If you headed to The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post today, you came across a story of Don Rickles making some “shocking” comments about Barack Obama which, depending upon the site you viewed it on, either was described as shocking or just listed as Rickles being Rickles.
Don Rickles has been around for many, many years. The secret to why he is still as funny as ever to me is the fact that he rips into everybody. Any hangup a person, culture, whatever has, he latches onto it and brings out the comedy gold. I think of what George Carlin said about the power of words. Words have power only if you let them have that power over you. So taking comments that Don Rickles said during a set where he rips into everyone is frankly ridiculous. Here is his comment.
“President Obama is a personal friend of mine. He was over to the house yesterday, but the mop broke.”
Rickles has a long history of taking subject matter that makes people cringe and finds ways, through his words, to show how ridiculous it is. How best can you show someone the stupidity of, let’s say, racist talk? It certainly isn’t preaching to folks how bad it is. I contend that attitudes like this are shown for what they are by the fine art of satire. By using art to use words and attitudes of behavior like this in a way that, on the one hand shows ignorance at it’s best and also shows the audience of a particular piece how wrong behaviors like this are.
Take one of my favorite movies Blazing Saddles. What a powerful movie! That movie to me said more about the absurdity of racism than any docudrama could EVER do. And the folks in the movie talking racist weren’t exactly portrayed as over the top caricatures but normal people (with the usual Mel Brooks flair). It’s the same with Don Rickles. You go to one of his shows, see him on television, listen to one of his albums (if you can find it, listen to Hello Dummy! and laugh your ass off.) and you know where he stands based on HOW he delivers his jokes. He is no Andrew Dice Clay. Rickles knows the right balance of where he can take the insults. He also knows that this type of comedy is best when the comedian is able to make themselves look foolish to, which he is amazing at.
The bottom line is this. Don Rickles was being Don Rickles. He said nothing that he hasn’t said before about other folks. While racist behavior shouldn’t be tolerated, based on my experience racist behavior comes more from actions than words anyway. (Yes, that is a generalized statement. Racism is much more complex than any sentence anyone, much less myself, can come up with.) If Don Rickles were the least bit racist, he would not have had such an amazing, long term career. And in my opinion, at 89 he’s still funnier than most any comedian out there today. While we should always maintain vigilance when it comes to how others are treated in this country, we can’t become a country that says what words are ok to say and what is not ok to say. That’s not saying we should feel the need to support someone who offends our sensibilities. However, I contend that you should treat any artist like a business. If you don’t like what they put out, don’t support them with your time or money. In my opinion, if Don Rickles were the least bit racist, he would not be working today.
- Is This Just Don Rickles Being Don Rickles? (alan.com)
- Don Rickles Being Don Rickles (dlisted.com)
- Don Rickles Shocks Audience With Racially Charged Joke About Obama (mediaite.com)
- The Silliness of P.C.: Some Audience Members Shocked at Don Rickles Un-P.C. Obama Joke (themoderatevoice.com)
- Did Don Rickles’ Shocking Obama Joke Go Too Far? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Don Rickles to receive Johnny Carson Award (news.yahoo.com)
- Don Rickles receives ‘Johnny Carson Award’ at ‘Comedy Awards’ (examiner.com)
- Don Rickles to receive Johnny Carson Award (seattlepi.com)
- Vintage ventriloquism portraits were incredibly unnerving [Please God No] (io9.com)
- Groundhog night (variety.com)