Just finished watching my advance copy of Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, which debuts tonight at 8 p.m. on HBO (re-airing several Tuesday, Friday and several other times this month), and I’ve got to say, it’s great that director John Landis took the time to get this documentary done while we can still enjoy Rickles live on the road or in Vegas. If only every comedian who has lasted as long as Rickles — he’s 81 and still touring — got their proper due. They should. Thank goodness we get this look back at Rickles and his career.
Landis notes up front that he first encountered Rickles when Landis was a gofer on the set of Kelly’s Heroes in the former Yugoslavia in 1969. Many people weigh in with thoughts and comments in the doc, including Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Richard Lewis, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, longtime friend Bob Newhart (and you see footage of the Newharts and Rickles vacationing together over decades), Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Lawrence, Roseanne Barr, Dave Attell, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, Regis Philbin, Sidney Poitier, Penn Jillette, Bobby Slayton, Mario Cantone, Kathy Griffin, Ed McMahon, Jeffrey Ross, Geroge Wallace, Martin Scorsese, George Lopez, Jay Leno, Larry King, Ernest Borgnine, Carl Reiner, Debbie Reynolds, Jack Carter, Roger Corman, his wife Barbara Rickles, Joan Rivers, James Caan, Jimmy Kimmel, Keely Smith, Harry Shearer, the Smothers Brothers, John Stamos and Bob Saget.
HBO provided a preview clip here:
Here is an incident involving Rickles and Johnny Carson that’s referenced also in the doc:
It’d be easy to call Don Rickles the original insult comic. But he’s more than that. Just look at how many comedians he has influenced, how many celebrities who have befriended him over the decades. He revolutionized how comedians work a crowd (for better, and in some cases, for worse, as you’ve seen some comedians who lack material rely on crowd work to pad their sets). And Rickles even now remains decidedly old-school, and by old-school I mean a guy in his 80s who’ll still talk about "colored" people, "chinks" and "queers" and the Nazis and his WWII experiences with the Japanese. Richard Lewis says in the doc that Rickles "is fearlessly honest." I like how Chris Rock described Rickles and his offensive humor, how he gets away with it as if he’s "a pretty girl."
Who comes close to Rickles among my contemporaries? I cannot think of many who do, although Andy Kindler (whose State of the Industry speeches at Montreal have become the most-anticipated performance of Just For Laughs) and Brody Stevens come to mind first.