Don Rickles Lives On In New Interview Series

AARP Studio’s ‘Dinner with Don’ is about to introduce a new generation to a comedy legend.

Credit: ABC-TV

A legend died last week, but his blistering wit will endure. Don Rickles passed last Thursday as a result of kidney failure. Rickles was 90. Rickles’ career spanned over 60 years. Though, even toward the end of his life, he showed no signs of stopping.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Studios – yes that AARP now has a studio – announced that it would honor Rickles by going ahead with the release of his interview series Dinner with Don. It seems fitting that Rickles’ last project was an interview show as he got his big break on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Before his death, Rickles filmed 1o episodes of his interview series. AARP Studios released the trailer for Rickles’ show following the comedian’s death. You can view the trailer here.

Rickles’ show has an enviable roster of guests: Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Marissa Tomei, Billy Crystal, Paul Rudd, Sarah Silverman, and Amy Poehler just to name a few. Further, the format of the show feels intimate and engaging. Talk shows are getting more and more formulaic, and the ones that innovate are doing so by sound-biting themselves down to readily available skits as soulless attempts at going “viral.” Skits aren’t wrong as a general matter, when done well they can enlighten you as to aspects of a celebrity’s public persona that were unknown or just allow a guest to get in on the witty fun. However, a bad skit just fumbles on pleading with the audience to let it know if it works or not. If your skit has to ask for permission, chances are you don’t have it.

Rickles’ show, much like Rickles, doesn’t ask for permission. Rickles’ show goes back to basics: plain old conversation. Much like the loved Jon Favreau’s Dinner for Five (the funniest show no one mentions enough), Rickles just sits with his guest and talk over a good meal. If a fun conversation with wine is good enough for a weekend night, why can’t it be enough when two funny people are doing the same? Bonus points for Dinner with Don because it features Rickles’ comedic sting.

Rickles told Zach Galifianakis to call him “God” and you know what, I hope Galifianakis did. A lot of people my age don’t know Rickles, but they should. If you’re a fan of Bill Burr, Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Jim Jefferies or Kathy Griffin, by the transitive property of comedy, you’ll love Rickles. Insult comedy owes Rickles the respect that cinema bestows on Orsen Welles. Rickles was the type of man who insulted Frank Sinatra to his face and grinned his way out of it. He once told Sinatra, “Make yourself comfortable, Frank – hit somebody.” That’s how Rickles acknowledged Sinatra in a crowd during one of his shows. It seems like a weird introduction, but it did something right because Rickles was considered an honorary Rat Pack member. Much like Welles, Rickles should get recognition not just because he was first but because he was the best.

Although bluntness is on the cultural out, Don Rickles’ caustic observations will always have value. In our current climate of subdued opinions and soft touches, Rickles wasn’t one for kid gloves. Whether or not this type blistering observational insult humor is to your taste, you cannot argue that it had no value. Boundary-pushing comedy can help us determine where the line exactly is and illuminate cultural bias with more precision than outright prohibition of unpopular gruff opinions. Thereby, fulfilling the social function that makes standup comedy – any comedy – matter. Thus, Dinner with Don is the perfect way to honor Rickles while introducing a new generation to him.

AARP Studios has not yet announced a premiere date for the series. Dinner with Don was Rickles’ final project.

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