Country-music cowboy Roy Rogers may have been fast on the draw, but he was no match for the quick wit of Don Rickles. The comedian, known for his epic insulting takedowns, died April 6th at 90.
In a 1969 episode of Dean Martin’s variety show, Rickles crossed paths with Rogers in a skit that’s become known as the “Western Sketch.” The comic, a right-at-home regular on Martin’s raucous Celebrity Roasts, plays a saloon bartender who tries to referee a shoot-out between Martin’s outlaw and Rogers’ sheriff.
The famously boozy Martin saunters in and uncharacteristically orders a milk, prompting Rickles to quip, “He should get an Academy Award for reading that line.” But it’s Rogers, a deer in the headlights in the sketch, who bears the brunt of Rickles comedic wrath.
“Good reading, Roy. You’re going to get your water gun and your own pony,” fires off Rickles, after a flat line reading by the “King of the Cowboys.” “Once in awhile, Roy, read my lips so you know what’s happening.”
The studio audience comes unglued with laughter, reinforcing the live nature of Martin’s series and spurring on Rickles to further improvise. “Isn’t this fun, Roy, you’re staying up with the grownups!” he spits, before baiting Rogers one more time.
“You got a lot of good lines coming up, Roy. I’ll make you feel at home, ok?” Rickles says, going on to impersonate a horse snort.
The whole bit ends with Rickles crawling atop the bar and a misfire of a duel between Martin and Rogers, who train their guns on the pesky barkeep. Naturally, Rickles lets them know their aim isn’t true: “You’re shooting me in the leg, dummy!”
Rickles died at his home in Los Angeles from kidney failure. A tireless road comic, he performed shows as recently as last year. His lengthy film résumé includes roles in the Pixar hit Toy Story and Martin Scorsese’s Casino, both released in 1995.