latimes.com

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