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Thank You Don Rickles

I’ve often thought that comedy and jazz were America’s two great cultural contributions to the world. Today Don Rickles, one of the giants of twentieth century comedy, passed away at the age of 90. He perfected the art of the “insult comic,” but what made him so endearing was that he was not a mean spirited person – it was all about laughing at ourselves, about recognizing what was funny about being human, about how, at the end of the day, everything was just ridiculous. He was an insanely funny man.

When I was a kid, I grew up in a violently unstable environment. I specifically remember watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as a child for clues as to how people were supposed to engage with one another (kids are resilient, they will seek out the information they need wherever they can get it.) Johnny always seemed so at ease and natural, it appeared as though he truly enjoyed listening to what his guests would say. A few times a year, Don Rickles would come on, and to me he just seemed dangerously funny. Suddenly this safe environment of a late night talk show would become unpredictable in a kind of thrilling and scary way – “what the fuck did he just say? Holy shit!” He seemed fearless, and no matter how outrageous he became, he always seemed to be able to pull it off without hurting anybody (or getting hurt himself). It was a real lesson in human relations, and on the importance of laughter. And trust me, you ALWAYS laughed.

When comedy works, it is just magic. It makes everything better. A great comedian has the power to make┬áthe world a better place. Don Rickles was a great comedian, and I would like to take a moment to remember and thank him for his art. He was a righteously funny man…