On the scene: Don Rickles at The Venue
Don Rickles started his Sunday night show at The Venue in the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, about 20 minutes late. I didn’t mind the delay, but the elderly members of the audience were getting restless. “When a show says it’s going to start at 7pm, it should start at 7pm!” the grandma in a puffy-paint sweatshirt seated behind me kept muttering under her breath.
When Don made his entrance, after a musical prelude by his accompanying orchestra (performing what they call “The Sounds of Don Rickles,” which of course, includes his Spanish-flavored matador theme song), he quickly made a remark about the audience. Looking around the crowd, he turned to his conductor and said, “Great, they booked me a show in a home.” And just like that, 75-ish minute show started and no one was safe. If there’s one thing about “Mr. Warmth,” he’s an equal-opportunity offender. He poked fun of African-Americans, the Polish, Italians, the gays, his wife (“My wife went swimming today in our pool in California and drowned—all the jewelry was weighing her down”) and the state of Indiana. In fact, a couple of the biggest laughs of the night were at the expense of the Hoosier State: “You know, when I used to perform in Chicago, I’d come out here to Indiana to watch the fields turn brown. Oh yeah, I love visiting Indiana. I come here every time I’m in the mood to watch a little pony die.”
The set included more jabs at audience members (a few in the front rows were even waving their hands, dying for Don to make fun of them), kind words for his best friend Bob Newhart and his departed mother; and an odd patriotic song in which Rickles sang out to James Cagney asking him to bring the troops home while a video of a waving flag played on the huge screens flanking each side of the stage. It was a weird moment.
Just before the night ended, Rickles took one more shot at Indy. “After this, I’m heading back to the U.S. If there’s a message or anything you want to say to them over there, let me know.” The orchestra played, Rickles took his bow in front of the standing crowd and then shuffled his 83-year-old self off the stage. The elderly folks shuffled out, and along with the handful of us under the age of 50, hit the slots before calling it a night.