When one thinks of insult comics, the late funnyman Don Rickles immediately comes to mind.
Even well into his over fifty-plus career, Rickles demonstrated a sharp mind and an incredible sense of comedic timing. That isn’t to say, of course, that Rickles might have been interpreted by some of his comedic targets–fellow entertainers, audience members, as well as presidents–as being a little over the edge or even going a tad bit too far. But, in the main, even those “fortunate” persons to have been on the receiving end of his caustic wit knew that Don always meant it in good fun. Well, almost always. In a piece on Frank Sinatra, and while criticizing Rickles, journalist Gay Talese admitted,
[Rickles’] humor is so rude, in such bad taste, that it offends no on—it is too offensive to be offensive.
Comedian Hasan Minaj, currently a correspondent on The Daily Show, showed yesterday evening that he is no Don Rickles. Perhaps taking some wind out of Minaj’s sails, President Donald Trump and members of his administration chose not to attend last night’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner held in the capitol. To be fair, the president’s choice to speak about his accomplishments at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the same evening may have come as a late and unanticipated surprise to Minaj. But that’s the kind of development a consummate comedian like Rickles would have taken in stride.
Contrast Minaj’s material to that of Rickles, who only on occasion would make a slighting remark about a fellow entertainer or politician in absentia. Minaj apparently stuck to shopworn jabs prepared long before the President and his staff announced they would not attend this year’s dinner. “Insult comedy,” at least the type performed brilliantly by Rickles, traditionally is directed to people on the dais being roasted, say a Frank Sinatra, or to an audience member wearing a funny shirt. But it is always meant in good fun, and attendees generally know it. In fact, in a paid venue audience members anticipate ridicule and are disappointed when don’t get it. Minaj’s throwaway lines, in contrast, had the effect of being mere insults instead of insult comedy.
Unlike Rickles, Minaj is no “Mr. Warmth.” At least based on audience reaction, his dragging, staccato-like delivery left many barbs hanging in midair, leaving listeners wondering when they would drop. And to make matters worse, by taking multiple shots at non-attendees, both living and dead, Minaj’s quips quickly veered off into the offensive. This became most evident when the comedian evoked none other than Rickles himself, who died just over three weeks ago:
“Don Rickles died just so you wouldn’t ask him to do this gig, alright? RIP to Don Rickles, the only Donald with skin thick enough to take a joke like that.”
A lifelong Democrat, Rickles had multiple opportunities to take jabs at citizen Trump, and he took them. Rickles didn’t shy away from spoofing Trump’s wealth, property holdings, or even his new wife. Unlike Minaj, Rickles even performed before the future president and his family on Long Island and in Florida. Although he refrained from giving comments about the 2016 election, Rickles ribbed candidate Trump on Twitter:
In the end, Minaj’s performance—well, there is no other way to describe it—flatlined. To paraphrase Talese, It wasn’t too offensive so that it was not offensive; it just wasn’t funny. If he were alive today, Rickles might say to Minaj, “Hasan, you’re a great kid, and you’re going places. Where, nobody knows, but let us know when you get there.”