Don Rickles Shocks Hollywood Crowd With Racial Obama Joke

Don Rickles - H 2012
Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Don Rickles - H 2012

The 86-year-old comic brought his shtick to the AFI's Shirley MacLaine tribute; likened the president to a janitor.

Don Rickles nearly hijacked the American Film Institute’s tribute to Shirley MacLaine on Thursday night at Sony Pictures Studios, unleashing a trademark barrage of insults that took aim at President Obama, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and the honoree herself.

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“I shouldn’t make fun of the blacks,” Rickles said, and then proceeded to do just that: “President Obama is a personal friend of mine. He was over to the house yesterday, but the mop broke.”

The black-tie crowd, gathered to celebrate MacLaine, the 40th recipient of the AFI’s Life Achievement Award, alternately gasped at the 86-year-old comic’s put-downs and then found themselves laughing and applauding.

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“Shirley,” Rickles, living up to his moniker as Mr. Warmth, began as he rose to his feet from a table near the center of the room. “I never read your books, and I don’t plan to.”

Turning to MacLaine’s brother Beatty, he continued, “I know your brother very well, and I never liked him.”

Shifting his focus to Nicholson, who also was present, Rickles cracked, “He’s not here tonight – he’s with the Lakers, oiling their jocks.”

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Taking aim at Jennifer Aniston, one of the actresses who shared the main table with MacLaine, Rickles claimed she “took my table at the Tower Restaurant one night because she was in heat with some guy.”

Surveying the celebrity-packed room, Rickles wondered where all the stars were, saying, “If Sidney Poitier hadn’t shown up, they’d be nobody.” Spotting Dennis Haysbert, on whose series The Unit Rickles had appeared, he shouted, “Oh, there’s the black guy from The Unit,” adding, “now he works for Allstate.”

Before he sat down, though, Rickles mellowed. Recalling how he and MacLaine’s friendship dates back to the days of the old Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, where she hung out with the Rat Pack, Rickles finally testified: “You have a charm and a warmth and class. I’ve known a lot of people in showbiz, but I’m so proud that you asked me to be here tonight.”