Why Did Bob Newhart Laugh When Don Rickles Called His Wife a Prostitute?
Because it was just business.
Would you let your best friend call your wife a prostitute? Bob Newhart did. That's because his best friend was Don Rickles.
This was back in the 1960's, when both Rickles and Newhart were performing separately in Las Vegas. They weren't best friends yet, although both knew of each other. But their wives were friends and suggested a dinner together.
"So we go to dinner and my wife's talking to Don," Newhart recalled to Conan O'Brien in a recent podcast, "and I'm talking to Barbara (Rickles' wife) and now it's time to go in and see Don's show." Rickles, in advance of the next performance, had to get up and leave a few minutes early so that he could get dressed and prepare. Walking to the show, Newhart's wife told him how much she enjoyed herself at dinner. "He (Rickles) is the sweetest man," she said to him. "And he's such a wonderful family man!"
"Honey," Newhart cautioned her as they walked into the lounge. "I must warn you that his act is going to be slightly different than what you saw at dinner."
A few minutes later, according to Newhart's story, Rickles came out on stage and immediately pointed to Newhart and his wife. "This stammering idiot from Chicago is in the audience with his hooker wife from Bayonne, New Jersey!" Rickle announced to the crowd.
"I tried to tell you," Newhart said to his stunned spouse.
Anyone who knows Don Rickles knows that this was his act. Even Newhart's wife immediately got the joke and joined in the fun. Did his jokes hurt their friendship going forward? Not at all. The two couples remained close friends up until the time of Rickle's passing in 2017.
How did Rickles get away with this kind of behavior? The same way you, as a merchant, can bargain down your supplier to the lowest price possible, yet still be friends. Or how two lawyers can go for each other's jugulars during a court case on a Thursday and then happily play golf together on the following Saturday. Or when a manager can deny a vacation request from a subordinate during a busy period but enjoy a beer together at happy hour the next week.
I have clients who, in their personal lives, are loving, charitable, kind and fun but are stone cold killers when it comes to competing in their business. Sometimes you may have to do things in your professional life -- fire someone, negotiate a discount, undercut a competitor in order to earn a profit -- that really conflicts with how you are personally. But then again Don Rickles would never call his best friend's wife a hooker either -- unless it was business.
There's personal and there's professional. It's OK to be different in each.
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