Interview: Don Rickles Discusses His 70+ Year Career in Comedy

Don Rickles and Regis Philbin
Don Rickles and Regis Philbin

Don Rickles may have just celebrated his 90th birthday in May of 2016, but the legendarily caustic stand-up comedian – famously a friend to show-biz greats such as Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Bob Newhart and Martin Scorsese – is not about to sit down. Known throughout his career as "Mr. Warmth" and "The Insult King," the comic who all but invented politically incorrect humor returns to Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa on Saturday, June 11. This time he'll appear with his old pal, Regis Philbin. "I don't need him there, you know, I can do it myself," deadpans Rickles on suddenly having a comic foil for his act.

A.D. AMOROSI: You have ties to the Philly/Jersey area. Your wife is from Philadelphia. Your former valet is from Philly. What do you recall about the old days of the Latin Casino, the Valley Forge Music Fair, The Mike Douglas Show and such?
DON RICKLES: You know, Al Capone's my uncle. No no. The old days were a lot different. The Latin Casino was the big time. When I got there I figured that I was doing pretty good, because remember, I started in nothing but after hours joints. I can't even name them now, but that's how I got noticed.

A.D.: Were the Philly and Jersey areas always kind to you?
DON: Oh yeah, always. I knew most of the people there who ran the places, a lot of wiseguys. They're all gone now. All good people.

A.D.: Do you remember having a valet, Jerry Blavat?
DON: Of course, he was a good kid. He used to pick my ties and outfits. He got himself a radio show and became very successful. I'm very happy for him.

A.D.: You have been called a consummate comic by well-respected men such as Martin Scorsese, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra. Why did they love you so much?
DON: I'm talking to you - don’t you feel the love? No, look, I think they liked my honesty. My personality. For that, they always treated me great. I, in turn, treated them great. No secret about it. My being who I am - that is that.

A.D.: Do you think Sinatra liked your honesty because he was always surrounded by yes men?
DON: He enjoyed my humor, so I could say almost anything to him. I mean, within reason.

A.D.: I have heard you talk about your mom and how influential she was to your development, but I have never heard you talk about your dad. What sort of man was he?
DON: He wasn't much for show business. He was an insurance man - very well-liked, very warm. He had a lot of friends. When he walked into a room, you could tell that everybody loved him. They really did. He was quite a man. My mother was more into the show biz atmosphere than he was.

A.D.: You are the king of the insult - can you recall when that sort of humor first went over big?
DON: I was with George Washington at Valley Forge, sitting around before an attack… gimme a break. That's over 70 years ago already. Hell, do I remember the first joke? I was never a jokester. My main success was an attitude. Always an attitude.

A.D.: Do you at least remember why you started using 'hockey puck' as an insult? It’s so absurd an image.
DON: In the old days, that was my ad-lib for hecklers in the joints I worked. It stuck with me. I hardly say it now, say, to fans, even though people do send me hockey pucks.

A.D.: I've seen you be insulting, obviously, but I have never seen or heard you work blue, which is refreshing. Why?
DON: Because I don't believe in it. And more power to the people who can do it. I can't knock their success. It wasn't my cup of tea and I never did it.

A.D.: We always hear the phrase 'politically incorrect' in relationship to you. What do you think of teens on college campuses who are suddenly hyper-sensitive to the politically incorrect?
DON: Who am I to judge is what I say. I'm 90 years old, for crying out loud, and I don't sit in any chariot.

A.D.: What do you think about Donald Trump, who seems to make political incorrectness his calling card?
DON: I don't get into politics. I know Trump, but I don't follow that. That's just an aside for him when he has nothing else to say. He never involved me in any of that stuff.

A.D.: Why are you bringing Regis Philbin with you to the Atlantic City gig? Are you just trying to give him some work after he left The Joey Bishop Show?
DON: No, he's very successful in his own right. We have a new thing where he have chairs and we sit and talk to each other about my career and his career. It works pretty well if I do say so. We have fun doing it. Plus, we show a lot of film from my career which is most enjoyable. I enjoy watching it.

A.D.: Have you ever considered a foil in the past? This is new for you.
DON: No, it's just to break things up between stand-up gigs. I would only do it periodically. Maybe just an East Coast thing.

A.D.: You just turned 90, and more power to you. Happy birthday. What is your advice about persisting in this business?
DON: Well, you got to have a lot of courage. Secondly, whatever it is you're doing you have to believe in it wholeheartedly. Thirdly, you have to be able to stand up in front of people and know that they'll laugh.

A.D.: You don't seem to be slowing down at all. Do you have some amazing regimen?
DON: No. My health, thank God, has kept my brain alive. I still think funny, and people young and old still come and see me. That's flattering. The day comes that they stop coming, then I'll know that it's time to retire to the Jewish ranch.

A.D.: What is the greatest misconception about you?
DON: That I walk around calling people 'dummy' and 'hockey puck'. I do have a different life apart from being sarcastic on stage. I might kibitz around with my friends, but I'm nothing like the person who does stand up. Nothing like that.

A.D.: Do you have anything that you want Atlantic City to do in preparation of your visit?
DON: Yeah, somebody rent me a bathing suit.

On Saturday, June 11 at 8 PM, Don Rickles and Regis Philbin will perform at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City, NJ, tickets $75-$95. For more information call 609-317-1000 or visit

Photo courtesy of

Posted on Friday, June 10, 2016