Museum to Celebrate the Legendary Comedian Known as “Mr. Warmth” – with Rare Artifacts on Display and Signature “Insults” for Visitors
National Comedy Center
The National Comedy Center, the United States’ official cultural institution dedicated to the art form of comedy, announced today that it will be preserving an archival collection from Don Rickles’ estate, showcasing the late comedy legend’s six-decade career. The collection spans from the 1950s to 2000s, chronicling a storied life in comedy through rare photographs, correspondence, creative papers, and wardrobe—all of which will be preserved at the National Comedy Center.
The centerpiece of the collection is a remarkably thorough and intimate documentation of Rickles’ career in comedy in more than 40 photo and memorabilia albums assembled by the comedian and his wife, Barbara. These hand-crafted books meticulously chronicle Rickles’ hard-won rise to fame as a young comic honing his craft, track his extraordinary success as a Las Vegas fixture, and culminate with his later years as the comedy community’s beloved elder statesman, as represented from his first-person perspective.
A new display now on view at the National Comedy Center’s state-of-the-art museum in Jamestown, New York features iconic items from the Rickles collection, including a stage-worn tuxedo and a neon caricature of the comedian that appeared as on-stage décor during his live performances. A special highlight is an interactive feature that “insults” museumgoers with never-before-heard audio recorded by Rickles shortly before his passing. The Rickles artifacts are presented alongside the Center’s exhibit on the art of the roast.
The donation to the National Comedy Center was made by Rickles’ daughter, comedian Mindy Rickles, who wished to make her father’s career collection accessible to comedy fans, students, and researchers, while also preserving his legacy for future generations.
“’Mr. Warmth,’ ‘The Merchant of Venom,’ ‘The Emperor of Insult’ – by any name and by any measure, Don Rickles was an extraordinary artist who brought laughter to millions over six decades,” stated National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson. “Rickles’ comedy was relentlessly funny – he was a true original, beloved by his audiences and by the comedy community.”
“To be insulted by Don Rickles was a badge of honor,” added Gunderson. “Now his fans can visit the museum to honor his legacy and be ‘insulted’ by Rickles themselves.”
“My father loved nothing more than to make people laugh. His work and his audiences meant everything to him,” stated Mindy Rickles. “So, I could not be more pleased to donate this personal collection to the National Comedy Center, where fans of my dad, and all who love comedy, can see artifacts from his career that he treasured so much.”
In quotes provide to the National Comedy Center, fellow artists and friends commented on the announcement:
Comedy legend Bob Newhart stated, “Don was my best friend. He was called The Merchant of Venom, but the truth was he was just the kindest man. I know that he would have been quite honored and very proud to have his career collection preserved and displayed at the National Comedy Center.”
Jimmy Kimmel stated, “Not only was Don the funniest man alive, he is the funniest man not alive.”
Jeff Ross stated, “He was America’s doctor. He helped us laugh at ourselves. He brought people together. He brought couples together. He brought races together. That’s incredibly healing. Above all, it was spiritual; not just for the comics but for his fans. Meeting Don was like meeting the Pope. The Pope of humor. He’s the grandmaster, the bald head on Mt. Roastmore, the Black Belt in Busting Balls, The Sultan of Insultin’. I’m so glad Don’s archives will have a safe home to live forever.” (full quote at ComedyCenter.org/Rickles)
Sarah Silverman stated, “Don Rickles’ act could have never worked if there wasn’t love behind it. It may have been a sarcastic nickname, but he truly was Mr. Warmth.”
John Stamos stated, “Don Rickles was one of my most important, unconventional friends for life. He’s the ultimate equal-opportunity insulter. He goes places very few entertainers dare. Being a student of comedy, especially stand-up, I’ve spent many hours trying to crack the code of his particular kind of subversive genius. Don deserves to have his archive collection preserved and the National Comedy Center can’t use the word Comedy without Don.” (full quote at comedyCenter.org/Rickles)
Don Rickles honed his comedic style in Miami before a 1957 break at Los Angeles’ Slate Brother’s Club vaulted him to national acclaim. By 1959, he was booking the record-setting Las Vegas residencies that mainstreamed the art of the ‘roast’ and made Rickles a fixture of American comedy. His ‘victims’ included a who’s-who of American entertainment, from “Rat Pack” pals Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra to fellow comedians Joan Rivers and Milton Berle. Rickles made a specialty of ribbing those with power and influence, “punching up” at anyone in his path, including sitting U.S. Presidents. Known variously as “Mr. Warmth,” “The Merchant of Venom,” and “The Emperor of Insult,” Don Rickles was also considered one of the nicest people in Hollywood, expressing a genuine ethic of love for his audiences and peers.
In addition to his revered role as a member of the dais for countless Friar’s Club and Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, Don Rickles was a versatile actor who starred in films and television series (often in dramatic roles) and made countless memorable appearances on programs like The Tonight Show, where he was a perennial favorite of host Johnny Carson. Rickles connected with a new generation of fans as the voice of “Mr. Potato Head” in the Toy Story franchise and via his camaraderie with a new generation of comedic voices.
The Rickles Collection joins the National Comedy Center’s Carl Reiner Department Archives and Preservation, which preserves materials representing comedy’s great artistic, social, and political contributions to American culture, including creative papers from the minds of innovators like George Carlin, Joan Rivers, and Lucille Ball, as well as production records from landmark series like Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and dozens of other collections.
The mission of the National Comedy Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural institution, is funded by philanthropic support. Donations and grants support the museum and its work to present the vital story of comedy and preserve its heritage for future generations. Visit comedycenter.org.