Bill Dana RIP

June 22, 2017

We’ve lost another of those familiar TV faces that baby boomers grew up with: Bill Dana passed away last week at his Nashville home at 92. Dana was both a familiar comic character actor and a writer who helped create some of the most beloved comedy bits of the past half-century-plus. He’s best known for a character that became a phenomenon in the ‘60s but could never exist in today’s PC age: Jose Jimenez.

Jose was a nervous Mexican immigrant with a humorously tenuous grasp of English who started every bit by declaring, “My name Jose Jimenez!” While Jose might be considered a dialect humor stereotype now, at the time, Latino groups honored Dana for creating a positive portrayal of a patriotic Mexican immigrant, and he was careful not to do any jokes he thought would seem offensive.

Beginning with his first appearance on the classic Steve Allen show (where Dana was head writer), his catchphrase swept the country. The Mercury 7 astronauts played his records so much that the first words spoken to an American in space came in 1961 when Deke Slayton told Alan Shepherd on blast-off, “Okay, Jose, you’re on your way!” Dana became friends with the astronauts, made a comedy record called “Jose the Astronaut” that was later included in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and he was named the first “honorary astronaut.”

But while Jose Jimenez was his most famous creation, it was only a tiny part of Bill Dana’s career. He played many roles, such as Sophia’s brother Angelo on “Golden Girls,” but stage fright made him prefer writing. He created many classic jokes for “Get Smart” star Don Adams (the “Would you believe?... bit was Dana’s) and wrote the most famous episode ever of “All in the Family,” where Archie Bunker meets Sammy Davis Jr. Surprisingly for someone who made millions laugh for over seven decades, Dana suffered from severe depression, and he wrote a book about the curative powers of laughter.

All this is only scratching the surface of his astonishing career. If you’d like to see an obituary that reads like a crash course in comedy history over the second half of the 20th century, click the link. I guarantee that if you don’t know Bill Dana, after you read about his life and see his face, you’ll say, “Oh, THAT guy! I loved him!”

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Don Rickles RIP

April 7, 2017

Sad news from Hollywood: the king of the insult comics, “Mr. Warmth,” Don Rickles has died at 90 of kidney failure. He deserves a final standing ovation, not only for giving the world 70 years of laughs, but for continuing to entertain audiences right up until the end and never yielding to the PC thugs who’ve terrorized so many comedians into censoring themselves, lest anyone's feeling be hurt by their jokes. Rickles gleefully offended everyone, like a heckler who’d somehow taken over the stage, addressing his fans as “hockey puck,” and playing off of ethnic and gender stereotypes while always making sure the crowd knew that he was a nice guy playing a jerk. He got us to laugh at ourselves and our own absurd prejudices, which we need more of.

It’s no surprise that Rickles wasn’t cowed by the young hothouse flowers of the SJW movement. He was a lifelong pal of Frank Sinatra, and anyone who would do jokes about Sinatra and the mob to his face had no fear. One of his best Sinatra lines is in the obit, but another story he loved to tell isn’t. Rickles recalled that before he met Barbara, his wife of 52 years, he was dating a young woman he wanted to impress. So when he saw Sinatra in the same Vegas restaurant, he begged him to stop by his table, to show his date what a big shot he was that the great Frank Sinatra would come over and say hi to him. Frank agreed. Later, as he was leaving, a smiling Sinatra approached Rickles’ table and said, “Hi, Don!” Rickles angrily snapped back, “Frank, please! We’re tryin’ to eat!”

Luckily for Rickles, Sinatra cracked up laughing.