Don Rickles dead at 90. Is his style of comedy dead as well?

Rickles' brand of insult comedy flourished in a golden age in which no group or subgroup, political belief system, race or religion was exempt from his barbs.

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"Mr. Warmth" himself, the legendary Don Rickles, performs live on stage at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 01/12/08. (Caption and photo via Wikipedia entry on Don Rickles, CC 2.0 license)

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2017 — Comedian Don Rickles passed away last week at the ripe old age of 90. His death was duly noted by most entertainment sites and was at least remarked upon by the MSM.

But his passing likely holds meaning for those of the Boomer generation and older. It’s highly unlikely that the current generation knew anything about this famous insult comic, ironically dubbed “Mr. Warmth” by the late, great Johnny Carson who made NBC’s Tonight Show what it used to be.

Rickles’ stock in trade was the insult joke and he let those insults fly fast and thick. Adopting an angry, cranky stage persona, Rickles was famous for insulting anything and anyone that moved, often in a most personal way. And he insulted his targets without regard to race, color, creed or national origin.

The reason why current generations may very well be unfamiliar with this one-time staple of stage, TV, and even the occasional film, Rickles’ running commentary of insults—the heart and soul of his comedy routine—had its roots in the wild and wacky world of vaudeville. Yet his content and style were strongly influenced by the very heart and soul of what once was the USA, the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Audiences of all colors and beliefs would roar with laughter even if Rickles’ insults seemed to target them personally. No group or subgroup, no political belief system, no race or religion was exempt from his barbs. Yet his comedy, stand-up and otherwise, succeeded for two important reasons:

  1. As a nation, real Americans have a healthy contempt for anyone—from bosses to political leadership in Washington—who has the gall to tell them what to do or what to think.
  2. Before the radical left entrenched itself in power, the U.S. was rapidly becoming a true “melting pot” where nearly all citizens regarded themselves as Americans first and heirs to their original countries second. As such, most Americans were able to laugh—sometimes ruefully—at the genuinely odd and often funny national quirks of their original national backgrounds.

Rickles made fun of everyone, and his audiences roared with laughter. It was equal opportunity humor in which every possible subgroup was ridiculed and skewered, allowing the hilarity to flow, since few in any audience ever felt that they, personally, were being singled out for disdain. But imagine what would happen today if, for example, Rickles started lobbing comic grenades at #BlackLivesMatter or the radical LGBTQ crowd.

Sadly, Rickles’ brand of insult comedy likely died with him in our age of radical leftist conformity. In fact, Rickes’ freewheeling, take-no-prisoners broadsides only survive today in the grossly irreverent animated comedy series “South Park,” which, although it goes over the top on occasion, somehow still manages to get away with its equal opportunity  philosophy of insulting and ridiculing nearly everyone and everything.

That’s because “trigger warnings,” “safe spaces” and political correctness has taken over our national consciousness, cowing dissent from current leftist orthodoxies and genuinely damaging comedy in the process.

Rickles’ edgy content and aggressive style marked, perhaps, the most extreme edge of American comedy, an entertainment genre that largely depends for its success on the time-honored technique of grabbing current realities and then taking one more step over the edge of reality.

As exemplified by Rickles’ routines, the generally-respected dispensations of comedy’s range and scope  enabled its large and diverse audiences to laugh at the absurdity and idiocy of it all, as  topical humor was aimed at everything and everyone including ourselves. All subjects and individuals were permitted as targets and all fails and foibles were duly trashed. This was democracy at its finest. And funniest.

Today, however, that golden era of American comedy seems to be over, gone the way of  the peculiarly American traditions of rugged individualism and eternal optimism. We are, sadly, worse off without them.

Lifezette’s Rick Gershman has more on Rickles and his humor in his article below.


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