From Denis Leary’s book “Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid,” you could easily get the impression that the comedian doesn’t like anybody or anything.
But that, he insists, is not true. “I actually believe mostly in three people,” Leary told TODAY’s Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on Thursday. The first two: Jesus and Oprah. The third: Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, whom Leary described as “my favorite baseball player of all time.”
“I really do think if Jesus came back, he’d be on ‘Oprah’ for an hour-long special,” Leary went on. “And she’d shame him into something. I don’t know what it would be — maybe his relationship with Mary Magdalene.”
In fact, Leary wrote a whole chapter from the point of view of Jesus in his book. He had also planned to take on Oprah when he started the project, but after immersing himself in her show, he found he really liked her.
But just because Leary stopped short of antagonizing the mighty Oprah, that doesn’t mean his book failed to rankle a lot of people. In October, before it even came out, The New York Post excerpted a paragraph in which Leary appears to be ranting about children with autism.
“There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumb-*** kids can’t compete academically, so they throw money into the happy laps of shrinks and psychotherapists to get back diagnoses that help explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons,” Leary wrote in the infamous passage. “I don’t give a [bleep] what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you — yer kid is NOT autistic. He’s just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.”
The comment inspired a storm of outrage from people with autistic children, and Leary has been explaining the passage ever since.
“The chapter is not about autism,” he told Kotb and Gifford. “People who have read the entire chapter in the entire book know that paragraph is not talking about children with autism or their parents. The chapter is about people who are actually seeking special-needs diagnoses for their kids because they are spoiled kids because the parents don’t pay attention to them.”
Leary said he knows a family with an autistic daughter who needs special schooling with one-on-one attention. The classes make a dramatic difference in the girl’s life, he said, but they are expensive and there is no federal funding or health insurance coverage for them.
“That’s what I was angry about,” he said.
Kotb wondered whether Leary should have written the chapter differently so it wouldn’t be misconstrued.
“I have a chapter on racism called ‘I’d Hate You Even If You Weren’t Black.’ It’s about not being racist,” he said. “You could take a sentence out of that and print it tomorrow in The New York Post and make me look like a racist.”
Gifford and Kotb asked Leary where his anger comes from.
“I think my anger comes from a repressed upbringing in the Catholic Church,” he joked, adding that being Irish may also have something to do with it.
Leary said he began the book by thinking of chapter titles. “I was picking chapter headings that I thought would be provocative,” he said.
One he came up with is, “I Had Sex With Kathie Lee Gifford (And She Was Amazing).” He added that this was the reason he chose to visit the fourth hour of TODAY with Gifford and Kotb instead of talking with Matt Lauer earlier in the show.
“I won’t have sex with Matt because I don’t find him attractive,” Leary quipped. Of being interviewed by Gifford about his ribald chapter title, he added, “This is a dream of mine.”
But then Leary backtracked: “Obviously, the chapter’s not about us having sex, because we never had sex.” He then turned to the camera to address Gifford’s husband, former football star Frank Gifford. “Frank,” Leary said, “we didn’t have sex.”
“I know he can still kick my butt,” he added.
“Yes, he can,” Kathie Lee agreed. But, she added, Leary had no need to be concerned.
“That’s all right,” she cracked. “He can’t hear.”