Friday, July 9, 2004 | 8:44 a.m.
The contrast could not have been sharper.
Inside the Stardust's Wayne Newton Theater was button-down Bob Newhart, at age 74 everyone's conservative grandfather, wearing tasteful-if-boring gray slacks, white shirt, red tie, black blazer.
Outside the showroom, wandering through the casino and filling the bars, were hundreds of swingers, many of the women wearing provocative attire that barely covered the essentials.
Someone in booking had a sense of humor.
Newhart's first appearance in Las Vegas in almost 10 years, and his engagement coincides with the Lifestyles Convention.
He and the swingers will be here through Saturday.
When the star of TV, screen and stage last performed in Vegas the showgirls were the ones who were scantily clad. Today -- or at least this week at the Stardust -- it's the tourists.
Newhart's engagement comes in the wake of an appearance in the same showroom last month by Joan Rivers, who presented another sharp contrast.
Rivers is a fast-talking, foul-mouthed, abrasive, pushy, in-your-face comic who could make Andrew Dice Clay blush.
Newhart is -- well, Newhart is Newhart. Wally Cox on Valium. Inoffensive. Bemused. Apologetic. He laughs nervously, as if he knows something is funny but he shouldn't laugh because it might hurt someone's feelings.
Newhart has been a representative of middle America for 44 years, a droll comedian who strolls hesitantly through his material, compared to Rivers' charging-bull approach.
Newhart's act, filled with wry, nonthreatening humor, could be performed in a church. It's suitable for children and grandparents. If you're looking for edgy comedy, you won't find it here.
That's good. It's nice to know there is at least one comedian we can trust to be funny without being vulgar. There are too many comics today trying to shock with four-letter words that lost their shock value years ago.
Newhart flirts with political incorrectness:
"We have a problem in Los Angeles with Vietnamese gangs," he says. "The story goes, 'How can you tell if your house is robbed by a Vietnamese gang?' and the answer is, 'Your dog is gone.' "
Groans ripple through the audience.
"But your kid's math homework is done."
"How can you be offended by that?" Newhart says. "Everybody gets uptight today. I don't envy the young comics growing up today. There are so many groups. If I had a joke, say about albino, Filipino cross-dressers -- I don't, but if I did, the next day I would get letters from the Las Vegas chapter of albino, Filipino cross-dressers."
Some of Newhart's humor is self-effacing.
"I'm one-quarter German and three-quarters Irish, which makes me a meticulous drunk," Newhart said. "The humor, I'm sure, comes from the Irish side because the Germans have not been one of the great fun races of all time."
He jokes about religion and learning the Ten Commandments when he was a child.
"Thou shalt not worship false idols," Newhart said. "That was an easy one to follow. You can drive around Chicago all day and not see any false idols -- and if you do see one, you aren't going to stop to worship it."
"Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's wife," he continued. "I'm 12. I thought it was, 'Thou shalt not cover thy neighbor's wife.' I didn't want to cover her anyway. I thought it meant you can cover any other wife, just not your neighbor's -- and his wife was so ugly, I don't think even he wanted to cover her."
Before he launches into one of his stories, he often addresses the audience with a question.
"Is anyone here from Chicago?"
"Is anyone here from Louisiana?"
"Are there any Polish people here?"
"How many in the audience enjoy country and western music?" Newhart asked. "The last couple of dates, my opening act was country and western. It is an acquired taste -- I don't mean to denigrate country and western music, and for those of you who do enjoy it, to denigrate means to make fun of it or put it down."
Much of Newhart's humor is a little dusty. He refers to Ted Mack, who had an amateur talent show on TV almost 50 years ago. He talks about Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state who hasn't been in the news much since the Nixon administration.
And evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in 1987.
Swaggert claimed he often talked to God.
"If he talks to God that much, why didn't God say something to him in Palm Springs? 'I don't know about you, Jimmy, but she sure as hell looked like a hooker to me.' "