Don Rickles appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” Thursday night and regaled the audience with stories of old and insults hurled at Letterman, Paul Schaffer, and the trombone player. Don Rickles, one of the last of the original Las Vegas funny men, appeared to promote his 51st year as a headliner in Las Vegas. As is usual for the 83-year-old comedian, he talked extensively about Frank Sinatra, whom he called his “hero,” and mentioned a little impromptu session at Broadway’s “Bye Bye Birdie,” where he was asked by actor John Stamos to “do something” when part of the set crashed during the show.
Don Rickles has been a comedic staple of late night talk shows for years. He has never veered from his hateful but hilarious insult-oriented schtick. Even when he used to do the “Tonight Show,” with Johnny Carson at the helm, he would come out, sit down, insult everyone he could see (including the guffawing Ed McMahon, who Rickles seemed to take an extra delight in insulting, and bandleader Doc Severinson), then leave. David Letterman devoted half his show to the legendary comedian Thursday night and the audience got their money’s worth (well, if they had paid for their free tickets to see “The Late Show with David Letterman,” they would have gotten their money’s). From the moment he sat down, he started insulting Dave and Paul.
Don Rickles quickly lit into Paul Shaffer for sharing his co-writer (both Paul Shaffer and Don Rickles’ books were co-written with David Ritz). At the end, he asked, “Do they know you’re a Jew?” Paul Shaffer, laughing, said, “They do now.”
David Letterman asked about his adventure at the “Bye Bye Birdie.” Don Rickles said that he and his wife were enjoying the show when they heard a crash in the background. They at first thought nothing of it, thought it might have been part of the show. Then John Stamos (“lovely Greek kid, eats the salad all day,” he said) comes out, sees him and asks, “Can you do something?”
Rickles told Letterman, “I said, ‘I can leave.'”
Several articles have appeared noting how Don Rickles and Bob Saget saved “Bye Bye Birdie” Wednesday night. “Bye Bye Birdie” is John Stamos’ show and it is good to see that he didn’t let some little problem stop his show. Instead, he invited his old “Full House” co-star and Don Rickles out of the audience for some quick stand-up to tide things over.
But David Letterman didn’t steer away from the Frank Sinatra stories. He, in fact, steered back to them at each opportunity. And, truthfully, nobody tells a Frank Sinatra story like Don Rickles. In all the shows I’ve seen him on, he tells the stories well and they always have a great punch line. One cannot help but feel the love Rickles had for Frank Sinatra when he tells the stories as well. He’s funny, but respectful, as if Frank Sinatra might come back from the grave and have him taken care of…
David Letterman asked if he could tell his (Dave’s) favorite Frank Sinatra story and he prompted Don Rickles, telling him it was the one where Frank Sinatra saved Shecky Green’s life.
Shecky Greene, for those who are unfamiliar with the name, is an old Vegas funny man as well, and still does the occasional show with Don Rickles. Don said that Shecky had been telling lots of mob jokes and Frank Sinatra, always rumored to have mafia ties, one night mentioned that he was getting tired of them. He told a couple of his “boys” to go backstage and give Shecky Greene a “working over.” Afer a few minutes, Frank Sinatra goes backstage to find Shecky Greene rather the worse for wear and tells his “boys” that that was enough. And that was how Frank Sinatra saved Shecky Greene’s life.
David Letterman was losing it.
Don Rickles slid out to the edge of his seat, looked at the audience and said, “It’s his favorite story — the sadist.” To which, of course, Dave continued to laugh.
There are some comedians that are worth catching each time they appear on a talk show. Don Rickles is one of those comedians. Even if you don’t like his particular brand of comedy, he has the ability to tell great stories of the days of the Rat Pack and the Las Vegas high rollers that keep you mesmerized. He’s like a talking time capsule. That insults you.
“The Late Show with David Letterman,” CBS Television