Can you imagine a comedian, today, standing before his audience and peers and doing nothing but tearing them apart? “Are you Chinese or is there just something wrong with your eyes?” Nothing, and I mean nothing is off limits to poke fun at: race, religion, and sometimes both, “Sammy (Davis Jr.), you’re not a Jew, you’re black, deal with it.” Looks. “Ruth Buzzi, from the bottom of my heart, let me just tell you, you’re a dog, a real dog.” Late night talk show hosts. “Johnny (Carson), leave being funny to me.” Even wives. “Sir, I admire you for taking someone who looks like your wife out in public.”
Can you imagine a comedian doing this and the people he makes fun of laughing the most?
Don Rickles passed away at the age of 90 and with his passing we lost more than a comedic genius. We also lost our ability to make fun of anyone and everyone without having to worry about offending people in the process. Rickles never kicked out a heckler, he just made them wish they never opened their mouth because his tongue was as sharp as his mind and could toss out barbs faster than a computer can spew out information.
I once made a Rickles inspired comment about a woman’s dress and learned quickly I was not Don Rickles. The woman could have worn the same dress, a checkered one, to a Rickles show and he could have made the same remark I made about it looking like a table cloth and she would have fallen over laughing because Don Rickles noticed her and put her in his routine.
Frank Sinatra was perhaps the greatest entertainer ever and not a guy you wanted to piss off if you were in the business of being funny. Only Rickles could make fun of Sinatra’s wife and make Old Blue Eyes bust a gut laughing. Who else could make fun of Johhny Carson’s marriages by telling him his previous ones were just dress rehearsals without worrying about offending the most powerful guy on late night television? Rickles would even make fun of his own wife, telling the crowd you can tell she is Jewish because she can’t hold her head up with all the jewelry she wears around her neck.
The worst thing Don Rickles could do is not notice you because as soon as he did, out came some of the most offensive and politically incorrect one liners from a comedian everyone would say was nothing at all like he was when performing. Rickles was that guy who said the things that most of us cringe when we catch ourselves thinking the same thoughts. The difference was, he knew how to do it in such an outlandish way you couldn’t help but laugh.
Don Rickles could not make it in the world of comedy if he was starting out today. His act would be about as well received as Milo Yiannopoalos on college campuses. You see, today, young people are just too sensitive, afraid to laugh at others as well as have others laugh at us for our obvious differences and stereotypes. If a nice guy like Jerry Seinfeld has given up on performing for the “snowflake” generation, just think what their reaction would be to Rickles as soon as he started in on the audience.
We were once a nation known for our great sense of humor, our ability to make fun of anyone and everyone and know that it was all in jest. Italian, Polish, German, women, Catholics, Jews, Doctors, Lawyers, Dentists, fat, ugly, blacks, whites, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Japanese, and the handicapped were all fair game if you saw Rickles perform. But now we have morphed into a politically correct society where we no longer talk about our differences, let alone laugh about them, unless we want to risk being destroyed on social media.
And yet, these cultural differences still remain. Not poking fun at the obvious has not changed the world we live in and I would say it has only made us less tolerable of who and what is different. Don Rickles was the last great comic who did not give a shit about race, religion, or anything else and yet slayed room after room doing nothing but focusing on our stereotypes.
Now we get comedians who seem to have more of a social conscience, who tend to focus on attacking the far right and becoming confrontational with anyone, including audience members who have paid to see them, all because of their political views. An Amy Schumer is viewed as heroic for kicking out an audience member because they raised their hand and admitted to voting for Trump. Rickles would have poked fun at his vote, then gone on and poked fun at Trump and his family, including young Baron, and then made just as many offensive remarks about Hillary and her husband. By the time he was finished, he would have made sure he offended just about everyone at least once. He was an equal opportunity offender.
It’s sad when we lose our sense of humor and it seems to me with each passing year and with each bit of increased political correctness we have instilled in us, we become a little less funny along with being a little less offensive.
I would have loved nothing more than to see Don Rickles host the White House Correspondents dinner. Just give him a live mic and the next three hours would pass in a flash as he would roast everyone of every political, religious, and social background. Instead, it will come and go, our humorless president will not attend, but will damn sure take notes of who says what about him, and the evening will be more a reminder of how we as a nation have failed to appreciate the importance of having a thick skin and being able to share a good laugh, even when it is at the expense of ourselves.
Rest in peace? Not Don. He’s too busy slaying them at the pearly gates.
Top photo: screen shot of Rickles roasting Frank Sinatra