For Regis Philbin, part of the beauty of semiretirement is that he only works when he wants to. That means the number of days he spends with his grandkids far outnumber the regular appearances he makes on Rachael Ray’s show or his own concerts. It also means that when his friend Don Rickles calls, Philbin, 84, is more than happy to do a show with him, as they will at NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Thursday, June 16. Calling from his home in Connecticut, Philbin tells Newsday’s Glenn Gamboa what’s on his mind these days.
Why do you still like working with Rickles?
He is the best that ever was. I’ve known him for 56 years, when I was just starting in San Diego. I became so attached to him and the way he handled himself . . . When I was in Los Angeles, there used to be these gatherings every two months where 14 comedians would come in and do their bit and Rickles was always the last one. One day, I went to Jack Benny and I asked, “Why is Don Rickles always the last one? He looked at me and said, ‘Because none of us can follow him.’”
Is it intimidating to be on stage with him?
Well, my job is to get him going, get him talking about different things. He’s very, very funny. He’s still the best.
He’s been ribbing you about, well, everything for years. Does any of it get under your skin?
To me, it makes me laugh . . . I love him and I think he likes me and that’s all part of the game.
Do you miss your show? Do you miss talking about your life every day for an audience?
I used to force myself to go out the night before because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have anything to talk about the next day. These days, some people have scripts and people writing for them, but in those days, I wanted it to be for real. I wanted it to be about whatever was going on.
These days, what’s going on is so much about the presidential election and it involves your old friend Donald Trump. Do you wish you still had your show to talk about that?
Well, I hate to get involved in the news. But it is quite a story with Trump coming out of it. You know, we went to see Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga together and he never mentioned a word about trying to get it. Then, all of a sudden — boom! — he’s going to get it. I couldn’t believe it! I’ve known him now since 1983, when I first came and they wanted me to go out and interview pretty much anyone I could get who was interesting.
Well, he’s certainly interesting.
I called him up and we decided to meet in the lobby of the building where he lives. I thought it was going to be three and a half minutes. It ended up being 45 minutes. We just became friends and we’ve been seeing each other ever since. I think he’s a great guy.
Do you think people are getting to see the guy that you know?
Yeah, sometimes he gets a little hot about something and I worry about that. But he’s a good guy. He means well. He does get mad at people sometimes when they do something to aggravate him and I worry about that. I think he could be a great president if he gets the chance.
And what do you think about what happened with Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan over at “Live!”?
I guess he really wanted to do [“Good Morning America”], guess maybe it paid a little more money. It was bigger than the show he was doing. I thought they were a good team. But that’s the way it ended up. Now, she’s going to have to look around for the next guy . . .
Any desire to go back and help out?
Well, if they asked me to do a day or two, it might be fun. So far, I haven’t heard from anybody . . . But I’m happy to be home. I did it for 28 years in New York and 25 years in L.A. before that. I thought it was a great show. I thought we did a good thing. But it was time for me to leave.