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Denis Leary’s brand of humor isn’t for the bashful or faint of heart. No matter your gender, sexual orientation or political persuasion, he’ll most likely say something to infuriate you. Certainly there is no shortage of zingers in his latest endeavor, the book Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid, out from Viking November 18 and attributed to Dr. Denis Leary, thanks to an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Emerson College. Leary, 51, got his start on the Boston stand-up circuit and went on to a stint on MTV, a one-man show called No Cure for Cancer and cult films such as The Ref. In his newest tome, he applies his signature expletive-laden verbiage to everything from autism and obesity to his own Irish Catholic upbringing, leaving little of the current American cultural and political climate unscathed. Leary took time from shooting the fifth season of his Emmy-nominated television drama Rescue Me to chat with WWDScoop.
This story first appeared in the September 29, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWDScoop: There’s a lot of autobiographical material in here, particularly about your mother. How do you think she’s going to take it when she reads it?
Denis Leary: I think she’ll look at the book and realize it’s her words and it’s not an interpretation. She’s very proud of who she is, and rightfully so. There was no bulls–t in her house. I remember one time her telling a Catholic parish priest in our house who was paying a visit to us, I forget what the question was, but he was drinking her free whiskey and he said some incredibly inane mystical crap about something…and my mom said, “Put down that whiskey and get the hell out of my house right now.” We never saw him again.
WWDScoop: Do you ever worry about non-family members, like some of the celebrities you call out, how they’ll react?
D.L.: I kind of take pride in it. Like Sting called me a c–t, and in Ireland, c–t doesn’t mean what it means here, but he called me a c–t because I made fun of him about the rain forest thing 20 years ago on MTV. I said, “Jesus, I just got called a c–t by Sting—that’s pretty impressive.”
WWDScoop: In the prologue you mention trying to position this as a humor self-help book. Do you think people are going to read it like that?
D.L.: There’s this culture of apathy and stupidity, which in my opinion is never better exemplified than by the guy who was elected president and the way he was elected because people thought, “Oh, I’ll have a beer with the guy” and he’s a raging alcoholic….I’m hoping some other books people will have to study in colleges will be addressing the same issues because I’m talking about skinny jeans; hopefully there are other people talking about how we have to change our financial and ecological outlook.
WWDScoop: And speaking of impressive, congrats on the doctorate, Dr. Leary. Do you feel smarter?
D.L.: No. I don’t know if I could get into that college now because it’s so much more competitive. It’s only because I’m a famous guy that they gave it to me. There’s guys I could name that went to school with me at the same time who are so much more deserving—they’re, like, running studios and stuff. I went to school with Mario Cantone. He’s a really talented guy. If he was slightly more famous, he could get that and he probably will.
WWDScoop: What wisdom did you impart to today’s youth?
D.L.: The whole theory of “these are the four best years of your life”—my theory was it’s not. High school was the four best, these were the next four best and life is not short, it’s really long, especially because of the drugs they have now. We live for a really long time and the longer you live, the worse it gets because you have to pay back the student loans, which is a 20-year process, and then you get married and once you get married, you start having less sex because you have kids and then there’s no time to have sex and then there’s this growing bitter resentment between you and your mate….
WWDScoop: Heartwarming. And now with Rescue Me you’re acting, you’re writing, you’re producing—are you a control freak?
D.L.: Everything in the movie business is built to f–k actors up, over or f–k them up on the set: It’s too noisy, it’s too long, the hours are insane, there’s too much coverage. Or they’re operating out of fear and it’s all about people who don’t know what they’re doing. So you end up with $120 million for a movie that could be shot for $60 million. I’m gonna take the paycheck and go and play the bad guy in Batman 3 if they give it to me and I’ll expect a 17-hour day. But if I’m producing it, I’d much rather have control of the money, control of the time….So I don’t have any walkie-talkies on my set, I don’t have any extraneous noise. You get to work in the morning and it’s all about the actors and what they want to do and what they need for the scene and then everybody has a blast.
WWDScoop: How much of your humor do you attribute to your childhood and experiences with the Catholic church?
D.L.: I’m sure some of it comes from the bleak optimistic/pessimistic approach to life that the Irish have, which is expect the worst to happen and look forward to getting it over with quick….Almost every comedian of note in this country has come from the working class or slightly middle class. There’s a bit of a struggle involved and usually religious repression of some kind. I thank God every day that I was brought up in the Catholic church because I think it was about sixth grade that we started looking at each other and going, “What the f–k is this bulls–t about?”