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Don Rickles Was a True Master Of Comedy

April 7, 2017

I first came to know Don Rickles as a teenager when he made appearances on the Johnny Carson Show.  He was brash, and creative, and funny as anyone I knew on television at that time.  The comedy always seemed to me as a way to showcase how ridiculous real racism was in our country.  Rickles made a mockery of those who actually did harbor such dark views.

When Frank Sinatra performed his last time in Milwaukee I was in attendance and laughed heartily as Rickels opened for the most incredible crooner this nation ever had.  I recall the fast-paced delivery that he offered the audience.  From that night until his death on Thursday I was a fan and always watched when he appeared on television in one capacity or another. In May 2015, he was one of the last guests on “Late Show With David Letterman.”

He was a gentle man by all who knew him and spoke over the years about his personality off stage, or of his generosity.  But on stage he was a legend with a line that could be delivered with mirth all over it.

One night, on learning that some members of his audience were German, he said, “Forty million Jews in this country, and I got four Nazis sitting here in front waiting for the rally to start.” He said that America needed Italians “to keep the cops busy” and blacks “so we can have cotton in the drugstore,” and that “Asians are nice people, but they burn a lot of shirts.” He might ask a man in the audience, “Is that your wife?” and, when the man answered yes, respond: “Oh, well. Keep your chin up.”

No critic, however thoughtful, could quite explain Mr. Rickles’s durability in show business, given that until the end of his career he was peppering his act with slurs and stereotypes long out of favor. And yet he not only got away with it, but he also flourished.

He will be as greatly missed as he was greatly loved.

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