"The way the economy is going these days, there's talk of turning the Capitol Building into condos!" -- Don Rickles
Don Rickles has quite the mouth on him. But you knew that. What you may not know is that "the insult comic" isn't always running his mouth 90 miles an hour, hammering out his trademark, high-spirited, attack-dog one-liners like he does on stage in Vegas or when he's sitting on a chair next to one of those late-night comedians. He may try his acerbic, fun-loving set-ups on his audiences, but, make no mistake about it, if you see him out in public or chat with him on the telephone, you'll find out pretty quickly that he's just a pussycat in wolf's clothing.
Rickles spoke with The Huffington Post to set no record straight. When was the last time you read about a major scandal that had the name Don Rickles embedded in the headline? Never, that's when. Mr. Warmth took some time out of his busy day -- spreading sunshine -- to answer a few questions. I was hoping for his best one-two punch-line "insults" -- right in the gut -- after some of my questions. My dream come true. Mr. Rickles, insult me -- please! I had to wait... for it.
I'm so excited to talk to you. I've been a fan forever. I'm thrilled to be talking to Mr. Potato Head. When your agent called and said you were auditioning for that role in "Toy Story," was that a dream-come-true for you?
Well, not really a dream. I happened to be down in my beach place. John Lasseter -- he's a wonderful gentleman -- he just came down and said, 'You're the voice of [Mr. Potato Head].' I said, 'I don't do cartoons, John. Leave me alone!' And he said, 'No, no, no, it's going to be fun, don't you worry. And 17 years later, I'm still doing it. He was right, it's been fun. (Laughs)
I love your style of comedy. I laughed out loud when you had the nerve to take a shot at Frank Sinatra back in the day. You said, 'Go ahead, Frank. Hit somebody.' Was your life insurance paid up at the time?
Oh, no, not at all. Rest his soul, Frank was a great friend to me. What my humor is, Pat, really, it's just exaggeration. It's not insult. It's not mean-spirited. I've been doing it for 60 years and headlining for more than that. So, the people understand -- unless they live under a rock -- it's all done with fun and never hurtful. I just make fun of people in a fun way. Some people tag me with the insult thing. I go along with it because I got tired of saying it's really not an insult. That's the way they see it sometimes, but it's all in fun.
When you and your wife, Barbara, argue, do you have the upper hand because of what you do for a living?
Oh, no. We're married 48 years so you can imagine who the boss is. It's her!
What's the secret for being married for 48 years? That's a long time!
We have great love for each other and respect each other and enjoy each other's company.
When you met Barbara, did you have a great pick-up line?
Not really. I met Barbara over the telephone because she was my picture agent's secretary. I said, 'I'd like to see Mr. Gilardi.' Jack Gilardi was my agent at the time. Barbara is a very low-key lady, but very bright. She knows this business very well. She said, 'What is it in regard to?' I said, 'I'm a butcher, I have a truck outside and I want to sell him meat.' She said, 'Being a wise guy will not get you in to see Mr. Gilardi.' And that stopped me cold and made me laugh. I found her very interesting. I started calling her and one thing led to another and 48 years later... [here we are].
One of your early acting jobs was playing a down on your luck traveling salesman on "The Andy Griffith Show." Who was easier to work with, Andy or Don Knotts?
Oh, Andy, rest his soul, was a very lovable man! And Don Knotts was beyond belief. He was funny and kind. It was fun to be with them.
You and Bob Newhart are best friends. Bob told me that before he goes on stage, he paces. What do you do?
I do like everybody else. I wait in the wings and start thinking about the audience, about myself and relax, just put my mind in a great frame and go out there and do it.
You adlib a lot in your act.
My whole performance has never been with a writer. It's been myself. Everything I did, I'm very proud of. I create it on the stage. I never planned it. I just came and thought of certain things and said it. Adlib, you can certainly say that, but I improvise a great deal when I'm working, and every show you see of Don Rickles, of course, there's a beginning, middle and ending, but it always changes with what mood I'm in, let's put it that way.
You're a very quick wit. I saw a YouTube video of you and Bob Newhart and your wives coming out of a restaurant -- it must have been around the presidential election. One reporter asked you who you were going to vote for, and without blinking, you said, 'Hoover!' And then you jumped in your car. Are you always that quick on your feet?
Well, they tell me that, yes.
Of the three late night comedians, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel, which one is the funniest in your opinion?
That would be a hard call. They're all wonderful to me. The man I adored, and miss him terribly, was Johnny Carson. He was the master of all of it. The other three gentlemen are pretty damn good! Johnny was the guy. These guys do a damn good job considering Johnny's gone.
You still work on stage. Do you continue to enjoy working?
Oh, yeah, especially now that my wife travels with me all the time. I have a wonderful road manager, and he travels with me. And my valet and friend travels with me. My little entourage is great, and they take good care of me. And when I go out on stage it's still fun.
When you look back at your career, is there anything you wish you had done more of besides stand-up comedy?
When I was 20, I came out of the Navy and I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts -- which I'm very proud of. I wanted to very much be more involved in film, but I got so busy, thank God, with doing what I'm doing now with the stand up that I never got a chance to develop more in motion pictures. I've had a few opportunities but I wish I had done more.
When you first started out doing stand up, never having done it before, how nervous were you?
When you first start out with something new, you're always a little up tight. I've always been the guy at the parties in high school and during the war -- I was always the class clown. I was always kidding around so humor came to me by nature. So when my name was called to try this, I just got out there and was always funny, I must say. But my performance was different so life was difficult for me at the beginning. Naturally I overcame that, and became who I am today.
Your style of comedy is very unique. Nobody else does it quite like you do.
If they do, they're foolish because it's not something you rehearse. It's something that's within me.
Who makes you laugh out loud?
There's so many good people out there. It's hard to say. Bob Newhart, who is my best friend, is one of the guys I adore. Generally, there's so many guys that it would be unfair for me to pick one or two. If I mentioned one, I would say -- after I hung up, 'Oh, why didn't I tell her about so and so.'
When you're out in public, and someone approaches you, do they expect you to be funny?
Oh, yes, they do. They say, 'Make fun of my wife, will you Don?' So, they expect it. I'm pretty used to that. They mean well, thank God.
Do you make fun of their wife?
Sometimes I try to. (Laughs)
One more thing before I let you go. I see you're on Twitter. You have over a hundred thousand followers but you don't follow anyone.
No, I don't.
I'm following you. I would love it if you would follow me. How cool would that be if I'm the only person you're following!
Yeah? Well, that's wonderful. Don't hold your breath. It's not going to happen!
Finally. The insult I was waiting for. Lifeboat in the water!