Interview: Don Rickles

DonRickles1Back in February, 2008, I had the great honor of speaking on the phone to the legendary Don Rickles for Video Business Magazine, mainly about the imminent home entertainment release of Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. Directed by John Landis and released by Vivendi Visual Entertainment, the 2007 film is a feature-length tribute to Rickles’s life and career.

Our relatively insult-free discussion also included Rickles’ thoughts on why he made the decision decades ago to not release recordings of his renowned live performances on video, as well as TV’s CPO Sharkey, which finally made its DVD earlier this year

Disc Dish: Mr. Rickles, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me

Don Rickles: Oh, it’s been my dream.

DD: Let’s talk about Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, which was one helluva tribute to you.

Rickles: Yes, yes it was.

DD: I imagine you’ve been watching films like this—tributes to your contemporaries—for years. And now you have your own.

Rickles: Yes! It was really a project by my son, Larry, and the director, John Landis, who’ve I’ve known since Kelly’s Heroes. He and John decided to do it and they put it all together and it worked out smoothly.

DD: Unlike many comics of the generation following yours, you never released any of your performances on home video or popped up on cable channels like HBO doing one man shows when the home entertainment revolution hit in the late Seventies and early Eighties.

MrWarmthRickles: No, I never did. I take pride in being very unique in what I do. Nobody else can do what I do and I don’t mean to say that egotistically, it’s just something in my personality. I never wanted to put it on film and the scenes [in Mr. Warmth] are the first time that some of my performances are being shown. I was offered shots on HBO many times in those days and I said ‘no’ because I felt that my act wasn’t right for it and I didn’t want to show it. I’m very glad I did so because I think that the way it’s presented in Mr. Warmth manages to say a lot without doing it all.

DD: Did you ever have an opportunity to do a more theatrical like performance, rather a club act?

Rickles: That never came up, but just the other day Landis said that my performance in the film is more of a theatrical performance and not really stand-up. What I do isn’t really “stand-up.” I’m not the kind of guy who comes out and starts with “Two Jews get on a bus…”

DD: Given the amount of television you’ve done over the years, I was also surprised to see that there isn’t much of your own TV work in the marketplace apart from your appearances on various sitcoms and variety show and the Dean Martin Roasts.

Rickles: CPO Sharkey is one of the only shows I really enjoyed doing although, unfortunately, it never made it. For some reason, [creator, executive producer and writer] Aaron Ruben never put it out on DVD. One day…

DD: And you’ve been working clubs and casinos for more than 50 years. What are the major differences between today’s club entertainment and that of 30 years ago?

Rickles: Thirty years ago you used to work one place for four weeks—you’d work in Vegas for four weeks, two shows a night, a dinner show and a midnight show. It was a much tougher schedule, but you would stay in one spot. Today, you have to travel all over the country because you’re working at the Indian reservations and hotels for two or three days at a shot. The only major drawback about the reservations, which are big and beautiful, is that I’m always on a plane. The jobs are wonderful, but the traveling is tough. But I still work in Vegas and Atlantic City for three or four days each.

CPO-SharkeyDD: Do you have a lot of time to watch other performers on disc while you’re traveling?

Rickles: Not to sound like a pompous ass, but I’ve been doing this for 55 years and I’ve heard all the jokes, so unless it’s someone who really hits me in the head that I really enjoy, I don’t go out of my way to watch. I get into basketball, baseball, hockey—I’m a big sports fan.

DD: How about movies?

Rickles: Oh, I’m always watching films. The Academy pretty much sends me every film that’s ever been done. I enjoy watching them, especially with the people I know.

DD: Fifty-five years—is there anything that you haven’t done in the business that you’d like to consider at this point?

Rickles: I’ll never do this now because it’s too much work at this stage of my life, but I would have loved to have been on Broadway in a show. In those days, I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and I never got a chance. I thought I could have been in Stalag 17 or Mr. Roberts, but it never happened. The closest I came to Broadway was working with Ernest Borgnine doing The Odd Couple about 30 years in the round in San Diego.

DD: Were you Felix?

Rickles: Yes, I was the quiet one. Can you believe that?


Buy or Rent CPO Sharkey: Season One
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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.