When a comic of my generation uses a term like “Mr. Warmth”, it’s usually meant to be entirely ironic. But with Don Rickles, there’s a level of sincerity underneath it. Earlier in the day, Whoopi Goldberg described him as able to get away with his insult comedy because “there’s no malice” about it. It’s true, but there’s also a genuine care and like of people that comes through too, particularly at this late stage of his career and life.
The show will probably be the most Vegas-y of the shows I’ll see; there’s songs and a little soft shoe thrown into the mix. The delight of Rickles is, of course, his interactions and putdowns of the audience. One woman was told, “Are you a Japanese lady? If you’re not you better get your teeth fixed.” Even bits I feel I’ve seen a thousand times, such as Rickles doing a take after he tells a man his wife is stunning, are still hilarious. The laugh may come from recognizing something familiar, but to me it’s also still brutal to hear a performer just slam someone like that.
Rickles doesn’t spare his friends at all - chef Bobby Flay was in the audience and we were encouraged to go to Flay’s restaurant and to “get what I get, the runs!” Even someone with an apparent handicap could not escape Rickles. He told one apparently blind woman that he’d “speak to Jerry Lewis. I’ll get you on the show.”
Much of Rickles’ act has him reminiscing about his friends and his 47-year history in show business - and the people he mentions, damn, so many of them are gone. Carson, Sinatra, Dean. It’s lays real edge to when he talks about his annual Christmas plans with Bob Newhart and parenthetically adds “God willing.” To me, even some of his bits are stereotypes I don’t even know or remember - they’ll pass with him.
Another song saw him telling James Cagney to watch out for our young troups overseas in between verses of “Yankee Doodle Daddy.” His presence was so strong that I actually felt stirred when Rickles strongly asserted that we would win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite my own misgivings about the war. Also particularly poignant are Rickles’ mentions of his mother, who he obviously adored for standing by him when other’s booed.
There’s still so much humor sprinkled throughout all this heartfelt material. He swung right from Yankee Doodle Dandy to sharing memories of serving two years in the Navy: “The was a Jap there, saying, ‘Where are you Jew?’ And we had a Pollock Captain going, ‘We’re over here!’”
The show is the whole package and I heard many comment afterward surprised at how much they enjoyed it. If you’re a fan or even if you’re curious, you should check him out when, God willing, he plays the Golden Nugget February next year. (As a side note, Dave Attell was also in attendance and was acknowledged from the stage by Rickles who thanked him for “paying full price for the ticket.”)