From the Archives: TV’s newest odd couple: Richard Lewis and Don Rickles to portray father and son in ‘Daddy Dearest’
Comedian Don Rickles died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. In 1993, he and Richard Lewis were interviewed about their new show, “Daddy Dearest,” in which they may have seemed like an unlikely pair. Read the complete interview, originally published on Aug. 30, 1993:
“Father Barbs Best.”
“I Never Sang for My Father, But I Could Tell a Pretty Mean Monologue.”
“My Father the Card.”
Those are not titles for the new Fox show pairing “Mr. Warmth” Don Rickles and “Mr. Worry” Richard Lewis. But judging from the disparate styles of the two comedians, they would not have been too far off the mark.
The real title of Rickles’ and Lewis’ new project is “Daddy Dearest,” which finds Rickles wielding insults instead of wire hangers. The comedy premieres Sunday at 9:30 p.m.
In “Daddy Dearest,” Lewis portrays a divorced psychologist whose life becomes complicated when his overbearing and combative father (Rickles) suddenly moves in.
The series has already sparked some blasts from TV critics who found the racial and ethnic jokes hurled by Rickles’ character offensive.
Rickles, who is also touring the country with Frank Sinatra in a series of concerts that includes a Sept. 12 show at the Long Beach Arena, sat with Lewis and chatted about the show, their respective pasts and Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Question: One of the things that might strike viewers immediately is the marriage of Don Rickles and Richard Lewis. It’s such an unlikely combination. Is the partnership going OK so far?
Lewis: Oh, yes. Don’s long been one of my icons in comedy. Years ago I had a notion that I wanted to work with him. It’s been a long trip and journey to get to this show. I can’t imagine being happier working with anybody else.
Rickles: I would pretty much go along with that. Richard was really the one who made this thing come together. I had not thought about a television series at this point in my career. I was involved with Las Vegas, gambling towns, theaters and so forth.
Lewis: Don and I have this real simpatico situation. It turned out that not only could we get along but we had a very similar childhood. My father died before I became a comedian, and here I am with a guy who is younger than what my dad would be, but I could talk to him about stuff. He had a very similar career. He did the dives, I did the Playboy joints. I could relate to him not only as a father figure but someone who I admire greatly as a comedian and someone who understands what I went through. . . . The fact that he eats raw meat, I say, hey, the guy has his problems.
Q: Don, does it enter into your mind that Richard, while not exactly your boss, is more or less in charge?
Rickles: Yeah, he reminds me of that all the time. According to him, I was out on the highway face down, being rolled by four guys. This man comes along and reminds me every day that he’s the boss and he found me. And I gotta kiss his you-know-what to keep him amused.
Lewis: But if I don’t meet Frank before the 12th episode, there’s going to be a problem, because I’m the co-executive producer, and I have the right to fire Don.
Rickles: The only way you’re going to meet Frank is to throw yourself in front of his car. And if I know Frank, he’ll keep going.
Lewis: Don’s the funniest man in the world, swear to God. I have this dream that I would marry his daughter and he’d be my father-in-law.
Rickles: (Clutching his chest and mock-heaving): I’m having a massive attack. Greg, mouth-to-mouth, please. I’m begging you.
Q: Richard, you have seemed frustrated by recent questions about Don’s jokes on the show, that Don’s character insults people and ethnic groups.
Lewis: There are a tremendous amount of comedians whose subject matter stereotypes in a mean-spirited way. There is an unbelievable difference in what Don Rickles does as a comic. To me, Don Rickles’ message is “We’re all the same.” Unlike many other comics who say, “You’re different, I don’t like you, I shouldn’t be with you, I shouldn’t be in your neighborhood,” it’s the absolute opposite. The deal is, Don’s character--and let me stress that it is a character--is politically incorrect. But you realize that he’s a teddy bear. One of the reasons I’m working with one of my idols is because his character is so right on the money to educate as well as being perhaps one of the funniest people in the whole universe.
Q: Don, you’ve done this type of comedy for so long. Does it frustrate you that just years ago this kind of humor was OK to do, that the climate wasn’t quite as sensitive? Now audiences are looking for significance or they’re looking for political correctness.
Rickles: Well, I don’t find that frustrating at all. I’m still able to headline every major place you can think of and work with Frank Sinatra, as I will in Long Beach. . . .
Lewis: Can I come along?
Rickles: Yeah, sure.
Lewis: Does Frank like me?
Rickles: Uh, he mentioned you once, and napped. Said your name and fell asleep right in front of me. Anyway, I cannot say too much about being “politically correct” because they still show up to see me. Funny is funny. It’s a very fine line and I’ve never crossed that line and I’ve always been received with the utmost warmth.
Q: You both have had less than pleasant experiences in series television, especially you, Don.
Rickles: Thanks, Greg. You’re really winning me over.
Lewis: I’ve had nothing but the best experience in television. As for Don--for some odd reason, they keep bringing up shows that didn’t make it. There’s 8 billion people who never got one show for a week. Don’s had four or five shows. He would be the first one to say that they were not to his liking in terms of the style. Now I think he’s found the right vehicle.
Q: Don, you’re a comedian who went into acting. Do you see some of yourself in Richard as he makes the transition, trying to hit the marks?
Rickles: What I see in Richard is the absolute dedication and drive that I had 25 years ago. I still have drive, but everything is relative. Richard has great energy to make things happen. And I have to have energy because I have a lot of expenses. A couple of cars, couple of dogs and a big estate. He’s living in a closet. But he loves it. He’s got a lot of money, this guy.
Lewis: Yeah, but it’s all tied up in problems.
Q: Don, have you ever been in therapy?
Rickles: No. I think if I took therapy, the doctor would quit. He’d just pick up the couch and walk out of the room. “Excuse me. Pardon me. I’m leaving.”
Q: Do you find it hard playing not only a psychologist but a relatively serious character, which is opposite from your persona?
Lewis: There’s a lot of colors in this I’ve never had before. As an actor, I’m trying to show those the best I can, as a father and a therapist. But there are times that I’m frenzied. I come from a dysfunctional family in the show, I’m horny, trying to find the right woman. So I’m frenzied at least 30% of the time.
Rickles: It balances itself in the back and forth situation.
Lewis: When can I meet Frank? I’ll be in the limo with you and Frank when you go to Long Beach.
Rickles: You’ll be running alongside the limo. I’ll roll down the window just so you can hear part of the voice. “The Summer Wind. . .” and then roll it up again, with your hand in the window.
Q: Have you guys watched other Fox shows? “90210"?
Lewis: I watch all the shows. I’m a Fox kind of guy. Except I wanted them to change the logo because I was bit on my behind by a fox when I was a Cub Scout. I wanted to change the logo to a gefilte fish.
Q: Thanks, I think that will do it.
Lewis: By the way, if there are any follow-ups, I’m available.
Rickles: I’m not. And he’s so full of crap. As soon as this is over, he goes out, gets in the car and goes, “That pain in the ass! Thank God I’m going home.” I like you, Greg. Come over to the house later. We’ll talk.
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