If you happen to be near Chandler, Arizona, on November 21, you can catch Don Rickles, in his tux, at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino. Next month he appears on Jimmy Kimmel. In January there’s a show scheduled for Los Angeles. We’re listing these not because we’re getting a kickback from Rickles’ booking agent, but to remind you: One of our greatest living comedians will be 89 years old next year, and after 66 years in show business, he’s still filling theaters. “Mr. Warmth” continues to cut down his prey—which could be anyone, really—with his lightning-sharp insults.
Just watch him in the second season of Jerry Seinfeld’s excellent Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which begins its fifth season this week. “You have to be so much funnier than most guys to do what you do,” Seinfeld says to passenger Rickles, as Seinfeld steers the 1958 Cadillac through L.A. streets. “There’s no act, there’s no ‘You should hear what Don says about this, about that.’ You’re just using your raw funny all the time.”
Raw funny. It cannot be underestimated, or even explained. No one else but Rickles was allowed to insult Frank Sinatra to his face. Even today Rickles is probably the only person who can get away with saying what he says to the waitress in this episode (just watch).
In only 12 minutes—driven by a natural rapport between the two comedians, an attribute of the series in general—Seinfeld asks Rickles questions about the old days, so we get to see Rickles tell funny stories about early Vegas, the Copa. It’s a show business that barely still exists. (For further documentation, just look at Rickles’ backstage rider and compare it to more contemporary, much more demanding requests.) We’re also reminded of one of Rickles’ truest gifts: that there is a big heart underneath it all. And without it, we would have a much harder time laughing while being called hockey pucks, dummies, and worse. Much worse.
Watch the episode here.