On Thursday, I spent the night with Don Rickles.
Not in person. Thursday was the day “Mr. Warmth” became “Mr. Cold,” which is a disrespectful thing to say, but I’d like to think the Dean of Disrespect would want it this way.
I spent the night with Don Rickles by falling into a rabbit hole of YouTube videos, clicking and laughing at one volley of “hockey pucks” after another as Rickles slaughtered the famous and the fortunate civilians in the audience who happened to catch his laserlike eye for comedy gold.
Rickles defies explanation. Reading a stenographer’s transcription of his act would not only not make you laugh, it wouldn’t even make sense.
“Why don’t you drop your pants and fire a rocket!”
Unless you have Don’s voice in your head. Then it all somehow makes sense.
Chris Rock said it best, “Being funny is like being a beautiful woman; you can get away with all kinds of $%*#.”
Rickles was a bald Marilyn Monroe.
He was famously funny for more than 50 years. He insulted everyone and offended no one. Having Rickles rip you from the stage gave you a story to tell for the rest of your life.
Sometime in the ’70s, I saw Don at the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island, a regular stop for him. He bantered with a big fella down close to the circular stage. I don’t remember about what. I do remember he told the guy, “I’m going to kiss your ass!” He then jumped into the audience, physically rolled over his target, and kissed his ass.
Twenty-plus years later I went to see Sinatra at Radio City Music Hall, in what turned out to be his very last performance in New York City. Rickles opened the show.
I arrived a few minutes late, and Rickles was already onstage and in full search-and-destroy mode. I looked at my ticket, Row B, dead center (I had a connection) and thought, “I’m not walking in late to the second row. He’ll kill me!”
I watched from the back of the orchestra until intermission.
At Sinatra’s 80th birthday bash at the Shrine Auditorium, Rickles said, “Make yourself at home, Frank.” And then pantomimed a machine gun, “rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat.” Frank laughed.
He once called Nell Carter, a large African-American woman, “mudslide.” She laughed.
He described a bunch of gangsters at a nightclub as “sitting around smelling their guns.” They didn’t laugh.
Rickles’ act was risky. A young Tony Bennett threw a young Don Rickles up against a wall in anger. Until he got the joke.
He had no material, only an attitude. He had to poke away at an audience until he found the funny. Every night was a high-wire act without a net.
He wasn’t a social critic. He didn’t blaze trails like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin or Richard Pryor. He was apolitical, perfectly happy to make Ronald Reagan laugh as well as Barack Obama. Don wasn’t a rebel. He was sanctioned by the establishment. But he was still culturally important because his non-PC act mocked all the “isms.” It’s hard to hate people once you’ve shared a laugh with them. We loved him.
A husband to Barbara, father to Mindy and Larry, a grandfather and friend, the offstage Rickles was the real “Mr. Warmth,” a famously kind man in an infamously cruel profession.
Could a young Don Rickles succeed in today’s hyper-sensitive environment? I think so. Funny lets you get away with away with all kinds of $%*#. And Don Rickles was one very funny fellow.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays 5-10 a.m. on KABC AM (790). He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.[SOURCE]