Just a small note about a lovely movie; Mr. Warmth, John Landis’ portrait of stand-up comedian Don Rickles, debuts on HBO this Sunday night at 8:00pm. When I read that the documentary was included in this fall’s New York Film Festival line-up, I was skeptical of its place in the program. Having seen the film (and experienced the amazing press conference with Mr. Landis after the screening), I can say that its portrait of a lost era of American “show business” is both moving and deeply felt. And, obviously, laugh out loud funny. Watching the film, Rickles’ profound influence on American stand-up is crystal clear; his bawdy, free-form assault on the audience is as relentless as it is hilarious.
There is something much more, well, human at work in this brand of old school entertainment, a lost sense of dignity that was less dependent upon surfaces that today’s world of 24/7 plastic glitz. Rickles’ career was built on a kind of sweat equity and hard work that has more to do with jazz clubs and rail travel than today’s “holy shit, dude” rock-and-roll tour bus brand of populist stadium comedy. Say what you will about the relative naiveté of that by-gone era, but there is a sophistication and intelligence in the implied nature of this brand of humor that is absent from today’s “in your face” extremism. I wasn’t even around for it, but Mr. Warmth made me wish that I could have made it to Vegas, to sit in the small lounges in the casinos of the era, taking it all in. Of course, an anonymous seat in the last row, please, out of the range of Rickles’ unflinching eye, would have been ideal. Maybe the best thing about Landis’ film is the safety of distance; You can enjoy Rickles’ brilliance without the painful flattery of becoming a punchline. Watch and see.
Old School And Proud Of It: Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project debuts on HBO on Sunday, December 2nd at 8:00pm EST