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:


RP said...

The "hope you kept the cotton mill" crack is equally awful. Wow.

Bklyn6 said...

As a kid I thought Don Rickles was so racist! I guess I didn't get his humor. But, if you say Lisa Lampanelli's schtick is closer to Rickles, I guess now I get it. Would you compare Sarah Silverman's comedy to that of Rickles in his heyday?

Jeff said...

Carson showed that clip, almost on an annual basis, on his anniversary show. To be honest, when he did the attack on Page (even the 'hang him' comment), I always thought he was making fun of Rickles by pretending to act like his (Rickles') act.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Sharply observed, Jeff. But still... I don't think even Rickles ever crossed that line. That's like joking about the gas chambers. You don't joke about lynching, not that way... targeted at a specific person.

Undercover Black Man said...

Bklyn6, the thing with Rickles and Lampanelli, their insults are so over-the-top as to be plainly ridiculous.

Silverman has another thing going on... a sort of post-modern understatement that makes it seem like she's getting off on effing with people's sensitivies in the most disturbing way she can think of.

Unfortunately for Silverman, it stops seeming clever after a while.

Michael Fisher said...

The most disgraceful thing about it is Page's cooning and trying to shake Carson's hand at the end.

Man, I'm so fucking sick of Hollyweird. How do you stand it?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Things are getting better all the time, Fisher. Look, this clip was from more than 30 years ago. Can you imagine any late-night talk show host saying such a thing today? Or not catching hell if he did?

SJ said...

Woah. That was certainly out of left-field. Was he so incensed that he just had to get his anger out in some way?

I have to admit, I did laugh at the "cotton mill" crack.

Bklyn6 said...

I never into Carson. And after I learned that he disowned his black grand daughter I was, like, screw him!

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Oh wow... good memory! I remember that issue of the National Enquirer too. ;^D

dez said...

I never thought Carson was funny (in fact, he was my go-to cure whenever I got insomnia), but I don't think he was being serious in that clip.

eeaster said...

Did not remember this bit, but what stood out to me about this from the Rickles doc was that even though this seemed like a joke, Carson was really pissed and Rickles - who always seemed like the guy the cool people let hang around - seemed actually fearful that there was an undercurrent of vengefulness here. Like maybe, just maybe, this was the end of his career.

Carson clearly was not afraid to exert the power he held over the industry.

mint_tea said...

I don't find Don Rickles funny at all. It's like listening to David Brent from the Office (British version) cracking unpleasant jokes, or joking to an employee that she's been fired, and then going "I was just kidding folks". And the social issues that go unsaid loom so large, they dwarf any actual comedic content to the jokes.. It's like trying to listen a man spurting blood from his arm tell a joke. It's just so weird, it's like listening to humor from the Trinity Broadcasting Network or the Lawrence Welk show.

This, on the other hand, is genius:

Bklyn6 said...

I don't think he was being serious in that clip.

I think the broken box think was all staged; but his racist jibe didn't seem like just a little jokey-joke.