Two words: Denis Leary. He’s angry. He’s funny. He’s ranting. He’s knockin’. And he’s definitely coming in. If you haven’t already heard the comedian’s signature sign-off from his 60-second promos for MTV, you will. Eight more of his gritty black-and-white pieces begin airing at the end of the month.
Filming the spots in Brooklyn, Leary, 34, paces before a background of urban decay — graffiti-covered walls, burned-out warehouses. In between obnoxious puffs of cigarette smoke, he conducts high-speed verbal assaults. He has words for everyone: ”two words for Ross Perot: Frank Perdue”; ”three words for Al Sharpton: Martin Luther King.” He shoots off into machine-gun-fast tangents, raving about subjects ranging from racism (Racism isn’t born, folks; it’s taught. I’ve got a 2-year-old son, and you know what he hates? Naps! End of list) to R.E.M. (Pull that bus over to the side of the pretentiousness turnpike. Okay, pal?…I want the shiny people over here and the happy people over there).
He makes drugs ridiculous one minute (Cocaine. There’s a good idea. I wanna do a drug that makes my penis small, makes my heart explode, makes my nose bleed, and sucks all my money out of the bank. Can I do that?) and argues for a 24-hour Cindy Crawford network the next (No MTV news, unless it’s news about Cindy. No music, unless it’s songs about Cindy…I want Cindy Unplugged…I want acoustic Cindy…(I want) Cindy eating an Eskimo Pie naked on the roof of the Empire State Building). The goal of these attitude-filled raps is to make ”people laugh their asses off,” says Leary. ”They make a point as long as people are laughing. I don’t want to get on a soapbox. That’s Don Henley’s job. And Sting’s.”
The Emerson College graduate came to New York from Boston in 1987 after teaching acting and scriptwriting at his alma mater. Guest shots on MTV’s Remote Control and a TV hosting gig in Britain followed. MTV producer Ted Demme (nephew of director Jonathan) discovered Leary’s shtick at the three-pack-a-day comedian’s 1991 Off Broadway show, No Cure for Cancer. Now Nike has drafted Leary for new spots with Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders.
Though he affects a manic, satanic persona, Leary leads a settled life in Manhattan with his wife, writer Ann Lembeck, and their two children, Jack, 2, and Devin, 4 months. And don’t let his contorted TV expressions fool you: ”He’s very good looking and so polite,” says Crawford, who saw the promos and then invited Leary to Hawaii as a guest on her MTV show, House of Style. ”Everyone had a little crush on him,” she says. ”It was the most fun MTV trip we’ve had. I was peeing in my pants the whole time.”