Saturday, 7 February 2009

Saturday Silliness Cinema: The One & Only Don Rickles

For decades Don Rickles has been inaccurately described as an "insult" comic, while his style is a combination of lightning quick improv and a form of teasing that actually leaves his targets feeling honoured for getting zinged. After serving in the navy on a torpedo boat in WW2, Rickles tried to make it as a dramatic actor, but had to make ends meet doing stand up in the booming nightclub circuit. At first he did standard impressions and jokes, but really hit his comedic stride by diverging from scripted material and playing with the audience.

He hit it big in the 1950s when Frank Sinatra caught his act. Rickles spotted Sinatra in the audience and said: "I just saw your movie, The Pride and the Passion and I want to tell you, the cannon's acting was great." He then said: "Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody!"

Sinatra loved it and got a lot of his celebrity friends to go to be "zinged" by the man dubbed Mr. Warmth by the press, and Rickles became the hottest act in Vegas.

No one is safe from Rickles' unique brand of venom, not even the then governor of California, and future US President Ronald Reagan, as seen in this roast.

Rickles has always been a popular guest on talk shows, because of his ability to liven up the show without a script, and only the foibles of the people around him, like in this 1984 clip from the Tonight Show, where Rickles has some fun at the expense of host Carson's recent, and highly costly divorce.

Rickles is still a big draw on the stand-up circuit, the usual success in sitcoms that most comedians pursued, having eluded him because heavily scripted and censored comedy really doesn't mesh with his loose, improvisational style. But he has had some good turns as a dramatic actor, most notably in Martin Scorsese's crime epic
Casino, where, according to Rickles he "carried DeNiro."

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