The outwardly cantankerous, inwardly good natured Don Rickles has been a comic legend for generations, and with the help of Director John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Animal House), A-list celebrities including Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, they’ve assembled a hilarious and touching document of his career, Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. JDate sat down with Mr. Rickles to discuss his new film, Las Vegas in its heyday and of course…dating.
JDate: Tell us about Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project and how it came about.In my case, women were afraid of me, they were scared to death.
Don Rickles: Well it came about when my son Larry said to me, “Dad, I think it’s time that you do something with your act,” and I’ve never had my act filmed in my entire career because I didn’t believe in it. And he said “I think it’s time.” So John Landis, who is an old friend from way back when we did Kelly’s Heroes, happened to have a conversation one night with us and he said, “Oh I’d like to be a part of this.” So my son with his good head and John’s great ability, started to put the pieces together. It took over a year to get all of the celebrity interviews and put the film together.
JDate: What is it about your comedic style that has transcended generations?
Don: Well my style is…it’s what you have, it’s an attitude. I don’t really tell a joke per se, I build up an attitude and it becomes a joke. I’ve never been able to tell jokes. In the beginning of my career I did impressions and jokes like any other comedian, but I was never very successful because I did it poorly. So I started to talk to the audience and started talking about the atmosphere around me and started to become angry, not in a mean-spirited way, but in a fun way – and my attitude developed from there.
JDate: Your appearance on Letterman the other night was hysterical. How have you managed to be “on” like that for so many years?
Don: Well you know, again it’s my attitude and it all started on the Johnny Carson Show; he made me very popular, and it became an event whenever I was on. David Letterman has carried the torch, so to speak, with that style of doing things. The other night I was on with Denzel Washington who I had only met just once briefly and I come to find out he was a fan. And he decided to stay in the chair when I came out, and we went from there, and everybody tells me it was very funny – and I thought so too.
JDate: You spun it like it had been scripted that way. It was hysterical. How has being Jewish affected your comedy?
Don: Well I’ve never thought of it, to be very honest with you. Although I have mentioned it frequently and use Judaism in a humorous way in my act – it’s just part of my personality. I grew up in an Orthodox family, as I grew older, I became Conservative and that’s how it ended up. But I’ve developed that Jewish feel to my act from my surroundings and my family.
JDate: What can JDate members take from watching your new movie Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project?
Don: Well I think that they will find it’s a composite of my career, and it shows all sides of a human being who’s a comedian. There are also a lot of great stars in the film, and I think their participation was really wonderful. I also give insights about my personal life. I talk about when times were tough, and how I hung in there and how when things became great, how I enjoyed them.
JDate: Your mother was an incredibly important part of the film. Can you tell us a little bit of how your mother affected your comedy and your career?
Don: I always say that comedians and actors were all kind of shy when they were young. I was very, believe it or not, kind of embarrassed as a child. But my mother was a very strong lady and she was the one that kept it going when I thought it would be over for me as a performer. She was always my inspiration and she was a big influence on me. People in the entertainment business had a great deal of fun with her and they respected her. So that was great. Of course I loved her but the joke onstage is I call her “The Jewish Patton.”
JDate: Women on JDate have reported that a sense of humor is one of the most attractive qualities they find in men. What lessons can you give the guys on JDate about making women laugh?
Don: Well in my case, women were afraid of me, they were scared to death. But I always say be yourself, if you’re funny then let your sense of humor go there. I mean there’s no sense hiding what you feel. I always was the jokester and had a tough time meeting girls. They’d meet me and be scared to death. I’d shoot my mouth off about our whole relationship. But my wife was that unusual woman and after a year of courting and calling and so forth, she started to see through to the guy I really was and we were married. In March it will be forty-three years.
JDate: Congratulations.Some women go for the studious kind of guy, I certainly was not that.
Don: Thank you.
JDate: If you were a member of JDate, and I realize that sounds like a crazy concept to you at the moment, but if you were and you had to describe yourself in your profile, what would you write?
Don: I would describe myself as a guy that’s very normal but has the tendency to rib people, but never in a mean-spirited way. I always enjoy being full of fun, but I have my serious moments. Some women go for the studious kind of guy, I certainly was not that. If a girl is looking for somebody different and maybe a little more exciting for themselves – someone more on the fun side, I would suggest that they look for a type like Don Rickles.
JDate: Was there one side of you that you feel finally came through in the Mr. Warmth project that the world may not have known about you before?
Don: Rickles fans know that I have a warm, sensitive side and if they don’t know about it they will when they see the DVD. You’ll also see my relationship with my mother and my friends, especially with [Bob] Newhart. Over the years Bob and I have been dear friends and I think that is where my personality comes through.
JDate: In the film you tell the story of Las Vegas and how it’s evolved which was very interesting.
Don: I must say that when I was in Las Vegas there was a lot of sand and it was run by a lot of what was called, The Mob. But, I don’t see it as a mob. They were wonderful people and you only had one boss to answer to. It was a great time and I’m glad I lived it. But like anything else, time advances and everything changes and now Vegas is oriented towards big corporations and families and joy rides and amusement parks. They have everything for all families which is fine because that’s today. When I first went to Vegas, there were just high-rollers and gamblers and the wise guys treated you great.
JDate: Do you think there is a platform for the next Don Rickles, Redd Foxx or Shecky Greene, the guys who put Vegas on the map? Is there a forum for them now in Vegas or has it got to be something else?
Don: Well I hope so, but I doubt it because today they’re making big productions. More and more they’re getting away from personalities unless it’s an Elton John or some big rock n’ roll act. So I think the personalities are slowly going into the sunset. Fortunately for me I’ve just signed another new deal with the Orleans Hotel so I’m very pleased.
JDate: Thanks for talking to us Don, any advice for JDaters out there from a man who has been married for nearly 43 years?
Don: Hang in there because today it’s very difficult, a lot of people have baggage and all kinds of problems. But if you keep at it, with any luck you’ll meet the right one.