UPDATE 8:48 A.M. FEB. 9:
Grand Sierra Resort and Casino (GSR) regrets to announce that, under advice from his doctor, Don Rickles is not to travel due to a flu-like infection. It has become necessary to postpone his appearance at the Grand Theatre on Friday, Feb. 10. The Grand Sierra apologize for the inconvenience to its guests and is working to reschedule the show in the near future.
A comedy juggernaut makes its way to Reno next week, as Don Rickles and Regis Philbin team up for “Laughfest” at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino.
A Don Rickles and Regis Philbin Laughfest, playing Feb. 10 at the Grand Theatre, is unique in that it features two masters doing what they do, dead center in their respective comfort zones: Philbin is the dean of American talk show hosts and Rickles is perhaps a revered living comedian. The pair teams for what amounts to a living room sit down with off-the-cuff remembrances about their storied careers. Afterward, they take questions from the audience.
“I get a big kick out of it,” Philbin said. “Y’know, there’s nobody like Rickles. I’ve been friends with him now since 1960, and I’ve looked at all these guys, and they’re all good, but Rickles ... there’s just something different. You know what I mean?”
And as for the brave audience members who approach the microphone to ask Rickles a question, they’ll get a souvenir that lasts a lifetime.
“They don’t forget those things, believe me,” Philbin said. “They remember them the rest of their lives, because nobody else would assail them like that!”
“It works pretty good,” Rickles said. “It’s like an informal meeting. We sit in chairs together and he talks to me like the emcee and host. And he asks me about my thoughts and vice-versa. We’ve known each other God knows how long. We have a good time together.”
An auspicious beginning
The pair have been friends since Philbin happened upon Rickles’ club show way back in 1960.
“I was just beginning on TV,” Philbin said. “I’d heard he was coming to San Diego [where Philbin spent his early years in the broadcast business]. So, I went down there to see what it was all about.”
The young television personality ended up in a room with a handful of newspaper reporters, all trying to get some face time with the comedian prior to his live show: “I saw him go at it, one by one. He’d say, ‘What’s your name?’ and the guy said ‘Irving.’ And he’d say, ‘What do you do?’ And the guy says, ‘I’m in the furniture business.’ And that’s all Rickles had to hear. That name and the furniture business. And he was gone! I mean, it was great. It was hysterical. I’d never seen anything like it.”
Philbin approached Rickles after the show, told him how he’d loved it, and asked for an on-camera interview. Rickles agreed.
“He didn’t even know my name. He heard ‘Regis’ and went crazy. He did the same thing to me that I’d just seen him do to these 10 other guys. It was great. So, that’s how we met,” Philbin said.
Rickles, 90, all but invented the genre known as “insult comedy.” It took some time, however, to find his niche.
“I used to do, like many other comedians, impressions and lousy jokes,” he said. “Then I started to catch on, and I started to do what I do. My mother used to say, ‘Why can’t you be more like Alan King?’ Then I caught on and she said, ‘You know, you’re very clever.’”
Philbin, 85, has been a fixture on American television for just about as long as his friend Don Rickles has. With Laughfest, he is in the familiar position of guiding a conversation in a way that keeps an audience engaged.
“That’s what I did for all those years — 28 in California and then 28 in New York,” Philbin said. “I haven’t done it in a few years, but it comes to me every now and then. When you’re on TV every day, and you’re interviewing people or you’re taking the camera out and going and seeing them, it’s really something. And I miss it now myself.”
Laughfest includes clips of several of the pair’s friends and colleagues, among them Frank Sinatra and David Letterman. The two friends riff on their history, shared and otherwise, and then the free form evening moves into the realm of the unknown with the audience participation portion.
“It’s the real thing,” Philbin said. “People want to know different things, and they ask him and they get back whatever he has in his mind. It’s really something to see.”
“Every night the show changes,” Rickles agreed. “There’s always a beginning, a middle and an ending, but it always changes.
The lack of a net, so to speak, is what keeps it fresh for Rickles.
“None of it is really scripted. Regis has notes on me, and he talks to me and kids around, and I kid back. I wouldn’t say there’s anything prepared, but it always comes out kind of funny, we think. We enjoy being together,” Rickles said.
There is a certain intelligence and underlying sweetness one must have if a comedian is to work in the “insult” realm. The audience has to trust you, or else it’s just yelling and nastiness. Rickles, and some of the the good ones working today — Lisa Lampanelli, Jeff Ross, and to a certain degree Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman — all have it.
“Absolutely,” Philbin said about the kindness that ultimately lies behind Rickles’ brash persona. “That’s very important. And that’s what he does that gets him through the first part of it. It’s really something.”
Asked if he had any final thoughts on the upcoming appearance, Philbin said he’s been here a number of times, and “it’s a great town, and I look forward to seeing it again.”
Tickets for Laughfest with Don Rickles and Regis Philbin, Friday, February 10, are $30 to $110 and available through the Grand Sierra Resort’s website at grandsierraresort.com. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8.