Some people hang the holly, others decorate the tree, and a few even terrorize the neighborhood with off-key caroling.
Here at Quick Stop Entertainment, we’re celebrating the holiday season by giving a little something back to you, our readers (you know who you are).
Every weekday leading up to the holiday break, we’ve got uber-exclusive gifts provided by a whole range of artists, actors, comedians, and studios. One a day, straight from them to you (and you can check out last year’s fun here).
Ain’t that cool?
Today, Quick Stop’s own Christopher Stipp brings us an interview with Denis Leary…
I’m awesome. I wrote a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.
He just had to be sick of answering the question.
As I read Denis Leary’s book WHY WE SUCK I remembered why I cannot suffer through a Dave Barry column. I’ve tried. I’ve had countless people try and recommend his musings as something worth reading but, let’s be honest, he’s basically a folksy Andy Rooney. Denis, though, gives you something to laugh at, not laugh with, and genuinely delivers on his promise at the outset of this book that there’s something offensive in it for everybody. Everybody. From opining on nicknames, that Mick Jagger’s “Nigger Lips” was apropos, to talking about the destructive nature of parents who toss their kids into acting at a young age, just read what his response would be if his own kids wanted to get into acting, Denis’ book is the one thing this year that has make me laugh out loud.
A lot has been made of whether Denis’ act is just that, certainly his wife’s own outing of Denis as a genial family man who eschews the trappings of popularity and famousness, whether he’s act mirrored too much of Bill Hicks, but I frankly have felt Denis is a comedic powerhouse. I remember buying his first CD (remember when they came in longboxes?), watching every movie he put out (I’m still worked up over TWO IF BY SEA but he made up for it with THE REF) and being amazed by his television work on The Job and Rescue Me. Now, Rescue is bar none one my favorite shows on television and as well as it should be; it’s well acted, sharply written and it has genuine laughs. So, when it was time for this book to come out I was all over it. His writing is wicked funny, he has some really honest points about parenthood, celebrity and where else are you going to find a chapter entitled Matt Dillion is a Giant Fag? It was another one of these suggestively titled chapters, Autism Schmautism, that stirred a controversy when a paragraph was taken out of context and made its way into the irrelevant arena of people pontificating on nothing more than hearsay.
We open the interview with us talking about the incident that seemed to be inescapable. The book is out now and comes recommended as the funniest thing you’ll read all year.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Can you explain what happened with the recent flap about your chapter entitled Autism Schmautism? I read the chapter and if anyone possessed an ounce of reason they would see exactly what you were getting at. You absolutely were not belittling this condition.
DENIS LEARY: It was a paragraph that was taken out of context by the New York Post and then raced across the Internet, so yes, people are led to believe that I was talking about actual parents of kids who have actual autism.
I released a private statement by email to a lot of the parents that emailed me and I put a public statement out but I never apologized for what I wrote but I asked people to give me the benefit of the doubt and I apologized for the effect the released paragraph had on people because, look, I always answer to myself, my kids, and my wife but when it comes to comedy, there is no comedy in saying, which I never said, “there is no such thing as autism” or that “autism doesn’t exist.” I never said either one of those things although that was actually listed in many newspapers and on online.
There is a ridiculous aspect to people in this country who are so desperate to explain away their kid’s bad behavior and their own bad parenting by getting low-level versions of autism diagnosis and that’s what I was talking about because in the same chapter the paragraph after the one that was quoted by the New York Post, I talk about – specifically, one autistic child that I’ve known for years and her parents struggle with it and again, I’m not a real doctor, I wouldn’t define autism but I like discussing it. I know people who have dealt with it and know how difficult it is. The idea that other people in America would actually seek Special Needs designation for their kids, to me, was ridiculous and that’s what I was going after. I’ve said it this morning and I’ve said it before. Publisher’s Weekly did a review of the book, they always do every review, and thank God they gave me a good one. They talk about the book and called it wildly entertaining and gave it 3 or 4 stars but that was a week before the New York Post thing and it just kind of struck me as odd that if they thought I was making fun of autistic children why didn’t they mention it because someone read the entire book?
And so now it will be very difficult for people to ever realize what I was talking about and some people will never, ever buy the book but now that it’s my turn to speak I hope it’s obvious to people what my point of view was and that there is no comedy to be found in the other point of view. My point of view was, and by the way, there are people in the autism community that have been complaining about this issue for years which is where I became aware of it and came up with the idea to write about it. You know?
CS: Right. It’s hilarious. It’s clear as day as what you are saying and shocking to me that people are coming out of the woodwork when in fact they probably haven’t read it or considered actually reading the whole thing.
LEARY: I think what happens to a lot of people, and again, I don’t blame them is they saw this paragraph on the Internet and said, “What is wrong with this guy? Why is he making fun?” And once you start that fire, it’s a very difficult fire to put out. I had a lot of my friends who have kids with autism who were just banging the doors down saying they wanted to come out and speak on my behalf and I said you know what? “I don’t want you to do that. I didn’t ask you to give up your privacy and go out and defend me. I can do it myself.” I just hope that some of these people that ran down to the center of the village with a torch in their hands will be just as willing to read it and if they are wrong, turn around and say “You know what, I misjudged it” but I don’t hold any hope out for that happening. It’s not a great comparison but when they announced that Daniel Craig was going to be the new James Bond, everybody in the world went after that guy and once the fist movie came out everyone realized that he was an unbelievably great James Bond. Very few people took the time to say, “I was wrong about the James Bond guy.” The press doesn’t like to come out and say they were wrong basically.
CS: And that’s funny you bring that that up. It leads right into something I was very surprised by, and really respect that you kind of went in thinking that Oprah was going to be a target, and ended up saying “You know what, I was wrong about that” and ended up genuinely enjoying the experience of delving into it further.
LEARY: Hey man. I got to tell you I was hell bent for leather on her and every single thing I tried ended up falling apart and I end up with the complete opposite point of view. By the time I found out you could break your penis and that Oprah about 6,000 entries about what happens if you break your penis – I’m like, “Wait a minute. Why isn’t this stuff on SportsCenter? Oprah is in charge of our penis’s? What’s going on here?”
CS: It raises some fundamental questions about the cult of personality that she’s developed.
LEARY: I tell you something. There is a reason that she is elevated to the cosmos of television and the media because she has control of almost all the information you will ever need about anything. I’m telling you, if Jesus comes back tomorrow he’s going to be on Oprah. Forget Larry King, forget the Today Show. He’s going to be on Oprah and he’s going to be on Oprah for about an hour.
CS: A couple of my favorite other chapters in this book was the combo of the “Self-Esteem This” and “Matt Dillon is a Giant Fag.” One of the reasons I responded so well to it, I believe, was when you and Lenny Clark were on local television during a Red Sox game. Mel Gibson was freshly put into rehab and the two of you were just riffing watching the Boston Red Sox. I think that those few minutes, after they made their way around the Internet, just proved everything that you were talking about with regard to tolerance and ignorance.
LEARY: It was just one of those organic things that happened because we were talking about Kevin Youkilis and his nickname at the time was the Greek God of Walks. I was asking an honest question “Is he Greek or what is he?” and they started talking that he was Jewish and the next thing you knew we were talking about a couple Jewish players and there was a great play made by a Jewish player and it was the week that Mel Gibson – his anti-Jewish tirade. It was just one of those moments in time. I ended up writing a song called the Mel Gibson which we played at quite a few charity gigs after that. I don’t know, it was just kismet.
CS: One thing I did pick up while doing some research was your mother’s influence. The conversations that you have within the book, it kind of took on a life of their own. How did that come about?
LEARY: My mother has obviously been a big influence in my life and my brothers and sisters and everybody so I just thought if I’m going to be talking about raising kids in America and what I think is wrong with a lot of the ways in this country that we treat and raise kids, my mom is just, as I say in the book, there has never been a day that she has been on this earth that she isn’t who she is. She never drank. She never smoked. She was always at home. She was highly aware of everything that we did and if she wasn’t aware, when she found out you had to answer to her. So I think she’s just a really common sense woman and I wanted to put her take on America – she’s got a really great take on what it is to be an American because she came here as an illegal immigrant with nothing and she loves this country and is not afraid to express her opinions. She has been, because of me, been around some very famous people and she walks right up to famous people, whether is Conan or Bobby Orr or whoever – she says whatever is on her mind. We were at a charity event and Bobby Orr was there.
My mother loves Bobby Orr.
As a young hockey player he had a weird haircut and dressed a little down when everyone else would wear a suit. My mother walked up and said, “Why can’t you be a little more like Bobby Orr? Look at him. He’s got a short haircut. He doesn’t look like a slob.” We are just laughing our asses off because when somebody’s mother is talking to you, you feel like you are talking to the virgin mother. So I wanted to include her in the book so people could get a taste of what it was like around my house.
CS: What separates this book apart from many other non-fiction narratives is that you have that sort of commentary but also that point of reflection. You talk about growing up and how your parents taught you to be centerted and grounded as you point a finger at those who want to coddle their brood to the detriment of knowing how life is really going to be like.
LEARY: There was no self-esteem crap. If you wanted to win a trophy, you actually had to win. If you wanted to learn how to hit a baseball you actually had to have a ball pitched at you and you had to hit it. There was no hitting it off a tee. It was just all that stuff – just common sense when raising kids. No one is going to hand you anything. You actually had to go out and get a job and earn it. There was no being spoiled around our house. You got one big present and one small present at Christmas time and got a cake on your birthday. You never felt like you weren’t loved. You always felt like you were loved but you were also accountable. You were accountable to your parents and the rest of the family. It’s the age old thing, if you got smacked by the nuns at school, there must have been a reason why you got smacked.
CS: Exactly. You are obviously a celebrity and you’ve had your kids who are now are moving towards college years. What is it about our culture that every kid needs a trophy and every kid needs to feel entitled? Can you explain why or where this has all come from?
LEARY: There has been a wave of parents who have kids but don’t necessarily want to spend time with their kids and selfishly they work on their career, and their free time, and their hobby. But the problem is when you have children, children do what they are supposed to do and take over your life. So what you do for a living, hopefully you like but whatever it is you do for a living, the money is for the children and whatever you do with your free time the children are the first thing that should come to mind; there are a lot of people in this country who have kids and that is not necessarily the truth. They put the kids in day care, not because they have to because both parents are working, but because they want to and they want to have their free time.
You can’t have it both ways.
That’s where a lot of these kids come up with self-esteem issues because the kids are never around their own parents and when the parents are around they feel they have to say yes because they are never around enough time with the kids and the next thing you know it’s the kids who think they can get away with everything because the parents never yell at them. To me it’s a pretty simple mathematical formula. We all know what the rules are and you are supposed to teach them to your kids and that produces a hopefully pretty productive citizen. You are not just supposed to hand the kid everything and tell them it’s OK to do anything they want and never learn to lose.
Hey, losing sucks. So learn it really early so you never want to lose. If we didn’t have losing, we’d have two presidents right now. John McCain and Barack Obama. Doesn’t work.
CS: Right. And that leads into your bit about celebrity culture. Shows like Sweet 16, celebrities like Anna Nicole Smith, somehow there is a subset of Americans who love to celebrity worship and dote on these people who don’t live by any sort of rules to begin with.
LEARY: If Anna Nicole Smith gave us nothing she will, at least in my book literally and figuratively, be famous for having taken a narcotic lollipop out of the hands of sick children and turned it into an adult drug. Apparently, I think I say this in the book, she out Elvised Elvis. If Elvis knew there was such a thing as a narcotic lollipop, he would have tried desperately to live another 10 years so he could have had one in his mouth. I think not only is it amazing that she was sucking on narcotic lollipops, which they give kids who have cancer, but I’d like to name a band after Narcotic Lollipop. As a matter of fact, later today I’m doing the Daily Show and I’ve printed up a Narcotic Lollipop t-shirt that looks like a band shirt and I’m going to wear it on the Daily Show just to try and start a trend.
CS: The book itself, the way it reads is great because it balances both your past growing up and your present with commenting on current events in popular culture and sociological issues that society is dealing with. When you were writing this was there any sort of overriding thing that you didn’t want to sound too preachy? How did you go about laying it all out by saying, “I want to make this fun and entertaining but I definitely want to get some things off my chest”?
LEARY: Well I tried to be organic. As a comedian I’ve always tried to work – if I go on stage for half and hour or 40 minutes I talk things out in front of an audience. I might have 5 words written down on a piece of paper and that would mean 40 minutes of material for me. If the audience is good, I’ll just keep spinning through these ideas I have in my head. So in book form, I had to be sure I was formalizing things and some other things popped into my head as I was going. When I finally started to sit down to write it, it was during the screen writer’s strike, so I had three months to write it and I wrote it in order as I went so it just seemed to flow.
CS: As you were writing it, were there some things that just didn’t make it into the book or was everything you wanted in this book?
LEARY: No. I think there was a lot of stuff. I’m never satisfied with a project. Whether it’s a movie, or an episode of Rescue Me or whatever. I could always go back and add more but when I was done, I felt like, like my mother talking to Dr. Phil seemed like a great ending.
CS: That was. It certainly wrapped up the book in a nice package. Looking at it now, was the experience at least a good one for you from a creative standpoint?
LEARY: Yes. I loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The process was difficult to get used to but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.
CS: If I had one more question…looking forward, now the book and with Rescue Me going back into production, how do you look at where you come from since starting eons ago in clubs and now being an established author, Emmy nominated television star? Is there anything left that you want to achieve? Some guys feel they have accomplished it all and just disappear, do you still have a fire to keep doing something else?
LEARY: Yes, definitely. I don’t have that problem. I’ve got a couple – my hero has always been and especially once I’ve worked with him and picked his brain, I didn’t know anything about making movies or how to do it but Ted Demme was my partner in crime and his uncle Jonathan and Robert De Niro, in particular, were two guys very early in our careers who pulled us aside and said, “You guys need to start production companies and learn how to do this and this and this.” And I’m really glad I learned so I can self-generate. I had to learn how to act on film because I was a stage actor and comedian, I had to learn how to write and produce and when I worked with Bob and I was a huge fan of his and picked his brain I realize now that I watched that guy do his work as an actor and director and I got a couple projects in my back pocket.
I always wanted to do a Rock ‘n Roll movie because I have a comedy band, but the guys who are in my comedy band are the same guys I was in a real band with when I was a teenager so I’ve always wanted to do a Rock ‘n Roll movie about a guy, like what if Mick Jagger or Sting or a guy like that hadn’t made it? I know a couple guys who are really talented rock guys but nobody knows. They are 50 years old and still do it for a living but they still have to hustle. So I always thought that that was an interesting idea to make a funny movie about a guy who was supposed to be Mick Jagger but didn’t get the break. So I have things like that. I have a gangster film I want to make, so I’ve got other stuff I want to do and I’ve been lucky enough to play dramatic roles and comedic rolls.
Hey, I’ve worked with Dustin Hoffman, De Niro and Clint Eastwood. My old man would not have believed that I made it that far. So I’ve been to the top of the mountain as far as I’m concerned. Everything else from here on end is gravy. I got to do the George Carlin Mark Twain memorial tribute last Monday with Jon Stewart and Lewis Black and Jon and I were looking at each other and even called each other the next day and said, “This is ridiculous man. This is one of the guys that made us go into comedy and we are at his wake.”
So, I’m not asking for anything else. I’m good where I am. I was supposed to be driving trucks.
CS: Thank you, Denis, for your time. I’ve been a fan…
LEARY: Yeah, well then tell Kevin Smith to put me in one of his fucking movies!
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