Before Political Correctness, THIS Was Comedy!

Posted with permission from The Dan Cirucci Blog

I last saw Don Rickles perform more than five years ago in Atlantic City at The Borgata.

People of all ages had come to see the show in Borgata’s Music Box, a jewel of a venue where there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

And, yes Rickles did single out some people in the first few rows of the theatre for his inimitable verbal jabs. And they were honored to be chosen by the Master of the Insult.

It had been more than four decades since I’d last seen Rickles perform. That was in Las Vegas in the late 1960s when his act seemed outrageous and just this side of shocking. But the world had changed. Now, Rickles seemed almost genteel. He was somewhat stooped over with a slower gait and broader movements.

But Rickles’ mind was still sharp and the zingers were as fast and funny as they ever were. Plus, he was able to mock people as much with a growl, a scowl or a movement as with his words. It was all classic Rickles. Backed by a full orchestra, he even sang and danced a bit (a sly soft shoe) when he wasn’t needling the orchestra conductor or the guys in the band. No one was safe from Don Rickles’ swipes.

Rickles ended the show all sweetness and light, however as he talked about his long career and his life on stage and in the spotlight. “This is all I know,” he told the crowd. “This is who I am. It’s what I do. Where else would I go? Who else would I be with, except you?” he asked. “It’s just a joy to be up here sharing this time with you.”

Once more, Don Rickles delivered. He gave his audience what they came for. He not only lived up to their expectations, he exceeded them. Young and old alike, members of the audience universally praised him as we filed out of the Music Box.

Rickles was truly legendary. His shtick combined vaudeville, stand-up, the comedic side of burlesque and the world of late night TV.

No question about it, Don Rickles was one of comedy’s most famous funnymen.

As his official bio notes, for over 55 years he appeared in top showrooms and concert halls throughout the U.S. and internationally. Indeed, he was regarded among the world’s top entertainers.

Rickles story is impressive and inspiring. He was born in New York City, May 8, 1926, to Max and Etta (Feldman) Rickles. He grew up in the Jackson Heights area of New York. After graduating from high school, Rickles enlisted in the Navy and served for two years during World War II on the USS Cyrene as a seaman first class. He was honorably discharged in 1946. Soon thereafter, he studied and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Unable to get enough work as an actor, Rickles began doing stand-up comedy. He became known as an “insult” comedian because of the way he would respond to his hecklers. The thing is, the audience seemed to actually enjoy these spontaneous barbs more than Rickles’ prepared material. So, Rickles developed a style which featured making fun of people.

Of course, Rickles was a fine actor as well.

In fact, in 1958, Rickles made his dramatic film debut in Run Silent, Run Deep which starred Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. Throughout the next decade, he was seen frequently on television in both sitcoms and dramatic series. Among his memorable guest-starring roles were playing an old war buddy of Don Adams on Get Smart and portraying a troubled comedian who winds up killing an audience member on Run For Your Life. Other TV guest appearances included The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, The Andy Griffith Show and I Dream of Jeannie.

In the early 60’s, Rickles appeared in The Rat Race with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds, and in Roger Corman’s drama film X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes as a carnival barker who exploits the lead character played by Ray Milland.

In the mid ‘60’s, Rickles appeared in the popular Beach Party film series. And the scripted opportunities continued to come his way. Throughout his career he was seen in both drama and comedy movies and TV episodes.

In 1985. Frank Sinatra was asked to perform at Ronald Reagan’s Second Inaugural Ball. Sinatra stipulated that he would not do so unless Don Rickles was allowed to perform with him. Rickles did perform at the televised inaugural gala, where he “zinged” the President, the Vice President and other dignitaries gathered for the occasion. This is one of the highest honors an entertainer can be afforded and, according to his official bio, Rickles considered this performance the highlight of his career.

In 2013, Rickles was honored with the Friars Club’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Comedy at a star-studded awards gala at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Among those participating in honoring Don through their songs or words were Lewis Black, Louis C.K., Natalie Cole, Bob Costas, Tony Danza, Robert DeNiro, Kathy Griffin, Diana Krall, John Mayer, Bob Newhart, Regis Philbin, Joan Rivers, Bob Saget and John Stamos.

In 2014, Spike TV, TV Land and Comedy Central aired “One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles.” Honoring Don on the two-hour special, which emanated from the famed Apollo Theater in New York City, were Bill Cosby, Robert DeNiro, Johnny Depp, Tina Fey, Brad Garrett, Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Tracy Morgan, Eddie Murphy, Bob Newhart, Regis Philbin, Amy Poehler, Ray Romano, Martin Scorsese, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart and Brian Williams.

Don Rickles was an American original. There will never be another like him. Never!