The King of sting

At 80, Rickles remains just as relentless as he was in his heyday

‘I’M A NICE GUUUYY!’ <br>Don Rickles takes the Gold Country audience back to a time when racist jokes and song-and-dance numbers were all the rage.

Don Rickles takes the Gold Country audience back to a time when racist jokes and song-and-dance numbers were all the rage.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

I couldn’t have possibly guessed what a current Don Rickles performance was going to be like. The insult comic’s heyday has long passed, right? I mean, surely he must have changed it up a bit so things don’t get stale.

Would becoming an octogenarian soften him up a bit? No. Or would he revamp his act to show today’s slew of insult comics who’s still the boss, while also making sure his jabs are up to speed with today’s modern world? Nope.

Don Rickles is still Don Rickles. If you saw him 30 years ago, the only difference was that he was slightly more limber then. He can still dance and sing like he’s only 50 years young. Another slight change to his act: He has a tendency to go off on memoirs now and then. There were times last Thursday at Gold Country Casino when the insults would abruptly stop as Rickles relayed a story about his heyday with Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Rat Pack. He ended one such story with: “I’ve been performing for 40 years now, and it has always been my dream to be here in Oroville in front of you people.”

Performing in Oroville can’t be very flattering to Rickles. The venue looks expensive but still haphazardly thrown together. When I spotted a femme-mullet sitting 20 feet to my right, I had to come to the conclusion that Rickles had lowered the bar for standards. (Oh! Who’s throwing out insults now?) Rickles made sure to note this several times in his act, as well as share his interesting ideas concerning the tribe that owns Gold Country.

And this is something that I feel needs to be addressed. Rickles is blatantly racist. It’s something that often gets downplayed in his promotion, but the guy’s bread-and-butter is insults, and nothing is more insulting than a few racist jokes. Think what you will about the justification of racist humor, but be aware that Rickles is full of it. At one point he asked a young man about his heritage and, discovering he was German, whispered to a Jewish man in the audience: “Be nice to him! They could start again!”

In the end, I learned about the old times more often than I laughed. Rickles was part of an era when being a comedian meant more than simply standing up and telling jokes.

Rickles performed with a small orchestra that played almost throughout his entire set. He would at times sing along with them, and a few times even put his aging bones to work dancing. He was more than happy to shake hands and was (when he wasn’t poking fun) sincere and polite to the audience.

But those familiar with stand-up can attest that the art has come a long way. Has this pseudo-vaudevillian throwback to the old days become outdated? Have new comics, who needn’t worry themselves with being entertainers in every sense of the word, left their forefathers like Rickles in the dust?


Rickles is still funny. He’s a kooky old man who rants and raves some of the most stinging of good-natured insults to anyone and everyone. He’s still plenty witty and, dated or not, no one could guess what would come out of his mouth next, dated or not.

While I can’t say I approve of everything in his act, I have to give him credit for being a dedicated, multitalented and clever polymath of an entertainer. Don Rickles has still got it, and he’s willing to give it all, even if it’s in Oroville, about which he said: “I look out at this crowd and wonder if I should be farming right now.”