There are very few comedians who last more than five decades in an industry not known for rewarding longevity, but Don Rickles is far from your average funny man. And it’s that very reason why the performer who has been deemed “The Merchant of Venom” and “Mr. Warmth” will be honored on Comedy Central Sunday night (9pm ET/PT).
It’s fitting that Rickles will be presented with the “Johnny Carson Award For Comedic Excellence” as part of the 2012 Comedy Awards, because it was Carson himself who gave him his big break. Not only did the young comic make his national debut on The Tonight Show in 1965, but he went on to make more than a hundred appearances.
“I’ve been blessed with many highlights in my career, but guesting with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show was particularly memorable for me as they were more than just appearances, they became events,” Rickles said. “Carson was Mr. Magic. He always made me feel that my talent was something special. To receive an award bearing Johnny’s name means everything to me as he will go down in history as the greatest in his field.”
I have always found Rickles to be hilarious, and a big part of that is because I realize that insulting others is his schtick. While watching a person put down others for laughs is obviously not everybody’s cup of tea, it’s obviously allowed him to carve out a niche that has passed the test of time.
Rickles appeared this week on the Late Show With David Letterman — whose host won the inaugural Carson award last year — and spoke fondly of his friendship with the late Frank Sinatra. In fact, he credited that relationship with helping to propel a career that has included everything to headlining in Las Vegas to starring in TV shows like CPO Sharkey to appearing in movies (including Casino and the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story trilogy.
Jon Stewart will present the award to Rickles at Sunday’s previously-recorded ceremony, which also honors several comedy categories like Best Late Night Comedy Series (The Daily Show), Best Comedy Series (Parks & Recreation) and a special presentation to Robin Williams with the Icon Award.
To me, though, the highlight will be watching the sharp-tongued insult comic who despite turning 86 next week is still as sharp as a tack. Don Rickles is one of a kind, and he’ll be the first person to tell you that. And that’s why I love the man.
Photo: Credit: Credit: DonRickles.com/Comedy Central