Don of de­ri­sion feted

Kind words for the mas­ter of com­edy in­sults, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY TV -

MR Warmth got a warm re­cep­tion from top comics as Don Rick­les, the leg­endary mas­ter of the put-down, gra­ciously ac­cepted the Johnny Car­son Award at Amer­i­can net­work Com­edy Cen­tral’s re­cent sec­ond an­nual Com­edy Awards night.

In a ca­reer that spans more than 60 years, Rick­les, 86, has ap­peared in films rang­ing from the Beach Party films of the early 1960s to Casino in 1995 and sit­coms such as CPO Sharkey.

Per­haps best known these days as the voice of Mr Potato Head in three Toy Story films, he makes his liv­ing as an ‘‘ag­gres­sive’’ stage co­me­dian, out­last­ing con­tem­po­raries Alan King, role model Mil­ton Berle (who dubbed him the Mer­chant of Venom) and Car­son, a friend who hosted him on the Tonight Show more than 100 times and af­fec­tion­ately called him Mr Warmth. ‘‘It’s sar­cas­tic but it’s true,’’ Rick­les says. To many fans, he’s known as the pro­to­typ­i­cal in­sult comic. He doesn’t tell jokes, ex­actly; his act is the ad-libbed sin­gling out of au­di­ence mem­bers for ridicule. Does he like the in­sult la­bel? ‘‘No, I don’t, but I got it, and it stuck with me and it didn’t hurt me,’’ he says. ‘‘In­sult, to me, was al­ways some­thing of­fen­sive.’’

Jon Ste­wart, who pre­sented the award, says: ‘‘It’s cur­mud­geon hu­mour more than in­sult hu­mor. He’s a guy who’s an­noyed at you and things that just bother him.’’

Ste­wart adds: ‘‘He’s a comedic ac­tor who cre­ated a char­ac­ter an­ti­thet­i­cal to his heart. Some co­me­di­ans ex­ist as a cau­tion­ary tale. He ex­ists as an as­pi­ra­tion.’’

Oth­ers who paid trib­ute to the veteran comic in­cluded Robert De Niro, Rick­les’ Casino costar. ‘‘Work­ing with Don Rick­les was a turn­ing point in my own ca­reer,’’ he says.

‘‘It was the last time I worked with Martin Scors­ese. Eight pic­tures to­gether, crit­i­cal suc­cesses, awards, star­dom and then bam! – one film with Don and it’s all down the toi­let.’’

Rick­les was es­pe­cially fond of Frank Si­na­tra, who had ‘‘a lot’’ to do with Rick­les’ suc­cess and forced Ron­ald Rea­gan’s 1985 in­au­gu­ral team to in­clude him, in what be­came a ca­reer high­light, by threat­en­ing not to at­tend. Si­na­tra warmed to Rick­les be­cause ‘‘I didn’t show any fear’’.

But it was Car­son who ce­mented his stature among view­ers. ‘‘Johnny didn’t mix (so­cially) as much as Frank,’’ Rick­les says. ‘‘He’d hide un­der the chair. But when the lights came on, there was no one bet­ter.’’

Among to­day’s late-night hosts Rick­les rates David Let­ter­man as the clos­est to Car­son, say­ing he is a loner with a laid-back style – a great lis­tener and a ‘‘sweet’’ man who dines with him af­ter each ap­pear­ance, and called last De­cem­ber to ex­press con­do­lences for ‘‘the ter­ri­ble heartache of my life’’ – the death of Rick­les’ son Larry, 41.

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