Friday, December 7, 2007
‘Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project’
That’s Don Rickles... still talkin’ shit beyond his 80th birthday. He is the subject of a feature-length documentary on HBO this month – “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,” directed by John Landis.
You can catch it tonight at 10 o’clock, or Sunday afternoon at 4:30. (Boy, that sounds old-fashioned... You can tell I don’t have TiVo.)
Anyways, I enjoyed watching “Mr. Warmth,” though it peters out about two-thirds of the way through. By then, the movie has made its point. Rickles is a one-of-a-kind show-biz phenomenon.
I actually saw his act in Vegas a few years ago. To be honest, it was kinda like going to the comedy museum. He was a shadow of his former self. (Unlike Buddy Hackett, who was shockingly filthy and hilarious.)
But I will say this about Rickles... his 1968 album “Hello Dummy!” is still funny. An outrageous freight-train of racial, ethnic and gender-based insults (including such quaint targets as “Polacks” and “queers”).
I’ve strung together some of the black jokes from “Hello Dummy!” and uploaded them to my Vox blog. Click here to hear Don Rickles in his prime.
As if to hammer home that such racial taunts were make-believe, the HBO documentary presents black stars to speak highly of Mr. Rickles. Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, George Wallace, even Sidney Poitier.
This in addition to a full spread of white celebrities such as Clint Eastwood, Bob Newhart, Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman with her played-out self... (Everybody except the one present-day comic who is truly carrying on in the style of Mr. Rickles: Lisa Lampanelli.)
Even the Mexicans are represented, in the person of George Lopez. (And no group got bashed harder on “Hello Dummy!” than the Mexicans, let me tell ya.)
Blew my mind, because Lopez recalled a Don Rickles appearance on “The Tonight Show” which I remember vividly from adolescence. Johnny Carson confronted Rickles, during a taping of Rickles’ sitcom “CPO Sharkey,” because of a broken cigarette box.
What I remember about this confrontation has nothing to do with Rickles. It involves his co-star, Harrison Page, an innocent bystander whom Johnny Carson attacked with a strange, disturbing outburst of racial mockery. And then Carson turned to Rickles and said, “Hang him.”
Yes he did. Yes. He. Did. “Hang him.” I never will forget that shit.
But guess what? John Landis includes the “CPO Sharkey” confrontation in his documentary... except he edits out the attack on Harrison Page!
But guess what else? The complete incident is up on YouTube. (Praise God for YouTube!) Evidently Johnny Carson was so proud of this throwdown that he replayed the video clip on his 15th-anniversary special. Here it is: