Don Rickles recently turned 86 years old. Depending on your age, you either know him as Mr. Warmth or Mr. Potato Head.
I bought his first album, “Hello Dummy!” in 1968. It was outrageous, rude, offensive ... and hilarious.
Last month, Rickles received the Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence at the 2012 Comedy Awards. (Another contrived awards show created for the sole purpose of having an awards show to broadcast on Comedy Central.) If anyone ever deserved to be honored for his lifetime of achievement, it's him. He has given us more than five decades of sidesplitting entertainment without once resorting to the foul language that is so typical of today's less talented comics.
No one can imitate his performance. If Jerry Seinfeld called you a tennis ball or Jeff Foxworthy called you a shuttlecock, they would get blank stares. But if you are lucky enough to have Don Rickles refer to you as a hockey puck, you immediately know you're somebody.
To celebrities, politicians or the average audience member, it is an insult if he doesn't insult you.
He habitually “offends” entire races, genders and religions. He can say almost anything with a wink and a smile, and his “victims” love him for it. There is absolutely no malice behind his words.
That's the genius of it. He points out how absurd and bigoted it is to focus on stereotypical behavior.
Robert De Niro once told a distasteful ethnic joke and commented that the headline the next day would be “De Niro goes on racist rant,” but if Don said the same thing, the headline would be, “Rickles tones down his act.”