One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles
May 28th, Spike
I am a huge fan of roasts. Some of the funniest moments I’ve seen on any screen consisted of professional insulters eviscerating roast guests and audience members. I still laugh when I remember Jeff Ross delivering the line “I wouldn’t fuck her (Sandra Bernhard) with Bea Arthur’s dick”—followed by a smash cut to Arthur’s reaction.
So when the guest of honor is the Chairman Emeritus of insult comedy, my expectations are going to be sky-high. Further boosting my expectations was the incredible list of speakers which included David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Eddy Murphy, Jimmy Kimmel, Tracy Morgan and Jon Stewart. My only concern coming in is that the speakers might be too reverent of the roastee and we won’t get the same sort of great roast that we got with Drew Carey, where every comic made jokes about Carey taking it in the crapper.
Unfortunately, my sole fear came true. The tribute was actually a tribute and not a roast. It was nice, really nice, to see the love and respect held for Rickles by everyone in the room, but it didn’t deliver what I was hoping to see. Hitters like Seinfeld and Stewart were gently funny, as were Bill Cosby and Jimmy Kimmel.
That doesn’t mean that the night was without some good jokes—including a few from unlikely sources. Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro were surprisingly funny together. Scorsese looked at Rickles and said, “If I were directing this, I don’t think I would have gone with the open casket.”
DeNiro hit a handful of line drives, starting with the observation that Rickles’ hiring as a bit part in Casino was affirmative action for Jews (and that Jackie Mason wasn’t available). He later turned to Rickles and said, “The scene where Pesci beats the crap out of you turned out to be one of the most popular scenes in the move—who hasn’t wanted to do that?”
He then made fun the repeated mention of Rickles’ relationship with Frank Sinatra, “I’m so fucking sick of hearing about Sinatra. He’s fucking dead. Dead is the average age of your fans.”
And he closed by saying, “Don is something rare, a wonderful human being. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be able to get away with being such as asshole.”
Tracy Morgan was very funny. He defended Donald Sterling by saying “If I owned the Clippers for thirty losing years, I’d hate black people, too” and got a big laugh with “Don’s old school: no filters on his cigarette, no ice in his glass and no condoms.”
News anchor Brian Williams did a nice job making fun of both Spike and CPO Sharkey, Rickles foray into sitcoms, prior to introducing a highlight clip taken from Rickles’ legendary run on Carson. I never saw Rickles on Carson and was blown away by their comedic chemistry—Rickles’ barbs and Carson’s facility as a straight man. Regis Philbin introduced some funny clips of Rickles insulting Frank Sinatra, which was enjoyable.
Some of the “roastier” moments came when speakers make fun of Rickles’ racist and sexist jokes. Kimmel told the story of Rickles tipping Latino busboys $20 and telling them, “send this home and buy your mothers a house.” And Poehler and Fey were probably the best of the night, ripping rapid-fire on Rickles’s sexism.
Rickles himself is still funny. When given the opportunity to close, Rickles said “I say this from my heart—this is a long night” and dropped an old-school racist joke, “Here we are in the home of the blacks (The Apollo Theater) and I see three. I’m sure one of you is upstairs robbing my hotel room.”
Rickles has earned this reverence, mind you, and I suppose that I can’t complain that a great performer was given a loving tribute. He’s earned it. However, I would have preferred to see the speakers celebrate his art by emulating it. That said, you saw an emotional Rickles truly grasping and appreciating his own good fortune. And the event left me wanting more Rickles.