A Tale of Two Dons… Rickles vs. Trump
Don Rickles vs. Don Trump. Their acts may seem similar, but what they stand for could not be more different.
Many of you likely know Don Rickles as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story movies. That’s how I was first introduced to Don.
Then when I was in high-school I stumbled across a Don Rickles’ stand-up comedy bit on YouTube. Mr. Warmth, as he was sarcastically nicknamed, was making fun of everyone he saw in the audience.
Young or old, fat or skinny, ugly or beautiful, black or white… it didn’t matter who had come to see him perform. The comedic giant fearlessly confronted the diverse audience, quickly making jokes based purely on what he observed.
People laughed at one another, but more importantly laughed at themselves. To see such boisterous laughter from the audience, I wasn’t at all surprised that Don’s revolutionary style of ribbing people for their looks, their accents, and their heritage had skyrocketed him to fame in the 1960s.
Remarkably Rickles has remained at the top of his game, continuing his comedic dominance to this day after more than 50 years headlining in Vegas. He has some difficulty walking now at the age of 90 and doesn’t perform nearly as often as he once did, but his brain is as sharp as ever.
As Rickles’ public presence has slowly begun retreating, a different Don has been captivating audiences… Donald Trump.
Packing stadiums across the country for political speeches, the outspoken real-estate titan is now the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican party. Even as I type this, I still can’t quite believe the reality of that last sentence.
Trump has said some pretty shocking things in recent interviews. Like Rickles, Trump has picked on specific individuals and entire groups of people.
The overt lack of political correctness, similar to Rickles’ approach to comedy, is what has made Trump so “entertaining” to millions of voters. Unlike Rickles though, the lack of political correctness and the demeaning rhetoric is being used for a different purpose and with a different connotation.
Since we have the ability to decide how we progress as a society, we owe it to ourselves to understand the difference between the two Dons.
Starting with Mr. Warmth…
If one was asked to build a Mt. Rushmore of comedians, there’s no doubt in my mind that beside George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Mel Brooks, would be the smooth bald head of Don Rickles.
Some critics have called Don’s comedy bits rude, distasteful, and outright racist. Others like myself find his act funny, clever, and wildly progressive.
How can picking on people be progressive? Well, quite simply… everyone is put on the same playing field at a Rickles performance.
For example, Don will pick out a Japanese audience member and make a joke about his time serving in World War 2 by saying, “3 years in the jungle… looking for your uncle.” The audience laughs, Don sometimes chuckles, and the guy who he called out is usually roaring hysterically.
Then Don moves to the old woman in front of the stage. Then he moves to the short guy in the first row of the balcony. Quickly he makes his way around the room, bringing everyone into the fold, as if the audience members were plates he has to keep spinning in the air.
To see people from all different walks of life laughing so hysterically at themselves can be incredibly refreshing. Many of the audience members are hoping by the end of the show that Don will make eye contact with them, and perhaps even shout out an insult.
Strangely by making fun of individuals for their differences Don manages to make everyone feel the same.
Rickles shows the audience that no two people are the same. He reminds us that there is no such thing as “normal”. With humor he makes us all feel fallible, and being fallible is what makes all of us human.
The complete absence of political correctness in Don’s act has progressed our ability to laugh at our differences rather than let those differences divide us.
The concept has worked for others as well, perhaps most notably Norman Lear, the producer of the revolutionary show All in the Family. Writers of the famous 1970s sitcom pushed the boundaries of what had previously been considered “acceptable” topics for television.
The main character in All in the Family was Archie Bunker, played brilliantly by Carroll O’Connor. Archie, much like Don Rickles, could often be seen making derogatory remarks towards other characters that represented different groups within society.
By making these politically incorrect remarks that held no veracity, Archie Bunker was able to expose the absurdity of bigotry and hatred towards others.
Even the President of the United States was exposed. Yes, you read that correctly. Nixon, the President of the United States at the time All in the Family first aired, had a superiority complex (similar to Archie Bunker) when it came to people who were “different” from him.
Tapes exist today in which you will hear Nixon himself make derogatory remarks about Jews, women, gays, among others.
“Some people thought we were presenting Archie as a false character. President Nixon thought we were making a fool out of a good man.” — Carroll O’Connor on playing Archie Bunker
Norman Lear and Carroll O’Connor built Archie for the public’s ridicule. They purposely shirked political correctness, and in the process created an open forum for dialogue about our societal issues. With humor, they helped us empathize with people different from ourselves.
Comedy became a powerful medium for challenging the way we thought about humanity.
Decades after the world said farewell to Archie Bunker, Rickles is still occasionally on stage to keep us moving forward. Sadly we still need Don.
We have seen that bigotry is still very much alive in our country today. As a result, bigotry has been recently used as a political weapon.
While I’ve argued the absence of political correctness (in the proper context) has the ability to unite us, it’s become clear that the absence of political correctness can also work to divide us.
It’s time to address the other Don in the room…
Donald Trump has said some pretty shocking things while campaigning for the Republican nomination. He’s completely abandoned political correctness in an effort to draw attention to his “movement”.
On Senator John McCain, who fought in Vietnam, Donald said, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
John McCain was supposed to be released less than a year after he had been captures. He refused to leave unless the other prisoners who had been there before him were also released. The North Vietnamese responded by torturing him, and keeping him imprisoned for 5+ years. Say what you will about John McCain the senator, but John McCain the soldier is undoubtedly a war hero.
On Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly, Donald said, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” Then on political opponent Carly Fiorina, Donald said, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?”
Kelly had asked Donald a few tough questions. Fiorina had become a viable threat to Donald’s campaign. Trump responded with those sexist remarks. Are women not supposed to challenge you in an interview? Are women not electable? Women not only have the right to question presidential candidates in a debate or run for office themselves, they should be encouraged to do so. This is the United States of America.
Donald then asked for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. This came just after he said, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” when speaking about Mexican immigrants.
An American can be anything. They can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or they can also choose not to follow a religion. America is a melting pot with citizens whose ancestors came from all over the globe. Are we really going to build physical walls around our borders and put up arbitrary walls around what it means to be American?
There are a slew of other derogatory Trump quotes, but for brevity purposes I’ll stop with these.
The traction the Trump campaign has achieved demonstrates how many Americans still gravitate towards figures that seek to demean others based on differences. Trump’s shocking statements that completely lack of political correctness have been used quite purposely to evoke fear. It’s been used to divide us.
Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent you can agree that we are all unique individuals of varying shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. While Rickles uses that fact to make us laugh and feel human, Trump uses it in an attempt to “make America great again”.
Make America great… again? Should we go back to the time when civil rights were denied to blacks based on the color of their skin? Should we go back to the time when women didn’t have a right to vote?
We need to keep America moving forward… not backward.
What can we do?
Shirking political correctness is a dangerous game. It’s been used brilliantly by comedic geniuses like Rickles, but it’s also been used divisively by fear-mongering political candidates like Trump.
We can recognize that although we are all different in some ways, we are all a part of the same human race.
We can laugh at our differences rather than allow those differences to shape how we view entire groups of people.
In a few months we can elect a leader that believes in uniting us and not dividing us. We have that power.