Joan Rivers was spilt-billing with Don Rickles. Backstage we hugged. I remember I wanted a photo of us. She had just gotten an acid face peel and her face had strawberry splotches so she agreed but made her assistant take the photo from way down the hall! She then said, “You wana meet Don?”
… She grabbed my arm and we walked down the hall and into dressing room number two.
I had been on a stage with Rickles once before when I competed in the finals of the Jay Leno — Tonight Show Comedy Competition around 1992. But I was a fan years before with a signed autograph of him hanging on my wall at age thirteen or fourteen. Later, I kept my pot stash in the back of that box frame. My sister would ask where my “eighth” was and I’d reply, “It’s behind Don Rickles.”
Joan and I walked into his dressing room. One of the last of the Sinatra cohorts, Don was sitting on a chair next to a simple fruit platter watching the football game. In true Rat Pack form, he wore black tux pants, shoes, white shirt, and a red crushed velvet robe with his initials on the pocket.
Joan introduced us and reminded Don of our prior meeting. “Oh yeah, the puppet was funny. You? Not so much.” He grinned and offered me a seat.
Joan wanted to check with Don on the makeup she applied covering her acid peel marks. “Don, how do I look?”
The banter began with Rickles’s reply: “Aren’t you gonna put on any makeup?”
JOAN: “I did put on makeup!”
DON: “Jesus. Looks like you were dragged down the street by a bus!”
Watching two comedy legends go at it is indescribable. It’s like watching Ali and Foreman, only with more laughter and slightly more blood. I know they’re legends but they’re bickering legends in that loving show biz way.
I am rarely star struck. But I couldn’t help myself. I had to share with this man what he meant to me.
“Mr. Rickles,” I said, “You are the reason I got into comedy.”
He fired back, “Well that was a mistake.” Then, to nobody: “What’s on channel two?”
Some comic’s method is to work and tinker with the same act material for twenty years like Leno or Seinfeld, believing you’re never done chiseling away. While others throw it out and create all new stuff every year like Louie CK or Ricky Gervias. These are two equally viable philosophies. Don’s show was flawless. His act was down to a science. And smartly, he never did any stage act material on television, ever. That way it was new for the live audiences.
Thanks to Joan and Don’s wife Barbara, I got to open for Don more than a few times. During that time he taught me two things that were immeasurable to my mental and comedic health:
1) You are not a limited performer if you can’t cater to multiple audiences. Find your audience.
2) When doing stand-up, if you are going to open the door to working the audience, you’d better know how to do it and do it without bashing people cheaply. Don taught me how to listen, think, filter, and then deliver all simultaneously! (Shout-Out: I was also able to fine-tune this skill by watching Las Vegas staple, Cork Proctor, who literally had no act, just his educated wit.)
“BREAKING OUT OF SHOW BUSINESS: What I Discovered by Not Being Discovered”
at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com.
SIGN UP FOR THE RSS FEED OR THE MAILING LIST FOR UPDATES!