Dick Cavett said it rather well when he introduced his next guest onto his show in 1972: “When great comedians gather late at night over coffee and cheesecake to pay tribute to those among them who have scaled the heights and brought the art of public performing to its zenith, one name, I suppose, stands out above all others, and it’s a talent so unique and so special and so brilliant that in the pantheon of the world’s great comics, this man’s name will surely be written among the greatest: the incomparable Dan Rickles.”
As you might imagine, Don was immediately ready to hand it right back to a faux-apologetic Cavett: “No matter. No one sees this anyways.”
One of the quickest, most biting, yet most lovable comedians there were, with the passing of Don Rickles an entire chapter of comedy also comes to a close. Don was the most notable link the world of comedy still had to the swinging nightclub days of Las Vegas performing. A legend in his own right, throughout his 90 years he left behind an extensive legacy of laughter and will be missed.
Today I’ve culled the internet to try to bring you some of the Rickles deep cuts. I won’t be highlighting the Carson pranks, or the roasts, because you can get that everywhere else. Today we dig deep into the 90 years’ worth of comedy (okay, 74, if you want to get technical) of Don Rickles.
I’ll start with what is probably the strangest of Don’s many TV appearances, from the late 1960s when he appeared on The Dating Game. If you’re not familiar, the show had a very simple premise: there are three eligible bachelors and a young woman questions them without being able to actually see them. For some reason, on this evening, Don Rickles is questioning these young men on behalf of the young woman. Don comes out, guns blazing as he rolls his eyes and indicates what a pleasure it is to be on the show, and then goes on to make fun of these three identical looking men for the next 15 minutes without ever actually seeing them. But he’s at his sharpest when he spars with the host of the program, Jim Lange, telling him to keep waiting around, “maybe your jacket will come back into style.” Jim then makes the fatal error of trying to zing Rickles back. “You got more laughs than you got on the [Joey] Bishop show…” “You wanna hear a funny line?” Rickles responds. “SHUT UP.”
WARNING: This video suffers from weird editing and after the initial 15 minute segment, begins playing random parts of the clip for the rest of video.
“Boy, oh boy. What I do for a lousy 100 grand…”
Don Rickles and Richard Lewis played father and son on the 1993 Fox sitcom Daddy Dearest for 11 episodes. It was a traditional three-camera sitcom with a full studio audience packed in for the filming. How do you think that went? Do you think there was a lot of bantering in between takes? Do you think when something went wrong on set one of the cast members decided to comment on it?
Luckily, somebody out there got their hands on the blooper reel for Daddy Dearest and put it up on YouTube. And, as you might imagine, there are a lot of bloopers.
I wanted to find a sincere interview with Don that you probably hadn’t seen, and I found myself drawn into this one with Charlie Rose. Recorded almost ten years ago, Don went on the show to promote his book entitled, appropriately enough, Rickles’ Book. Rose begins the interview by quoting the New York Times review that calls Don a “softie” and goes on to cite all of the people and things that he loves, according to the memoir. Over the course of the hour, Rickles discusses many of these things with Charlie, including Bob Newhart, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, The Dodgers, and his wife.
I don’t think Don gets one Charlie Rose insult in through the whole thing, so that’s saying something.
Finally, it seems fitting that we watch the master at work. Here’s an audience recording of what has to be pretty close to a full show that Don did in 2014 at the Just For Laughs festival. By this point he mostly performed while seated, but the show was still the same mixture of insulting the crowd and big song and dance numbers with a full band. It’s interesting to compare this performance to the earlier ones featured in this article, but even more inspiring to see what he was still able to pull off in his late 80s.