Don Rickles

Anybody who can dis Frank Sinatra to his face, and live to laugh about it, deserves our utmost respect. The marvel of it is that after 83 years, Don Rickles is still practicing his brand of multiethnic, equal opportunity insult comedy. Italian-Americans, WASPS, Jews, blacks, the Irish, and the whole damn melting pot are the butt of his stage act. Because he came up in nightclubs during the age when you can and did joke openly about Micks and wops and dagos, then found fame in Vegas and on The Tonight Show precisely as political and ethnic sensitivities began to change, his long career encompasses 20th-century American humor. Before boomer comics like Richard Pryor or George Carlin could stick it to the man, Rickles was telling off the Mafia. Before Whoopi Goldberg could foreground her blackness on stage, or Roseanne Barr vent her angry housewife tirades, Rickles made such sweaty, earthy ire acceptable. He’s angry, irate, indignant but always… just kidding. That’s one of his signature bits: After mocking the old and the drunk and the idiotic (and we’re all idiots from where he’s standing), Rickles ritually apologizes to the audience. And he’s sincere. And then you realize Johnny Carson was, too, when he gave Rickles his famous nickname. (As the recent HBO doc Mr. Warmth reveals, he really is a beloved figure in showbiz.) And yes, God willing, he’ll give voice to Mr. Potato Head again for next year’s third Toy Story movie. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., June 4, 8 p.m., 2009

 
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