Rickles’ Book is one of the most unusual books I’ve ever read. It is written in snapshots of no more than three pages each, with colorful stories of the rat pack and the glamorous Las Vegas/Borscht Belt comedy scene which dominated the forties and fifties entertaining. Rickles began entertaining, like most comedians of the era, by opening for exotic dancers. In fact, he worked with Lenny Bruce’s mother when she was a dancer. The book is conversational and not always very detailed, but it gives the brief recap of his life.
Rickles had a kind dad and a supportive mother. He started in entertainment after a stint in the Navy during WWII and a string of failed jobs. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts but did not find much work after graduating in the fifties. He then began looking for bookings as a comedian and took whatever he could “because work is work,” and “Anything was better than having to take a real job (Page 134).” Rickles became known for his improvisational insult-comic style. He never had memorized bits and spent his time picking apart the audience which made some rooms hesitant to hire him.
The stories included in this book compile Rickles favorite moments and contain star-studded encounters, development of life-long friendships and lucky breaks for his career. The whole book is peppered with Rickles’ patented insults of everyone from Jackie Gleason to Barbara Bush. He is very respectful of the privacy of his friends and family with very little detail of his children except for sentiment. He comes across as a very loving man who is loyal and carries a deep respect for others which seems to be the opposite of his whole on-stage persona. The end of the book contains an exuberant expression of his gratitude to God for having such a charmed life.
I was intrigued by the book because I was not familiar with Rickles work beyond his insult-comic reputation. I would recommend this book to any fan of Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra (it is packed with Sinatra stories), early Hollywood and the pre-comedy club Borscht-belt era. Rickles is a purely improvisational insult-comic so the book does not have any kind of advice or example of the development of an act; however, the book can provide comics with an example of how persistence, people skills, loyalty and true friendship can create longevity in show business.