Don Rickles told a racial joke Thursday night at the American Film Institute’s tribute to Shirley MacLaine that may have been more appropriate half a century ago at the Friar's Club. This time, though, the object of Rickles' mockery wasn't Sammy Davis Jr. -- but the first African-American President of the United States.
"I shouldn’t make fun of the blacks," Rickles, 86, said according to The Hollywood Reporter. "President Obama is a personal friend of mine. He was over to the house yesterday, but the mop broke."
Like many comedians of his generation, Rickles' act has long included racial humor that would be considered unacceptable to today's audiences. But as race relations evolved, it became rarer and rarer for comedians like Rickles to include such jokes in their act.
This was not the first times Rickles did material about Obama that made audiences squeamish. Right after Obama was elected in 2008, Rickles went on "Late Show with David Letterman" to try out some jokes about Obama playing basketball in the White House during a national emergency. The studio audience was audibly uncomfortable with the racial implications.
THR indicated that Rickles may have been met with a similar reaction at the AFI show.
Even at his advanced age, Rickles continues to work comfortably. He frequently appears in Vegas, and voiced Mr. Potato Head in all three "Toy Story" films. Last month, Rickles gave a moving speech at the 2nd Annual Comedy Awards upon receiving the Johnny Carson Award.
While Rickles' joke is unlikely to generate the level of backlash that Jon Lovitz saw after calling Obama a "f***ing a**hole," the joke nonetheless may have crossed the line, generational difference or not.
Did Rickles' joke at the AFI event go too far, or was it simply a relic of a less politically-correct time in racial history? Answer in our poll below.