Don Rickles was tearing into celebrities before Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was even a pup. The caustic comic's appearances on The Tonight Show and Dean Martin's Celebrity Roast are legendary, and his role voicing Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story films introduced his acidic attitude to the Disney crowd. TNT's holiday TV-movie The Wool Cap, in which Rickles plays a kindly neighbor to William H. Macy's down-on-his-luck mute, lets him show off a sweeter side. But never fear: The 78-year-old can still let fly his sharp wit.TV Guide Online: How was it working with William H. Macy?
He was great. He treated me royally. He and Steve Schachter
, who wrote the script together, tell me they weren't considering anybody else for my part.
TVGO: Who first called you Mr. Warmth?
Rickles: Johnny Carson
did that on The Tonight Show
, and I loved it. Merv Griffin
called me "the Merchant of Venom." But Johnny was the one that said, "Here he is, Mr. Warmth," and I thought it fit me perfectly.
TVGO: Do celebrities get nervous that you're going to insult them?
Years ago, Barbra Streisand
would see me and say, "Don't start. Don't start with me." And that goes for many actors and actresses that I say hello to. They'll go, "Don't start in. I know what you're going to say."
TVGO: But Frank Sinatra liked it when you teased him.
Yeah, I grabbed him at one of the roasts and said, "Oh, Frank, I'm so lonely," and kissed him on the lips. Frank was kicking his legs in the air; I was one of the few guys that ever kissed Frank Sinatra on the lips!
TVGO: How was it kissing the Chairman of the Board?
Yeah, yeah. (Laughs)
I got excited.
TVGO: But you really did have a special friendship with Sinatra?
I would say things that nobody said to him. In my single days, I was with this girl. She wasn't exactly the classiest girl, [with] the big hair and heavy lipstick. I didn't care what she looked like, she could've been a moose — I was lonely. Anyway, we're sitting there, and she saw Sinatra at the end of the room with Lena Horne
and a bunch of stars. She says, "Do you know Frank Sinatra?" And I said, "Are you kidding me? Just sit here." I go over and say, "Frank, you've got to do me a favor. Can you just walk over to the table where I'm sitting with this girl, and just say, "Hi Don." And I go back and sit down. A few minutes go by, and Frank Sinatra comes walking over. He says, "Hi, Don, how are you?" And I jump up from the table and say (in a loud, annoyed voice)
, "Frank, can't you see I'm with people? What do you want? What do you want?" And everybody in the place stopped. The violins stopped, the waitresses stopped. The girl I was with almost dropped a drink on herself. Frank had a security guard pick me up and carry me out of the room. (Laughs)
TVGO: Some people might not know that you and Bob Newhart are close. You seem so different.
We're from two different worlds. He's the good Catholic from middle America and I'm the Jewish guy from New York City. But we found out that we laugh at the same stuff, and we love the same things, and we've become dear, dear friends.
TVGO: In your stand-up act, you call people "hockey puck." How did that come about?
Way back in my beginnings, I worked at a lot of bad joints, and to shut a guy up, I'd say, "Don't be a hockey puck." Everybody remembers it. It just stuck with me. People give me hockey pucks and hockey jerseys — I've got them up to my kazoo.
TVGO: You still perform regularly around the country. Do you think you'll ever stop?
I keep working because I still think I'm funny, not because I want to work till I'm 109. I don't want to come out when I'm spitting up with a blanket over my lap, and everybody is going, "Look at that [jerk], he's still trying to be funny and they're wheeling him around." But I don't foresee that in the immediate future, because, thank God, the audience is still laughing.