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vol 3 - issue 10 (jun 2001) :: interviews
DENIS LEARY
interview by insane wayne chinsang
illustration by debbie

LET ME MAKE ONE THING CLEAR: IF YOU NEED ME TO TELL YOU WHO DENIS LEARY IS AND WHAT HE DOES, YOU DON'T DESERVE TO READ THIS.

wayne: Congrats on getting The Job picked up for next season. What can fans expect with a full season?

Denis: Itís hard to say because we havenít written the episodes yet. Iím sure itíll be pretty shocking and surprising. My character is based on a real guy, so I kind of already know what is going to happen because we know his real story. I donít want to give anything away but, believe me, itís well worth watching.

w: Everybody I know, even my parents, are into the show. What has been some of the feedback?

D: We knew we were going to get the young crowd. But both myself and the other cast members have been really shocked that older people have really fallen in love with it. I donít know why that is. We thought they would be the group of people that would be complaining about it. What we keep hearing from people is that theyíre really thankful that there is something different that is funny. The reason I thought I could do television finally was because this guy that itís based on, and his stories, are so funny. Every time he told us one we were on the floor laughing. So we thought we could make something that could make us laugh. And once we got the cast together we thought it was fucking funny. I have friends who are in sitcoms and I sit there and donít laugh. I go fucking 15 or 20 minutes without actually laughing.

w: Or entire seasons.

D: Yeah, or you just ignore it. You just check in every once in a while and go, ďI canít fucking believe this.Ē Without going into old shows, the only things I can guarantee will make me laugh are Seinfeld, The Simpsons and, occasionally, Friends. I think Jennifer Aniston is fucking hysterical. But there is just other shit that I canít believe is supposed to be funny.

w: Do you think thatís because youíre just part of a small percentage that just doesnít get it?

D: I donít know why that is. There are people in my family who are rabid television people and they have certain shows that they watch. So I said to my sisters, ďDonít you find some of this stuff not funny?Ē And they said, ďYeah, but itís ok if everythingís not funny because we know Friends will be on Thursday.Ē Or, ďWe like to watch Everybody Loves Raymond, so the shows that are on before or after it, we just have those on.Ē So that kind of explains one aspect of it. I guess people just have different fucking habits, man. To me, if I sit down in front of the television set and I want to laugh, I get pretty pissed off when I donít. Iíll watch All in the Family from the first few seasons or The Honeymooners. Or Iíll just turn on The Daily Show because I know Iíll fucking laugh if I watch that show. Or a Seinfeld rerun. Other than that, man, there arenít many laughs to be had. I canít laugh at The Job because by the time it goes on television Iíve seen it fucking 20 or 30 times. Itís not funny to me anymore.

w: The Job is a half-hour show, and it is a comedy, so do you have a hard time keeping it typecast as a sitcom?

D: I think weíve been saved by the nature of what we are. Because weíre cops, with one camera, and weíre in the city, itís really hard for us to get caught up in that conventional stuff. Also, we intentionally try and throw away jokes. If anything sounds like a joke, we get rid of it. And the cast is really efficient and they work well together. So that is a saving grace as well.

w: The show works really well as a whole.

D: As long as people keep laughing, I think weíre in a really good place. Hereís a funny story. A friend of mineís wife came up to me and said, ďWeíve been watching the show and weíve seen every episode. We gave up The West Wing, and now we watch your show. We love it.Ē I said, ďThank you very much.Ē Then she says, ďI was reading somewhere, I think it was TV Guide, that said that The Job is a comedy. What is that about?Ē And I said, ďWhat do you mean?Ē And she said, ďSome people think itís funny?Ē I thought she was pulling my leg, so I looked at her and her husband and theyíre just staring at me, deadpan. So I said, ďYeah. Itís a comedy.Ē And she said, ďOh, youíre kidding.Ē I said, ďYou didnít think it was funny?Ē And she said, ďNo. I didnít think it was funny.Ē How about that?

w: (laughing) Then donít fucking watch it!

D: Sheís been watching every fucking week! So maybe thatís why weíre getting so many people. Maybe they think itís a drama.

w: You graduated from Emerson College in Boston and then you went on to teach there. How was teaching?

D: It was not what a normal teaching situation is because I was teaching actors and writers. It was basically improvisation and stuff like that. It was funny for people to call it teaching at all because I was learning just as much stuff as they were. It was great. It was 10 or 15 really talented actors in a room learning everything from each other. A lot of people who were in my classes became famous. Anthony Clark was one of my students. He was one of those kids that was talented from the get-go. I used to say to him, ďWhy are you in college? Why arenít you in New York?Ē

w: Anthony is a funny man. Youíve got your hands in a lot of different projects. Most recently youíve helped start up crudegreetings.com. How did the idea of the site come about, and what is your part in it all?

D: A guy that works for me, Steve, came up with the idea. There arenít really cards out there that are truly funny. You never open a card and laugh out loud. So he put together a giant book of these things and started to pass them around on the sets of projects. People were dying laughing at them, so we realized there was an audience for them. We figured weíd put it out there and get peopleís response from it. Whether itís your friend getting married or an ex-girlfriend who just recently dumped you, or for more general things like St. Patrickís Day or Christmas, there are people you want to send funny cards to. Now, theyíre available.

w: Are they available only online or will they be printed up, too?

D: Eventually youíll be able to buy them in stores. But what weíre working towards is that youíll be able to pick out any card online and press a button and have it delivered overnight. Thatís our goal. So you can make someone laugh the next morning. Or insult them. Itís up to you.

w: Most of what you do is very much adult-oriented. Yet youíve acted in a wide range of movies intended for younger audiences like The Sandlot and A Bugís Life. Do you handle these types of roles differently or are they more closely related than they appear?

D: Well, with A Bugís Life it was a completely different process because you have to go on your own into a room and record the scripted stuff along with whatever improv stuff they want. And then you have to go back five or six times over the course of two or three years while youíre in the middle of other projects. Itís a strange process, but the great thing about it is that it can be seen by kids. And the profit margin is enormous. Because thatís what people buy. They buy them for their kids and they watch them over and over again. I actually have another one called The Ice Age coming out in about two years with myself, Ray Romano and John Leguizamo.

w: Whatís your opinion of President Bushís term so far?

D: Funny as shit, and getting funnier.

w: (laughing) Great answer. Did you ever get the shit beat out of you as a kid?

D: Oh yeah. Everyday. My brother is three years older than me and about four times as big. Heís an ex-football lineman. We fought tooth and nail until I moved out at 17. He was massive, but I didnít give a shit because he could never make me cry and Iíd leave a mark on him somehow. Iíd always get revenge. Iíd destroy his record collection, or break his headphones, or hide his pot. The other great thing was that he couldnít skate in the wintertime. So anytime we had a situation where we werenít playing a real hockey game, heíd have to play the net without skates. So I could easily get back at him by tossing a slapshot at his face. Then heíd try and chase me around, but Iím on skates and heís in boots. It drove him nuts.

w: Who are you pulling for to take the Stanley Cup?

D: Colorado, because of Ray Bourque.

w: In your amateur opinion, do dogs have lips?

D: Do dogs have lips? No.

w: Youíre one of the first people to say no.

D: Iíve got four dogs and I donít think any of them have lips. And I donít think Iíve ever had a dog with lips.

w: Fair enough. Youíve stated before that you had an opportunity to meet Dean Martin before he died. While meeting with him, he called you a pussy for passing up liquor for beer.

D: Yes he did. I was very proud of that.

w: Can you think of anyone you would rather be called a pussy by?

D: I really canít think of anybody because he was the ultimate meister of cool. He was a really, really cool and sweet guy.

w: Heís from a town about three hours from here.

D: Yeah, heís from Steubenville. He talked about Steubenville quite a bit. He told me that when he moved to New York and he and his roommate would be low on the rent, they would have a boxing night. What they would do is they would charge people a dollar which, at that time, was a lot of money. So people would pay to come over to their apartment and they would have beer and potato chips. Everyone would sit in the living room and watch Dean Martin and his roommate beat the shit out of each other.

w: (laughing) Thatís awesome. Iíd pay to see that.

D: Itís classic. He said theyíd get like 15 or 20 people a night. Thatís how theyíd pay the rent. Thatís old school.

w: Definitely. Youíre as involved in smaller projects as you are in major Hollywood films. What is it about films like Jesusí Son and Love Walked In that keeps you involved in the independent film world, and how does that world differ from that of big-budgeted blockbuster movies?

D: You have total creative control. You can do whatever you want. Jesusí Son was really kind of a payback. I did that because Billy Crudup had done Monument Ave., for us as a favor. So he called up and asked if Iíd do Jesusí Son as a favor. But I love doing those kind of movies, especially when itís with someone I know. Because itís not about money at all. I had a blast working with Billy. So thatís what you do all the big movies for. So you can make stuff like that.

w: Do you have any smaller projects coming up?

D: Yeah, I have a thing coming up in the fall called Final which is directed by Campbell Scott. Itís a really strange movie. I have another one coming out this fall called Double Whammy. Itís directed by Tom DiCillo and Iím in it with Steve Buscemi and Elizabeth Hurley.

w: Another project youíre involved in is Learyís Firefighters. At the end of 1999, a fire in Worcestor took the lives of six men, one of which was your cousin, and another of which was a childhood friend. What awareness is the charity trying to raise?

D: Well, immediately weíre trying to raise money for the firefighters in Massachusetts so that they can fully equip themselves. And also to be able to have some money in the bank as a safety net, in case firefighters get killed in the line of duty, so that their families donít have anything to worry about financially. On a national level weíre trying to expand that because itís endemic to firefighters across the country. Nobody thinks about them when it comes to passing out financial funding. We tend to take them for granted. Theyíre driving around in 30 or 40-year-old trucks. There are firefighters in West Virginia fighting fires in their jeans because they canít afford gear. So Iím just trying to raise awareness and remind people that they need to think about firefighters. They always show up when we need them. They never go on strike so nobody tends to find out that they donít have any money. And they still go to work everyday. There is a pension set up for firefighters killed in the line of duty, but it isnít always enough money. When my cousin Jerry died he was 38-years-old and he left two kids and a wife behind. One of the other guys, Paul Brotherton, had six boys and his wife left behind. Itís just insane. President Clinton promised us a $500 million package over two years which he signed into law before he left office. President Bush completely cut that out of the budget. Then we threatened to go to Washington and protest, and he gave us back $100 million which is, really, shit. The New York City Fire Department had to get their guys new radios. That cost $33 million last year. So $100 million for all of America is nothing. Itís a drop in the bucket. But Iím going to keep at it.

w: What is the one thing you take most pride in?

D: My kids.

w: Are there any rumors you would like to start about yourself or anyone else right now?

D: I wouldnít mind starting a rumor that Martin Sheen is a closet Republican and that he beats his grandkids. And whatever other nasty rumors I could start about him because weíre up against The West Wing this fall and heís going down.

w: (laughing) The last stand-up show you had was Lock Ďn Load, which you did a few years ago. Any plans for another new run of stand-up?

D: I was hoping, if we were striking, to go out this summer. But it looks like thatís not going to happen. So the earliest would be next summer. Iím dying to do it, I just have to find the time. I like doing it. Itís my favorite part of showbiz.

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