F E S T l V A L — comedy/PREVIEW
Alastair Mabbott talks to the combustible new American comedian Denis Leary. a man whose shows come with a government health warning down the side.
be British public‘s first encounter with Denis Leary. on Paramount City. a new platform for alternative comedy on BBC] . was cruelly overshadowed by the cracked heads of rioters and police in Trafalgar Square earlier that day.
Unlike Jeremy ‘There‘s a riot going on out there‘ llardie. the American visitor was unfazed. llardie and crumpled compere Arthur Smith retired to safety at the approach of a frenzied Bostonian with crazed eyes. an equally crazed mop of uncombed hair and a cigarette seemingly glued between the first two fingers of his right hand.
l le loved to smoke. Leary told us. He loved it so
much that he intended to have a hole bored in his throat that he could smoke through as well. As his motorhead monologue grew more deranged. he announced that the only meat he could eat in good conscience would have to come from a cow
which had been forced to chain-smoke through its own tracheotomy l‘ole. Animal lovers had reason to be grateful for the brevity of his slot. but within a few weeks Leary was back. rapping on about the current pop sensation. “New Kids on the Block wouldn’t know a vagina if it came up and said hello.‘ he railed. ‘They‘d say. “Hey. what is this. anew kind of hat?“ ‘While Leary cared as much for subtlety as a starved shark. his six minutes or so were the most memorable by any new American comedian on the tube fora long while.
Leary has been a familiar figure to MTV subscribers in the States for three years. thanks to the comedy show Remote Control and in particular his semi-improvised skits of Keith Richards and Andy Warhol. ‘I play Warholpost mortem .' he explains. ‘He really doesn‘t look that much different from when he was alive. Actually a little bit rosier.‘ A British version is planned for Sky. but without the original cast.
A struggling actor and musician who found that it was easier to get attention by taking the stage as a stand-up comedian than slogging away in ever-decreasing circles on off-off-off- of—Broadway plays. he turned to full-time stand-up comedy four years ago. Perhaps surprisingly. the anti-smoking lobby has left him pretty much alone. though he has rubbed a few people up the wrong way. Leary claims that for all their lack ofgentility. his routines transmit an ecological message.
‘My angle on the environment is basically summed up in the problem of smoking and eating red meat and bad food. and developing cancer on your own when its gonna be forced upon you by the environment anyway. I mean. ifyou‘re not smoking and you‘re eating supposedly correct food. you‘re still gonna have to deal with polluted riverways and the ozone and the sky falling down on top of you. So there‘s basically no escape. I’m just saying face up to it and take it into your own hands. Start smoking and eating mad cow beef. Develop your own cancer rather than letting the government bring it to ya.‘
But smoking isn‘t the only source of Leary‘s comedy; and his favourite subject. the Kennedy dynasty. is the one that's landed him in the most trouble. including a ban in his native Boston. It‘s a toss-up. he says. as to whether his biggest influence is the aforementioned clan or Iggy Pop.
‘l'm not taking anything away from it. I come from an Irish-Catholic neighbourhood in Boston where the Kennedys were gods. They are sort of like the American Royal Family in the sense that they‘re supposed to be untouched. but Teddy Kennedy deserves to be dragged through the mud for some of the things he‘s done. I give credit to the good things. but I also make a point of speaking about some of the more ridiculous things they‘ve gotten away with. Also. because of my age and where I came from. they did have an incredible influence. The neighbourhood I come from is the neighbourhood they represent. where they‘re elected from. so there‘s no getting away from them.‘
And his method ofwinding down from the stresses of stand-up comedy?
‘I watch documentaries about the Kennedy family. and that relaxes me in one way and pumps me up in another.‘
Denis Leary presents ‘Nu ( 'urefor ( 'aneer' at the Assembly Rooms. Fri I ()—.S'at l 8 A ag. J
The List If) 7 lo August 19909