He’s 88 years old and he did an hour and a half. He had a 14-piece orchestra and a few highlight clips of his career that he played throughout the show. He is Don Rickles, Mr. Warmth, and I had the incredible pleasure of seeing him live in Las Vegas.
I never need an excuse to go to Vegas, but seeing Don Rickles was a great one. You could say it was sort of a bucket list thing, which I had to expedite since he is 88. I doubt that I will be able to express here what it meant to me to be able to see him live. The only person that would have meant more to me to see live is Richard Pryor. Sitting in the theater at the Orleans Casino, I couldn’t believe that he was actually in the building. Forget that he’s been in show business for 70+ years or that he’s been playing Vegas for 50+ years or that he’s been on TV and in movies so many times you can’t count them; he’s in the freaking building. I got to see a true legend and I’m still beaming.
Mr. Rickles is a powerful force when he works. You can’t really describe it. Unfortunately now (I mean, he is 88), he has been almost totally confined to a wheel chair because of a bacterial infection in his leg. So, the curtain opened and he was sitting down. But that didn’t matter. The band played his typical intro made famous by Johnny Carson and then he got to work. “Stop the goddamned band,” he yelled and then proceeded to kill the conductor. Then he turned to the audience and started picking off people like a sniper. It was glorious. “Hey, pal, get rid of that shirt, you look ridiculous.” “Where did all these hookers come from”? “Great, 50 years in Vegas and I finally play a hotel that going to crumble.” “How much you weigh, tiny”? “Don’t just say yes to me, call me King Jew.”
You really can’t write his jokes or copy them because they only fit him at the time he’s telling them. I spent most of the night in a state of disbelief. His body was frail but his tongue was sharp as ever. He also didn’t mind drinking a big glass of scotch which he had the conductor hand to him whenever he demanded it. Mr. Warmth was still all there.
Mr. Rickles also said some things that people today might find offensive. He said some things that would cause some jerk losers to boycott Mr. Potatohead because he played him in Toy Story. You know what was nice? Mr. Rickles didn’t give a shit. This was a comedy show, he’s a comedian and as far as I’m concerned, anything goes. The reason he gets away with everything he says is because of his smile. After a particular “edgy” joke, he breaks out that smile that no one could ever hate. The man is never serious or malicious. He ends every show or speech with a few sincere words that you can hear in the clips in this post. When he said the kind things to us at the end of his show it brought tears to my eyes. Mr. Rickles murders you and then helps you clean up the blood.
I doubt I’ll ever get to see him again, but the memory of that night will live with me forever. The man is such a gift. We take ourselves so seriously today that it’s like we are trying to eradicate humor. Thankfully, there are people on earth like Mr. Rickles that won’t let that happen.
Here’s to Mr. Warmth. Thanks for being you.
PS: I recommend everyone watch the John Landis directed documentary, “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.”