I’ve been saving this story for the perfect moment and now, the time has arrived.
Don Rickles was the man. Of course, I didn’t know him personally, but I met him once.
It was many years ago when I worked as a television news reporter in Utica, New York. I was assigned to interview Mr. Rickles who had a gig at a local venue. I’ll never forget it.
We arrived at the venue where we had arranged to interview him. I recall my photographer and I had been sent to an outdoor area where there were several trailers. As we approached them, out popped Don Rickles from one of the trailers.
I walked up to him and said, “Mr. Rickles! I’m Mike Corbin from WUTR-TV. We’re here on chat with you. I’m glad to meet you!”
And without missing a beat, Mr. Rickles looked me up and down … with his eyes widening in mock outrage … and his mouth falling open as he grasped his chest and yelled …
“THEY DIDN’T TELL ME THEY WERE LETTING ‘BLACK PEOPLE’ BACK HERE!”
With that, we all cracked up laughing.
I’m telling this story not only in tribute to Don Rickles who has died at the age of 90, but I wanted to share this because we’re now living during a different time, aren’t we?
I hate to say this, but I think we’ve lost a lot of our sense of humor. So much has happened in the world since my own encounter with Mr. Rickles. There’s so much darkness in the world that I feel we’ve accepted. We’ve allowed the darkness in. In a large sense, darkness is winning.
However, Don Rickles and his brand of “insult” comedy really fought against the darkness. Whenever he “insulted” someone, it was dark humor, but it wasn’t about the insult, it was about the laugh. It was about the love behind the insult.
When Mr. Rickles “insulted” me, I instantly knew that it was his way of saying “Hello!” to a young man – a young man who was also from Queens, New York. He was using his unique talent to break the ice. He was saying “Welcome.”
These days, you have to be very confident yet careful how you talk to people. We’re losing our emotional intelligence. We’re losing our ability to distinguish between an “insult” and simply “breaking the ice.”
Today, everyone seems poised for a fight. Everyone seems to be in “battle mode.” People are ready to fight almost for no reason at all.
I believe the fact that comedy veterans Don Rickles and Joan Rivers were the only two, living comedians who could get away with their brand of humor actually proves my point. It’s certainly no coincidence that they did tours together.
Yes, we’re living during tense times, but we don’t have to let the tension and the darkness consume us. We can choose the light. We can laugh. We can see the lighter side of things. We can choose to look even death in the face and … laugh.
We can choose to laugh when we feel like crying. We can cry, yet inject some laughter in there somewhere.
I don’t trust people who can’t laugh. When I see humorless, angry people who are prone to holding grudges, I RUN the other way. I’m serious.
Another great comedian Buddy Hackett once said something like …
“While you’re at home nursing a grudge, they’re out dancing!”
How true is that?
Don Rickles was a man for all seasons. He reminded us that insults don’t have to lead to feuds. Insults can actually get the party started.
It’s no coincidence that Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Buddy Hackett are no longer with us. Their tough exteriors cloaked gentle grace and wisdom ... grace and wisdom that we’re sorely lacking today.
Who would’ve thought that insults and grace go together?
I am so happy that Don Rickles insulted me. Who would’ve thought that with his insult would come not only a story to tell, but a lesson for the ages.
Don Rickles was a man for all seasons. Rest in peace.