In the tradition of satirical, American stand-up comedians, there are three who stand out
above all others. We’ve already written about Lenny Bruce, the godfather of this style of comedy. Bruce was followed by the incredible Bill Hicks but alongside Hicks was Dennis Leary – a one time friend of Hicks (but more of that later).
Dennis Leary was born in 1957, the son of Irish Catholic parents, in Massachusetts. He attended Boston’s Emerson College where he met other, now notable comics including Steven Wright and Gina Gershon. Following graduation he began to teach comedy writing classes at the college.
At the same time in the early 1980s, Leary began to find work in the local Boston comedy scene and was involved in writing Lenny Clarke’s Late Show; a local comedy production. At this early stage in his career it became clear he was a comedian from the ‘alternative’ mould and that his appeal was to a younger audience. The television station MTV picked up on this and used him in several commercials and sketches. His high speed rants against a variety of contemporary targets became his trademark style.
He gained some significant international exposure in 1993 with the release of his satirical song ‘Asshole’. This lead to a series of ads for Holsten Pils beer in the United Kingdom and some impressive exposure in Australia. He has since become something of an actor, playing smaller roles in a number of films and the lead in the television series’ Rescue Me, which he co-wrote and The Job.
Dennis Leary is undoubtedly a successful actor and comedian so it’s worth taking a few sentences to explain why he fell out with Bill Hicks. There is a tradition of some minor plagiarism within the world of stand-up comedy but it seems that Leary has pushed the limits somewhat. He has even been accused of stealing Hicks’ style and image, particularly the references to smoking. While Hicks was still alive he once said to an interviewer “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 before he did.”
Leary’s a funny, innovative guy so you’ll have to make up your own mind whether he’s also a plagiarist.