Denis Leary

Self-described asshole, Ph.D.

[Ed's note: This interview has been expanded with online bonus content.]

Greetings, Denis.
Did you vote? [Note: This interview took place on Election Day.]

I did. I woke up early and went this morning.
Good man.

Well, my polling station was right across the street, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Cheater. Doesn’t it make you feel good to vote?

Sure did. I even managed to circumvent the lines a bit. Only took me about 40 minutes.
Oh nice. Lot of lines everywhere. But the fact that there are lines is a good thing, I think.

Yeah, for the good guys, right?
Well, I don’t know if it’s for the good guys or the bad guys, whomever they may be, but it’s good for somebody. I could’ve voted absentee in New York, but I kind of like the idea of walking into a small-town voting thing and being sort of proud of my vote. It makes me happy, the actual action of putting in my two cents.

Civic duty?
Civic duty, baby. That’d be a good name for a band.

You have several good names for bands in that book of yours.
That’s right. That’s one of the running gags. Actually, my favorite I think is Narcotic Lollypop. You know?

How is it that you became a doctor?
Yeah, well, there’s this thing everywhere where if you become famous or rich, the places you went to school will give you a doctorate and make you a doctor, because you’ll garner some publicity when you speak at the graduation. Now, I did actually graduate from Emerson, and I did really enjoy going there. It was a really rich part of my life, and that’s even where I met my wife. It was slightly colored by the fact that I became a doctor and spoke at the graduation, but my creative partner on Rescue Me, Peter Tolan, did not graduate from his alma mater—which is UMass. Which, at that time, cost like a dollar a year to attend for four years. He dropped out to become a famous, Emmy-winning film and television writer. But he didn’t graduate!

That’s total bullshit.
I know! And Cam Neely, who is one of my great friends and a Hall of Fame hockey player, barely finished high school, and he was made a doctor by Tufts University because of his charity, Neely House. So obviously if you’re famous, you can become a doctor. I’m proud to be one, I just wish I could write prescriptions is all.

There’s a part in your book in which you address our country’s overmedication. So you’d be prescribing medicine for yourself only?

Yeah, I would definitely be prescribing medicine for myself. I’m not big on pills, but just to have them around as a show of power, you know? I don’t take Xanax, but I’d have, like, 7,000 bottles of Xanax at my desk just to say, like, "Yeah, I’m a doctor, as much as I want." I don’t have those powers, though.

You have a ton of useful suggestions for parents in the book. If you could give only one piece of advice, though, what would it be?
About raising their kids? Well, so much of the advice in the book comes directly from my mom. I used her as a source of common sense and control, which is pretty much what she was as a mom. It’s about being there and explaining the rules. That you’re not supposed to do this, and you are supposed to do that. I think a lot of the problems with kids nowadays is through inattentive parents and the whole idea of self-esteem. Like, "My kid is great and let’s give trophies to everybody." You know, when I was kid you got trophies when you won, and the lesson you learned was that losing sucks. And that’s a pretty good life lesson to learn. And if everyone gets trophies, then they have no value. When you have kids, you just have to realize that from then on your whole life revolves around them.

What was it like to work with Shatner in Loaded Weapon 1?
You know, I was just talking about this with somebody who didn’t know I had made that movie.

It’s a gem.
You know, it has been so long… I was a rookie at that time, just then getting into the movies. That cast was huge.

My experience was that I was working with Emilio [Estevez], who was a giant star, and Sam Jackson, who was then kind of an unknown. Those were the leads. Then I was doing a scene with Tim Curry and William Shatner. And listen, I’m not a science fiction guy, and I didn’t really watch Star Trek, but William Shatner is William Shatner. It was an experience, man. It was amazing. In that scene, he had to dunk his head in that piranha tank, and he’s wearing a toupee! I thought, Wow. That’s Captain Kirk.

You know who stole that movie was Bruce Willis.
Yeah, I know. I didn’t get to work with him.

There is a chapter in your book about there being no good cats, in the book. What about Milo from Milo and Otis? Battle Cat from He-Man?
Yes. The second one I don’t know. I’m just a dog guy. My mom’s cat was a mouser, and I like them in that I have a farm, and I like to make sure that the mice have an enemy. But I have to be honest, the cat performs a service. Like I said in the book, there weren’t any rescue cats down at Ground Zero, and I think that pretty much sums up cats. God love you if you like cats, but I like the idea of having an animal around that would kill the person trying to attack me.

In your book, you coin the word testicale for the color of testicles. Am I pronouncing that right?
It’s actually pronounced “test-i-CAH-lay.”

Fascinating. Has the Oxford English Dictionary contacted you about including it yet?
No, but I hope they do. Because it’s a really nice way to say “testicle.” You can say it in mixed company, and people think that it’s actually like a flavor or a color. Or the name of a tequila, you know? It could actually be the name of a country. Like, where are you going on vacation? Oh, Testicale. Testicale Beach.

Better Charlton Heston movie: The Omega Man or Ben-Hur?
Oh boy. I think Omega Man. Well, I’m not a Shakespeare guy. Not a literature or drama guy. For me, classical drama is Mean Streets. When I was a kid, my old man would take me to John Wayne movies. I saw the Beatles movies. Frank Sinatra movies. I remember seeing Omega Man—that and Planet of the Apes. I always had a soft spot for the guy.

He’s like a one-man force, eh?
He’s a one-man force in pretty much all of those movies.

What the hell happened with this autism fallout thing from your book?
It was a big misunderstanding from the point of view of the chapter and the paragraph that was quoted. My point of view in that chapter is about raising children a certain way, and this sort of glorification of victimhood. The idea of "I get depressed and like to sit around on the couch and eat, so I have this thing called seasonal affective disorder." No, it’s called winter, okay asshole? And we all get it, and that’s why we invented hockey and football. Okay? So you could sit on the couch and eat Cheetos for four months, or you can go outside. My reason for writing that chapter was because I mentioned this one child I’ve known for years, who is autistic, and her parents and their struggle. So to me I found it offensive that people were trying to co-opt low-level diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s syndrome to justify their own failures or what they thought was bad behavior on their kid's part. So I was really upset about the idea of my words being taken and being used to upset people in that community. Because that was really the community that I was trying to defend. If the New York Post had chosen to publish that paragraph and the following paragraph, it would’ve been taken totally differently. The one good thing that may come out of it is that it may cause people to start talking about what the book is talking about. Talking about autism as it exists and not making it into something else.

Leary reads from his new book, Why We Suck, Tue 18 at Borders Penn Plaza. To read his thoughts on William Shatner, The Omega Man and the autism controversy, go to

See more Bold questions