At one time Debbie Reynolds was known as an actress and singer and Don Rickles was known as a stand-up comic. That is still the case, as evidenced by their Feb. 16 performance at the Pala Casino Events Center, although both acknowledged not only their advancing age but also how they’re known to younger people.
Reynolds’ daughter is Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies. “I’m Princess Leia’s mother. It makes me a queen,” Reynolds said.
That would make Mr. Potato Head, whose voice Rickles has provided in the Toy Story movies, the king. Rickles acknowledged both his recent role in the Toy Story movies, which will soon include a fourth film, and his roots which included advice from James Cagney and support at his early nightclub shows from Frank Sinatra.
One of Rickles’ earliest movies was “The Rat Race,” a 1960 film which also starred Reynolds. Reynolds, who included movie clips as part of her performance, closed her 30-minute session with scenes of the two of them before yielding the microphone to Rickles for his 70-minute stint.
Reynolds is now 80 and Rickles is 86. The performance at Pala was the second for Rickles, who teamed with Frank Sinatra Jr. last year, and the first for Reynolds. Even those who saw Rickles a year ago were entertained by his repeat performance, which incorporated some material used in 2012 along with some remarks previously not uttered at Pala. The 20-piece band which backed Sinatra and for the most part stayed on the stage during Rickles’ 2012 performance became a 14-piece band for this year’s entertainment, which gave Rickles fewer band members to insult but otherwise didn’t reduce the audience enjoyment.
When Reynolds wasn’t singing or showing clips of her movies, she was joking about her age and her ex-husbands. Her songs included her 1957 hit “Tammy”, and prior to singing that she signed the cover of a fan’s sheet music for “Tammy.”
Reynolds was 16 when she made her movie debut. She showed clips of herself from several movies ranging chronologically from “Three Little Words” (1950) to “The Singing Nun” (1966) and sang along with the songs from the films before concluding with her non-singing scenes from “Rat Race” which involved her interaction with Rickles.
Rickles also enhanced his comedy with a handful of songs, starting with “I’m a Nice Guy.” He also insulted as many people as possible in the band and in the front rows as well as joking about as many ethnic origins as he could incorporate into his act.
As was the case in 2012, Rickles took time out from his insults to pay tribute to the United States military, commend his late mother and his wife to whom he has now been married for 47 years, acknowledge those who gave him his early breaks in comedy, and compliment the band members after insulting them publicly. When one of his front-row targets turned out to be a police officer, he also praised law enforcement for their work. Rickles’ nickname “Mr. Warmth” was given sarcastically, but the audience realized that he holds no ill will and means no harm to those he abuses verbally. Rickles spent part of World War II in the Navy, and when another front-row audience target turned out to be of Filipino descent he also recognized the role of the citizens whose land was occupied by the Japanese.
A chair was provided for the octogenarian stand-up comic, but he used the chair less this year than last year and also spent less time portraying himself as a short-on-breath comedian than he did in 2012.
The audience included those young enough to have seen Star Wars movies as a child and young enough to have children who watched Toy Story movies as well as those old enough to remember when Reynolds wasn’t known as Princess Leia’s mother and Rickles wasn’t associated with Mr. Potato Head. Age may have kept Debbie Reynolds from duplicating the dance moves of her films, but the Pala performance made it clear that neither Reynolds nor Rickles are ready to turn over their entertainment to the younger generation.