Book Review: “Why We Don’t Suck” by Dr. Denis Leary

When you buy a book by Denis Leary, you know you’re going to get some creative swearing in page after page.  For anyone under 40, Leary isn’t the household name as he was in the ’90s — when he became famous for being on MTV doing his rants about whatever pop cultural icons he wanted to skewer.  His “No Cure for Cancer” one man show was pretty funny as well, and it also contained the song “Asshole” that, yes, many people (including yours truly) sang quite a bit.

And even though the style of his rants has, in a way, morphed into the AM talk radio rage that permeates the airwaves these days, back in the ’90s his brand of comedy — while certainly not for everyone — was a nice take down of sacred cows, people who were too earnest for their own good, and maladies that plagued our country. But here’s the thing: most saw Leary’s rants as they were intended. That is to say, it was a comedy act.

Nowadays, we’ve kind of jumped the shark in our current “post-truth” age to see the world through rage colored glasses. But the comedy of Leary’s variety was a liberal use of mockery that laced in slivers of truth with all the subtly of hammer. Sure, comedians still do that, but I think Leary’s brand of abrasive comedy is bound by a certain time. For Gen Xer’s like me, he’s still funny, insightful, and blunt. Perhaps, though, for anyone younger than 30, he might not be funny at all.  However, because I’m of an age who like his type of comedy, I think his book, Why We Don’t Suck:  And How All Of Us Need To Stop Being Such Partisan Little Bitches is a refreshingly funny read. Since I’ve been watching Leary as both a comedian and actor for decades, I know his cadence, his gravelly voice, and his ability to use profanity is novel ways. Leary is 60-years-old know, but he looks at the world not as an aging Boomer who’s bitter about “the kids,” but as someone who really wants us to see each other as Americans first. Not in a nationalistic way, but in a way where the tribalism that pervades our culture takes a back seat to connecting with people in a human way. Now, he doesn’t always succeed in putting this view front and center, but it’s clear that he wants the world to be a better place.  But along the way to making his case, he’s gotta sell some books and make people laugh — which he does.

The political stuff certainly has elements of “The old Leary.” You know, the angry truth-teller who doesn’t care if he slaughters sacred cows.  Take for example Leary’s view of Trump and descending stairs:

But where Leary really shines in this book is when he’s talking about his own fame — and his interactions with famous people.  A couple of favorites of mine are the chapters “Ladies & Gentlemen, Please Welcome — Rod Stewart” and “All Tall Skinny Famous White Guys Look Alike.” Both had me in stitches. However, his story of growing up listening to Rod Stewart’s music and then finally meeting Rod — naked — in a dressing room was so good. But it’s that image of a naked Rod Stewart that he couldn’t get out of his mind that made him screw up  Rod’s introduction at a fundraising concert. I won’t spoil it for you. Just buy the book (or if you’re too cheap, look at it in a bookstore — if you can find one), and you’ll see both the comedy and the male-oriented truth of his encounter.

The book is a quick read (“Brevity is the soul of wit,” right?), and while some of the personal tales are revealing, funny, and well told, the political stuff can get a bit tedious. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Leary is trying to show is that when we silo ourselves in political circles, the echo chamber can get on our nerves — even if one is ideologically sympathetic to that point of view. This is perhaps why Leary shifts gears from politics to the personal — and then to the generational at the end of the book. He’s certainly trying to get his readers to live up to the subtitle of his book, but along the way we have to feel the unpleasant sand in the Vaseline as he’s giving us the proverbial prostate exam.

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