THE FIRST TIME I ever heard the words “hockey puck” deployed as an insult, they were delivered by comedian Don Rickles. His voice dripping with mock derision, as in, “What are you looking at, you hockey puck?” It was such a durable comic taunt that it traveled with him from 1950s nightclubs to his turn as Mr. Potato Head’s voice in the Toy Story movies.
The original insult comic, Rickles was usually introduced with a wink as “Mr. Warmth,” his entrance music a bullfighter’s trumpet fanfare. He was fearless. He publicly taunted the biggest bulls in America—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Ronald Reagan among them—and left them all howling. He called Martin Scorsese a midget and told Robert De Niro he mumbled—to their faces! How Rickles managed to walk this line and stay funny and relevant until age 90 is one of the great mysteries of show business.
Rickles passed away in April, but as a parting gift, the comedian left us a YouTube series called Dinner with Don, 13 episodes that feature chats over dinner with talented younger artists and celebs—Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Marisa Tomei and others. AARP Studios coproduced the series, and you can watch each episode below or on AARP’s YouTube channel.
Watch 'Dinner with Don'
PHYSICALLY WEAK yet as sharp as ever, Rickles gave and got with wit, humor and humility. “As soon as ‘Action’ was called, you could see his body expand with energy,” recalls Bobby Bauer, the director and executive producer of the Dinner with Don series.
Rickles developed the idea for the show with his longtime manager, Tony Oppedisano, who says the format wasn’t all that different from the comedian’s day-to-day life: “Everyone in Hollywood wanted to pick Don’s brain. He was like the unofficial psychologist to celebrities.”
For AARP Studios VP Jeffrey Eagle, the decision to make the series was easy. As soon as he heard about the concept, he says, “We knew we had to make this show! Turns out those dinner guests were the last on-camera costars of Don’s indelible career.”
The truth is, the meals often turned into love fests—a bit of a twist, considering the outrageous roasting Rickles had given so many of his celebrity friends over the years. “Everyone appreciated the chance to sit down and honor Don,” Bauer notes. “He had colored all their careers. Everyone got to tell Don how much he meant to their lives. We were all very moved by it.”
The series was produced by AARP Studios, Winbrook Entertainment and Stamper Lumber Company.