Don Rickles was the rare insult comic who managed to make his victims laugh while at the same time eviscerating them. Dean Martin once introduced him at an event by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’ve all had your rabies shot, because here he comes, Mr. Don Rickles.”
And over the years, he put some seriously A-list stars in his crosshairs: his buddy Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan (before he was president), Clint Eastwood, Orson Welles, Lucille Ball, Larry King, Jimmy Fallon — the list goes on. Being insulted by Rickles was treated as an honor, not unlike receiving an award.
Rickles once told Today that his jokes were “never hurtful,” but he definitely tackled any and all potentially hurtful subject matter. At a roast event, he took director Orson Welles to task for his weight, saying, “Orson Welles, 30 years ago you were handsome; now we’re gonna put Goodyear on your face and fly you over the beach for a half hour.” Somehow, upon hearing this, Welles exploded with laughter.
Sometimes, the man known as Mr. Warmth came up with insults that didn’t have even an ounce of subtlety. He said to Clint Eastwood, “Clint, I say it, nobody else has said it, and I say it from my heart: You’re a lousy actor.”
In 2014, several comedians gathered to “honor” Rickles for a birthday celebration billed as “One Night Only.” Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were among the roasters, and in one bit, Fey jokingly assumed that Rickles had passed. She said, “We are here tonight to celebrate Don Rickles. And honestly, it’s almost like he’s here with us — you can feel his spirit in this room tonight.”
Poehler interrupted to inform her that Rickles was, in fact, sitting offstage. Then came the punchline. Fey said, “Jesus, I thought that was somebody’s purse.”
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