HBO aired a documentary on Don Rickles, directed by John Landis, only a few weeks into the official start of The Comic’s Comic. So I was still feeling out the website’s tone and direction when I took a first glance and pass at Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.
By the time SPIKE TV paid tribute to Rickles in 2014 for his 88th birthday, he was so frail at the event at the Apollo Theatre that he didn’t look like he’d make it the year, let along to the air date of his tribute. Thankfully he stuck around, hosted a gala later at Just For Laughs, and keeps on going.
In this year, 2016, that has taken so many of our icons and idols from us, it’s worth noting that Rickles and several others are still with us. The Hollywood Reporter profiled several of them over the holidays here.
And I took one more, last look at Mr. Warmth to see how well it sums up the man, his comedy and his career. Here’s an excerpt from my column on it in Decider:
We’re so used to seeing insults today in so many forms. Freestyle rap. Yo momma jokes. Mean Tweets. You have to transport yourself to an earlier age, when people didn’t talk about political correctness because people merely lived it. You spoke one way in private and another in public, and only the rare individual crossed those boundaries.
Today you see comedy club customers specifically request seats away from the front row out of fear that the stand-ups will pick on them. With Rickles, the opposite has proven true over five decades. Carl Reiner remembered the early days, when Rickles caught a huge break working The Slate Brothers nightclub in Los Angeles replacing Lenny Bruce, and every actor and celebrity came in hoping Rickles would notice them and thereby legitimize them in Hollywood. Johnny Carson would invite him on The Tonight Show countless times, always introducing him with a put-down to get the hijinx rolling immediately. Even Ronald Reagan asked for the Rickles treatment at his second presidential inauguration in 1985.
Sidney Poitier saw him at an early club show and recalled: “He was what he is today. He was explosive. He was impactful. He was funny. I mean, outrageously funny.”
Martin Scorsese, who directed Rickles in 1995’s Casino, fell into uncontrollable giggle fits just trying to recount bits of Rickles from decades earlier.