John Wayne Learns the ‘Art of Joke Telling’ in Hilarious Don Rickles 1975 TV Special: Video

by Will Shepard

John Wayne is a man amongst boys when it comes to his prowess in the Western genre. Over his long career, he was known for being a gun-toting man of the law. He almost always played the upstanding citizen in his movies who fought for law and order.

With that, though, his roles were mostly serious. While there are a few exceptions to that case, like McLintock!, he was never a wise-cracking comedian on screen.

So, with that in mind, John Wayne went on the Don Rickles’ show to expand his acting ability. Namely, he went on the show to crack jokes and make the audience laugh. What ensues is a hilarious back and forth between him, the audience, and Don Rickles.

An Unsure John Wayne Went on Don Rickles’ Show to Tell Jokes

Don Rickles welcomes the audience and immediately launches into a hilarious diatribe. During his introduction speech for John Wayne, but he makes sure not to mention his name. Rickles explains that the actor wants to remain anonymous because he is new to telling jokes and doesn’t have any confidence in the subject.

“I’d like to tell you something about my first guest. In fact, I have to. We made an agreement. The agreement is – I gotta talk low because he’s back there now – the agreement is that he wants to tell jokes. This guy is no comedian, believe me.”

I said, ‘Okay, that’s no problem, we’ll work it out. I’ll write some big jokes for you, put it on cue cards, and you can read them.’ Now, you figure that’s it, right? Now, I hear him backstage, and he grabs me and says, ‘could you come here a minute?’ He said, ‘I don’t mind the jokes, but don’t mention my name.’

However, he isn’t finished with the introduction yet. He continues, saying that this anonymous actor is going to be wearing a mask to hide his identity. John Wayne is apparently afraid that people won’t find any of his jokes funny. The host even adds, “So, do me a favor and laugh at him. Oh, you’re going to hear such jokes, but he’s a big star, and it means a lot to him.”

The Ensuing Comedy Show

So, after the long and rousing speech, John Wayne walks out on stage with a mask covering his face. Almost immediately, Rickles gets him to take off his make, to which he reluctantly agrees.

The legendary actor is having none of the small talk in the introduction and immediately demands his jokes. Rickles agrees but asks him if he can see the jokes, which the camera pans to include. They’re exceptionally close, down in the front row. He then launches into his jokes.

“Well, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the studio. A bum came up to me and said, ‘Mister, can you help me? I haven’t had a bite all day.’ So, I bit him.”

Immediately the audience laughs. But, he quickly hushes them saying not to applaud too loud because it’s an old building. So, he continues telling the jokes from the cue cards. Don Rickles interrupts him through his own laughter, saying, “He won an Academy Award.” Everyone, including John Wayne, laughs, and he carries on telling the jokes.

The jokes are all slapstick humor, but the audience and Rickles certainly love them. The clip is only about six minutes long, but the entirety of it is hilarious. It’s a wonder that he was never in more comedies.