“Rickles Shocks Crowd W/Racial Joke”

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on June 9th, 2012

That’s the incomprehensible headline of the news story that’s rocketing around the WWW. How can this be? How could Don Rickles shock anyone with a racial joke? He’s Don Rickles!

We’re leaving out key words. The entire headline is:

Don Rickles Shocks Hollywood Crowd With Racial Obama Joke

It’s atop a Hollywood Reporter account of the American Film Institute’s tribute to Shirley MacLaine on Thursday night at Sony Pictures Studios. It’s rather humorous that anyone would be offended by anything that Don Rickles would say. And, as it turned out, those present “alternately gasped at the 86-year-old comic’s put-downs and then found themselves laughing and applauding.”

Well, yah! That’s how it works at a Rickles show.

We’re not quite sure why the editors at THR found it necessary to slap that headline on this story. Linkbait, perhaps? It’s probably working. (But, we aren’t linking to it.)

Anyone who is shocked by anything Rickles says reveals himself to be a humorless crank. Or someone who is willing to generate fake outrage to make some sort of ideological point.

Rickles is Rickles. You need not find him funny. But if you’re shocked by Rickles, we’re not buying it. We have talked a lot about context and how it must be considered when we encounter humor. In Rickles’ case, he is context. He brings it with him. He has a long history of saying the least appropriate things. He has been consistent– consistently “offensive”– throughout his lengthy career. He has remained the same, unwavering.