Denis Leary

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Denis Leary
Leary at the 2015 ATX TV Festival
Denis Colin Leary

(1957-08-18) August 18, 1957 (age 66)
  • Actor
  • comedian
Years active1987–present
Ann Lembeck
(m. 1989)
RelativesConan O'Brien (third cousin)
Comedy career
Alma materEmerson College

Denis Colin Leary (born August 18, 1957) is an American actor and comedian. Born in Massachusetts, Leary first came to prominence as a stand-up comedian, especially through appearances on MTV (including the comedic song "Asshole") and through the stand-up specials No Cure for Cancer (1993) and Lock 'n Load (1997). Leary began taking roles in film and television starting in the 1990s, including substantial roles in the films Judgment Night (1993), Gunmen (1994), Operation Dumbo Drop (1995) and Wag the Dog (1997).

In the 2000s, he developed and starred in the television show The Job (2001–2002) and was the star and co-creator of Rescue Me (2004–2011), for which he received two Primetime Emmy nominations, one for writing and one for acting. He has continued to take starring roles in films, including Captain George Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man and Cleveland Browns head coach Vince Penn in Draft Day. Leary has also done voice work, including Francis the ladybug in A Bug's Life and Diego the saber tooth tiger in the Ice Age franchise.

From 2015 to 2016, Leary wrote and starred in the comedy series Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll on FX.

Early life[edit]

Denis Colin Leary was born on August 18, 1957,[1] in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Catholic immigrant parents from Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland.[2] His mother, Nora (née Sullivan) (b. 1929), was a maid, and his father, John Leary (1924–1985), was an auto mechanic.[3][4][5][6] Leary is a citizen of both the United States and Ireland.[7] Leary is a third cousin of talk show host Conan O'Brien.[8][9]

Leary attended Saint Peter's High School (now Saint Paul's) in Worcester and graduated from Emerson College[10] in Boston. At Emerson, he met fellow comic Mario Cantone, whom Leary considers to be his closest friend.[11][12] While a student, Leary founded the Emerson Comedy Workshop, a troupe that continues on the campus today.[13]

After graduating from Emerson in 1981, Leary taught comedy-writing classes at the school for five years.[14] In May 2005 he received an honorary doctorate and spoke at his alma mater's undergraduate commencement ceremony;[15] and is credited as Dr. Denis Leary on the cover of his 2009 book Why We Suck.


Leary began working as a comedian at the Boston underground club Play It Again Sam's. However, his first real gig was at the Rascals Comedy Club as part of the TV show The Rascals Comedy Hour, on October 18, 1990. He wrote and appeared on a local comedy series, Lenny Clarke's Late Show, hosted by his friend Lenny Clarke and written by Martin Olson. Leary and Clarke both spoke about their early affiliations and influences in the Boston comedy scene in the documentary film When Standup Stood Out (2006). During Leary's time as a Boston-area stand-up comic, he developed his stage persona.

Leary appeared in sketches on the MTV game show Remote Control, playing characters such as Keith Richards, co-host Colin Quinn's brother and artist Andy Warhol.[citation needed] He earned fame when he ranted about R.E.M. in an early 1990s MTV sketch. Several other commercials for MTV quickly followed, in which Leary would rant at high speeds about a variety of topics, playing off the then-popular and growing alternative scene. One of these rants served as an introduction to the video for "Shamrocks and Shenanigans (Boom Shalock Lock Boom)" by House of Pain. Leary released two records of his comedy: No Cure for Cancer (1993) and Lock 'n Load (1997). In late 2004, he released the EP Merry F#%$in' Christmas, which included a mix of new music, previously unreleased recordings and some tracks from Lock 'n Load.[citation needed]

In 1993, Leary's sardonic song about the stereotypical American male, "Asshole", achieved much notoriety. The song was voted No. 1 in an Australian radio poll[16] and was used in Holsten Pils ads in the UK, with Leary's participation, and with adapted lyrics criticizing a drunk driver.[17] The single was a minor hit there, peaking at No. 58 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1996.[18]

In 1995, Leary was asked by Boston Bruins legend Cam Neely to help orchestrate a Boston-based comedy benefit show for Neely's cancer charity; this became Comics Come Home, which Leary has hosted annually ever since.[19]

Leary behind Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, 2005

Leary has appeared in many films, including The Sandlot as Scott's stepfather Bill, Monument Ave., The Matchmaker, The Ref, Draft Day, Suicide Kings, Dawg, Wag the Dog, Demolition Man (as an Emmanuel Goldstein-esque revolutionary to Nigel Hawthorne's Big Brother), Judgment Night, The Thomas Crown Affair and Operation Dumbo Drop. He had a role in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers that was eventually cut. He held the lead role in two television series, The Job and Rescue Me, and he co-created the latter, in which he played Tommy Gavin, a New York City firefighter dealing with alcoholism, family dysfunction and other issues in post-9/11 New York City.

Leary received Emmy Award nominations in 2006 and 2007 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Rescue Me, and in 2008 for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for the HBO movie Recount.[20] Leary was offered the role of Dignam in The Departed (2006) but turned it down because of scheduling conflicts with Rescue Me. He provided voices for characters in animated films, such as a fire-breathing dragon named Flame in the series The Agents, a pugnacious ladybug named Francis in A Bug's Life and a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger named Diego in the Ice Age film series. He has produced numerous movies, television shows, and specials through his production company, Apostle; these include Comedy Central's Shorties Watchin' Shorties, the stand-up special Denis Leary's Merry F#$%in' Christmas and the movie Blow.[citation needed]

As a Boston Red Sox fan, Leary narrated the official 2004 World Series film. In 2006, Leary and Lenny Clarke appeared on television during a Red Sox telecast and, upon realizing that Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis is Jewish, delivered a criticism of Mel Gibson's antisemitic comments.[21] As an ice hockey fan, Leary hosted the National Hockey League video NHL's Greatest Goals.[22] In 2003, he was the subject of the Comedy Central Roast of Denis Leary.[23]

Leary did the TV voiceover for MLB 2K8 advertisements, using his trademark rant style in baseball terms, and ads for the 2009 Ford F-150 pickup truck.[citation needed] He has also appeared in commercials for Hulu and DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket package.[citation needed] Leary was a producer of the Fox series Canterbury's Law, and wrote and directed its pilot episode. Canterbury's Law aired in the spring of 2008 and was canceled after eight episodes. On September 9, 2008, Leary hosted the sixth annual Fashion Rocks event, which aired on CBS. In December of the year, he appeared in a video on critiquing a list of some of his "best" films, titled "Denis Leary Remembers Denis Leary Movies".[24] Also in 2008, Leary voiced a guest role as himself in The Simpsons episode "Lost Verizon".

On March 21, 2009, Leary began the Rescue Me Comedy Tour in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The 11-date tour, featuring Rescue Me co-stars Lenny Clarke and Adam Ferrara, was Leary's first stand-up comedy tour in 12 years.[25] The Comedy Central special Douchebags and Donuts, filmed during the tour, debuted on American television on January 16, 2011, with a DVD release on January 18, 2011.[26]

Denis Leary at the BookExpo America in 2017

Leary played Captain George Stacy in the movie The Amazing Spider-Man, released in July 2012.[27] He wrote the American adaptation of Sirens.[28] He is an executive producer of the documentary Burn, which chronicles the struggles of the Detroit Fire Department. Burn won the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival Audience Award.[29]

Leary created a television series for FX called Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, taking the starring role himself. A 10-episode first season was ordered by FX, with the premiere on July 16, 2015.[30][31] The show ran for two seasons.

In 2022, he was cast in the recurring role of Frank Donnelly, an NYPD officer on Law & Order: Organized Crime.[32]

Leary has been the narrator for NESN's documentary show about the Boston Bruins called Behind the B since the show began in 2013.

Personal life[edit]

Leary and his wife Ann Lembeck at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival

Leary has been married to author Ann Lembeck Leary since 1989.[33] They met when he was her instructor in an English class at Emerson College. They have two children, son John Joseph "Jack" (born 1990) and daughter Devin (born 1992).[34] Ann Leary published a memoir, An Innocent, a Broad, about the premature birth of their son on a visit to London. She has also written a novel, Outtakes From a Marriage, which was published in 2008. Her second novel, The Good House, was published in 2013.[35] Her essay in a New York Times column about her marriage to Denis inspired the Modern Love series Episode 4: "Rallying to Keep the Game Alive".

Leary is an ice hockey fan and has a backyard rink at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, with piping installed under the ice surface to help it stay frozen.[36] He is a fan of the Boston Bruins and the Boston Red Sox,[37] as well as the Green Bay Packers.[38][39]

Leary describes himself as a "Jack Kennedy Democrat" with some conservative ideologies, including support for the military. Leary told Glenn Beck, "I was a life-long Democrat, but now at my age, I've come to realize that the Democrats suck, and the Republicans suck, and basically the entire system sucks. But you have to go within the system to find what you want."[40]

Leary has said of his religious beliefs, "I'm a lapsed Catholic in the best sense of the word. You know, I was raised with Irish parents, Irish immigrant parents. My parents, you know, prayed all the time, took us to Mass. And my father would sometimes swear in Gaelic. It doesn't get more religious than that. But, no, after a while, they taught us wrong. I didn't raise my kids with the fear of God. I raised my kids with the sense of, you know, to me, Jesus was this great guy...."[40]

Leary is godfather to Damian Hurley, the son of actress Liz Hurley.[41]

Leary Firefighters Foundation[edit]

On December 3, 1999, six firefighters from Leary's hometown of Worcester were killed in the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire. Among the dead were Leary's cousin Jerry Lucey and his close childhood friend, Lt. Tommy Spencer.[8] In response, the comedian founded the Leary Firefighters Foundation. Since its creation in the year 2000, the foundation has distributed over $2.5 million (USD) to fire departments in the Worcester, Boston and New York City areas for equipment, training materials, new vehicles and new facilities. Leary won $125,000 for the foundation on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He had close ties with WAAF, which in 2000 released the station album Survive This!. Part of the proceeds from this album were donated to the Leary Firefighters Foundation.[citation needed]

A separate fund run by Leary's foundation, the Fund for New York's Bravest, has distributed over $2 million to the families of the 343 firemen killed in the September 11 attacks in 2001, in addition to providing funding for necessities such as a new mobile command center, first-responder training, and a high-rise simulator for the New York City Fire Department's training campus. As the foundation's president, Leary has been active in all of the fundraising. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Leary donated over a dozen boats to the New Orleans Fire Department to aid in rescue efforts in future disasters. The foundation also rebuilt entire NOLA firehouses.[42]



For many years, Leary had been friends with fellow comedian Bill Hicks. But when Leary's comedy album No Cure for Cancer was released, Leary was accused of stealing Hicks' act and material, ending their friendship abruptly.[43] In April 1993, the Austin Comedy News remarked on the similarities of Leary's performance: "Watching Leary is like seeing Hicks from two years ago. He smokes with the same mannerisms. (Hicks recently quit.) He sports the same attitude, the same clothes. He touches on almost all of the same themes. Leary even invokes Jim Fixx." When asked about this, Hicks told the magazine, "I have a scoop for you. I stole his [Leary's] act. I camouflaged it with punchlines, and to really throw people off, I did it before he did".[44]

At least three stand-up comedians have gone on the record stating they believe Leary stole Hicks' material, comedic persona and attitude.[43][45][46] One similar routine was about the so-called Judas Priest "suicide trial," during which Hicks says, "I don't think we lost a cancer cure."[47]

During Leary's 2003 Comedy Central Roast, comedian Lenny Clarke, a friend of Leary's, said there was a carton of cigarettes backstage from Bill Hicks with the message, "Wish I had gotten these to you sooner." This joke was cut from the final broadcast.[48]

The feud is also mentioned in Cynthia True's biography American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story:

Leary was in Montreal to host the "Nasty Show," at Club Soda, and Colleen was coordinating the talent so she was standing backstage when she heard Leary doing material that sounded incredibly similar to old Hicks riffs, including his perennial Jim Fixx joke: ("Keith Richards outlived Jim Fixx, the runner and health nut dude. The plot thickens."). When Leary came offstage, Colleen, more stunned than angry, said, "Hey, you know that's Bill Hicks' material! Do you know that's his material?" Leary stood there, stared at her without saying a word and briskly left the dressing room.[49]

According to the book, True said that upon hearing a tape of Leary's album No Cure for Cancer, "Bill was furious. All these years, aside from the occasional jibe, he had pretty much shrugged off Leary's lifting. Comedians borrowed, stole stuff and even bought bits from one another. Milton Berle and Robin Williams were famous for it. This was different. Leary had, practically line for line, taken huge chunks of Bill's act and recorded it."[49]

In a 2008 appearance on The Opie and Anthony Show, comedian Louis C.K. claimed Leary stole his "I'm an asshole" routine, which was then expanded upon and turned into a hit song by Leary.[50] On a later episode of the same show, Leary challenged this assertion by claiming to have co-written the song with Chris Phillips.[51]


In his 2008 book Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid, Leary wrote:

There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumb-ass kids can't compete academically, so they throw money into the happy laps of shrinks... to get back diagnoses that help explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons. I don't [care] what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you – your kid is not autistic. He's just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.

Leary later stated that the quote was taken out of context and that in that paragraph he had been talking about what he calls the trend of "unwarranted" over-diagnosis of autism, which he attributed to American parents seeking an excuse for behavioral problems and under-performance. Later, he apologized to parents with autistic children whom he had offended.[52][53]



Year Title Role Notes
1987 Long Walk to Forever Newt Short film
1991 Strictly Business Jake Cameo
1993 The Sandlot Bill
Who's the Man? Sergeant Cooper
Demolition Man Edgar Friendly
Loaded Weapon 1 Mike McCracken Cameo; performing "You Really Got Me"
Judgment Night Fallon
1994 The Ref Gus
Gunmen Armor O'Malley
Natural Born Killers Prison Inmate Director's cut; cameo
1995 Operation Dumbo Drop CW3 David Poole
The Neon Bible Frank
1996 Underworld Johnny Crown/Johnny Alt
Two If by Sea Francis "Frank" O'Brien Also writer
1997 Love Walked In Jack Hanaway Also producer
Wag the Dog Fad King
Suicide Kings Lono Veccio
The Real Blonde Doug
The Matchmaker Nick
1998 Monument Ave. Bobby O'Grady a.k.a. Snitch
Also uncredited writer
Wide Awake Mr. Beal
Small Soldiers Gil Mars
A Bug's Life Francis (voice)
1999 True Crime Bob Findley
Jesus' Son Wayne
Do Not Disturb Simon
The Thomas Crown Affair Det. Michael McCann
2000 Sand Teddy
Lakeboat The Fireman
Company Man Officer Fry
2001 Double Whammy Det. Raymond Pluto Also uncredited producer
Final Bill performing "Little Sister"
Blow Producer
2002 Dawg Douglas "Dawg" Munford a.k.a. Bad Boy
Ice Age Diego (voice) Nominated – Kids' Choice Award for Favourite Voice from an Animated Movie
The Secret Lives of Dentists Slater
2003 When Stand Up Stood Out Himself Documentary
The Curse of the Bambino
Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino Documentary (sequel)
2006 Ice Age: The Meltdown Diego (voice)
2009 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
2012 The Amazing Spider-Man George Stacy
Ice Age: Continental Drift Diego (voice)
2014 Draft Day Coach Penn
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 George Stacy
2015 Freaks of Nature Rick Wilson
2016 Ice Age: Collision Course Diego (voice)
2023 Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse George Stacy Archival footage from The Amazing Spider-Man


Year Title Role Notes
1980 Lenny Clarke's Late Show[54] Various Series regular
1987–1990 Remote Control Various roles All episodes
1990 Afterdrive Himself Talk show
Rascals Comedy Hour Stand Up
1994–1995 Mike & Spike Charles S. Baby 3 episodes
1995 National Lampoon's Favorite Deadly Sins Jake Television film, also directed segment "Lust"
1996 The Second Civil War Vinnie Franko Television film
1997 Subway Stories Guy in wheelchair Television film, segment "The Red Shoes"
1998 The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder Himself Episode dated April 24, 1998
Fantasy World Cup Episode #1.15
Space Ghost Coast to Coast Episode: "Waiting for Edward"
2001–2002 The Rosie O'Donnell Show Guest in two episodes
The Job Mike McNeil Also writer and producer
All episodes
2002 Contest Searchlight Fictionalized version of himself All episodes
Crank Yankers Joe Smith (voice) Episode: 1.2
2004–2011 Rescue Me Tommy Gavin 93 episodes; nominated for Golden Globe and Emmy
also creator, producer and writer
2006–2014 The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson Himself 12 episodes
2008 The Simpsons Himself (voice) Episode: "Lost Verizon"
Recount Michael Whouley Television film
2011 Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Diego (voice) TV special
2013 Maron Himself 1 episode – "Dead Possum"
2015 Benders Producer
2015–2016 Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll[31] Johnny Rock 2 seasons (20 episodes)
Also creator, producer, writer and director
2016 The Late Late Show with James Corden Bill Clinton
Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade Diego (voice) TV special
2018–2019, 2022 Animal Kingdom Billy[55] Recurring role (season 3)
Guest role (Season 4, 6)
2019 Family Guy Body Shop Owner (voice) Episode: "Girl, Internetted"
2019–2021 The Moodys Sean Moody Sr. Main role
2022 Law & Order: Organized Crime Frank Donnelly Recurring role

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2006 Ice Age 2: The Meltdown Diego
2012 Ice Age: Continental Drift – Arctic Games
2013 Ice Age Village Mobile game
2015 Ice Age Avalanche





  • 1992: No Cure for Cancer, Anchor Books ISBN 0385425813
  • 2007: Rescue Me: Uncensored: The Official Companion, Newmarket Press ISBN 978-1557047915
  • 2008: Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid, Viking ISBN 978-0-670-03160-3
  • 2010: Suck on This Year: LYFAO @ 140 Characters or Less, Viking ISBN 978-0-670-02289-2
  • 2012: Denis Leary's Merry F#%$in' Christmas, Running Press ISBN 0762447621
  • 2017: Why We Don't Suck: And How All of Us Need to Stop Being Such Partisan Little Bitches, Crown Archetype ISBN 978-1524762735


Year Result Award Category Film/Show
2009 Nominated Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television Recount (2008)
2008 Nominated Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Recount (2008)
2007 Nominated Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Rescue Me
Nominated Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Series, Drama Rescue Me
Nominated Prism Awards Performance in a Drama Series, Multi-Episode Storyline Rescue Me
2006 Nominated Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Rescue Me
Nominated Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Series, Drama Rescue Me
Nominated Prism Awards Performance in a Drama Series, Multi-Episode Storyline Rescue Me
2005 Nominated Emmy Awards Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series Rescue Me
Nominated Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama Rescue Me
Nominated Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Series, Drama Rescue Me
2003 Nominated Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie Ice Age
Nominated DVD Exclusive Awards Best Actor Double Whammy (2001)
2002 Nominated Television Critics Association Awards Individual Achievement in Comedy The Job
2000 Won Blockbuster Entertainment Awards Favorite Supporting Actor – Drama/Romance The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
1996 Won CableACE Awards Best Directing: Comedy National Lampoon's Favorite Deadly Sins (1995)
1992 Won Edinburgh International Arts Festival Critic's Award No Cure for Cancer (1992)
Won BBC Festival Recommendation Award No Cure for Cancer (1992)


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External links[edit]