Yesterday afternoon, I went on Twitter and the first tweet I saw broke my heart. It was a tweet by Jimmy Kimmel.
It read: “90 years with Don Rickles weren’t enough. One of the sweetest and most lovely people I had the pleasure of knowing. We miss you already.”
I knew what it meant and I didn’t want it to be true. I was hoping that it was a prank, a mistake, or some sort of sick joke. A few seconds later, after a quick search, I realized it was none of the above.
Don Rickles had passed away.
The first time I became aware of who Don Rickles was, was about eight years ago. Typing that sentence out, saddens me. I feel like I should’ve known who he was sooner than that.
I was in my first year of university and late nights doing work meant that late night talk shows were my background noise/distraction of choice.
One night, Don Rickles appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and I was blown away. Who was this elderly man and why was he the funniest person I had ever seen? I was hooked.
In uncovering who this comedic genius was, I realized that he was the voice of Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story. As a kid, Mr. Potato Head was my favourite of Andy’s toys. Followed by Rex and Hamm. Can you spot the common theme? They were all funny.
And now here he was, Mr. Potato Head, in the flesh.
Over the years, I’ve spent many hours on YouTube watching anything and everything that included Don Rickles. I couldn’t get enough. I still can’t. I wish there were more.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many days and nights those videos got me through, when all I needed was a laugh or a distraction. Don Rickles was there.
Without a doubt, Don Rickles is my favourite comedian. Tied in second place (because I don’t want to put anyone third) are Jerry Seinfeld and Jimmy Kimmel.
I like to think that my sense of humour is a combination of those three individuals. From the quick wit and dry humour, to the over-dramatization and focus on small, unimportant, every day occurrences.
I may pale in comparison, but all three have been inspirations to me.
The headlines will refer to Rickles as an insult comic. And he was. But he was never mean spirited. The common thread to the YouTube videos I’ve spent hours watching, and rewatching, is that after Rickles insults someone relentlessly, he will back off and deliver some of the kindest compliments you could ever hear.
His jokes did not come from a hateful place, they were born out of love. I admire that.
There are many comedians who need to speak about taboo subjects, or use profanity in every other sentence, in order to get a laugh out of the audience. Rickles wasn’t like that. I loved that about him.
His pace was extraordinary. You always knew a joke was coming, yet you were never quite prepared for it. And if you weren’t paying attention, you’d miss it. He’d let his audience know if they did.
He was quick. So very quick. You could tell he always had a joke on the edge of his lips, way before the person he was interacting with had even finished talking.
A staple of his recent talk show appearances were always stories involving Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Regis Philbin, Bob Newhart, and other people who were his friends. And he never mentioned them just to brag, as if to say “these are all the famous people I’ve ever known”. No. He talked about them because they were his friends and he loved them.
He would insult them ruthlessly, but always had something beautiful to say about them. I think we can all learn something from that. We can all learn from the way that Rickles treated others, especially his friends.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears today while watching YouTube videos that I’ve seen many times before. Even as I write this post, my eyes have trouble staying dry.
I never knew Don Rickles, other than through a TV or computer screen, yet he’s had a great impact on my life. I know I’m not the only one.
If laughter is the best medicine, then Don Rickles was universal health care.
Jimmy Kimmel was right, 90 years weren’t enough.