Don Rickles Interview
Credit: Noel Vasquez / Getty Images

What's the best advice you've ever received?
When I got out of high school, I wanted to be an actor but was getting a lot of rejections. I was getting rejected by life. My mother, God rest her soul, told me not to quit. So I worked in striptease joints, no kind of act, doing bad impressions. I never could tell a joke, per se, and can't to this day really. I just started talking to the audience, and when the drunks would yell, "Hey, when do the broads come on?" I got good at saying, "Relax. Clear your skin up first." They called me "the insult guy," but it's never mean-spirited. I'm just exaggerating everything about us and about life.

What skill should every man possess?
You've got to be able to sell yourself.

What adventure most changed your life?
I did duty on a PT boat in the Philippines during World War II. We saw some trouble, but to go into it would be a big line of baloney because other guys saw a lot more. When you're 18, you're just so busy being scared and having fun – a crazy mixture – that you never thought of dying. I was the ship clown. Whenever the crew would get down, I made fun of the officers. But I came home a more mature guy.

What should every man know about women?
They cost money. That's a joke, really. I've been married for 45 years, so that'll tell you something. I didn't get married until I was 38. In those days, being gay was unheard of, but it was like, "Oh, my God, is he that kind of guy?"

What's the best way to impress a woman?
By not trying too hard. Let me put it this way: My wife knows I'm funny, and she knows when something I say doesn't appeal to her. I can get an audience screaming in Las Vegas and say, "Barbara, that was a great show," and she'll say, "Would you please hurry up? We have dinner reservations at 9:30."

What should every man know about money?
To enjoy it, but... My father was an insurance man and a small-time gambler. He was a good man, but he had an eye for the racehorses, and I saw how it used to bother my mother. I've never gambled a dime. Never, in all those years in Vegas.

Do you have a scar that tells a story?
When you see bullets hitting the ground in a movie, those are called caps. I did a picture 40 years ago with Carroll O'Connor and Telly Savalas, God rest their souls, and Clint Eastwood, called 'Kelly's Heroes,' which we filmed in Yugoslavia for six months. This German special-effects guy said, "Don, don't you worry. Nothing can happen." So I was lying on the ground in a combat scene, and all of a sudden one of the caps popped right into my thigh and blood was gushing out. I made such a show out of it that they all fell down laughing. Then I had to go to Los Angeles to get operated on.

What article of clothing should every man own?
You have to wear a tie, even if it's a pain in the ass.

What advice would you give to the younger you?
Be different from the next guy. Compared to what comics say today, I'm a monk, but in those days it was unheard of to make fun of people like I did. Of course they exaggerated how outrageous I really was. People would say, "We just saw Don Rickles and he told a guy, 'Go fuck yourself through your mother's ass.'?" In my entire career, I've never used any of those words. Finally I got tired of hearing it and would just say, "Absolutely, I remember that."

How should a man handle getting older?
Yeah, tell me about it. By keeping busy – busy as you can. I've signed a new three-year contract to headline in Vegas and Atlantic City. As long as they laugh at me and as long as I have my humor, why not? When it doesn't get the adrenaline going, I'll know it's time to quit.

What's the best cure for a hangover?
I don't drink much anymore, but when I traveled with Frank Sinatra, God rest his soul, I used to drink like I could do it. He made it a test. In Vegas the Rat Pack, which I was a little part of, drank all night and slept most of the day. Then about 5 o'clock we'd meet in the hotel steam room, lock the door, and steam our brains out. God knows what our blood pressure was like, but we came out feeling like a million bucks and went off to do our shows again.