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Comedian Denis Leary Plays 'Not My Job'

Denis Leary i i
Clay Patrick McBride
Denis Leary
Clay Patrick McBride

Comedian Denis Leary plays our game called "Can you tell me how to get ... uh ... how to get to Sesame Street?" Three questions about the beloved kids show taken from the book Street Gang by Michael Davis.

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CARL KASELL, Host:

Next up, comedian, actor and creator of the FX TV Show "Rescue Me."

PETER SAGAL, Host:

Denis Leary joined us - along with Adam Felber, Mo Rocca and Kyrie O'Connor - back in December 2008, right after he wrote his self-help book "Why We Suck," a subject of some interest to us.

M: Yeah, it's a little trip through - it talks about why we're great, and then all of the things that we need, I think, a little touch-up on.

SAGAL: Really?

M: Like skinny jeans are for skinny people.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Apparently, that's just lost on most of the population in this country.

SAGAL: Right.

M: Most of the people that are wearing them look like they jumped out of a 15-story window and landed in the jeans.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: And then never took the jeans off.

SAGAL: It's tragic.

M: Meanwhile, the skinny people are wearing the hip-hop baggy jeans with the underwear showing.

M: Yeah.

M: So all we got to do is really flip that. You know what I mean?

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: Are you worried that you've become one of those guys - like, kids these days, what's wrong with them?

M: Oh, I am that guy.

SAGAL: You're totally that guy.

M: Oh yeah, I'm that guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I give that speech all the time.

SAGAL: Yeah.

M: I don't send my kids to their rooms. There's too much stuff in their rooms.

SAGAL: Right.

M: There's plasma televisions, Playstations. We go to their rooms when they do something wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: You stay down here, where the books are. We're going up there.

SAGAL: Speaking of kids, you actually write about yourself as a kid. You write about your background, which I found interesting. You grew up near Boston.

M: Yes. In Worcester, Massachusetts.

SAGAL: Wusta? Wusta?

M: Wusta. Wusta.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Here's the thing: I mean, I imagine - my experience is that most comedians, anyway, had childhoods - they were shy, they were a little lonely, they found out that being funny could maybe get them some friends. They went that way. That wasn't really your...

M: Really? You think most comedians are...

SAGAL: Yeah, that's been my experience.

M: I thought most of us, at some level, were repressed by religious figures in an organized religion.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Yeah. I mean, every guy I know - Chris Rock, Jon Stewart - we all - Jon Stewart was in Hebrew school. I was in Catholic school. It's basically the same idea: Don't laugh at any of this. That's what they would tell you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Right.

M: And that's why I love organized religion because they always want you to not laugh and in the back of the room, we're all going pfft, you know.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: If they had used reverse psychology, I wouldn't be here right now.

SAGAL: Denis, do anything you want, it's cool, it's fine.

M: I'd be a priest.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: One of the things I ended up really liking about your book were the characters of your parents. Not characters, but real people.

M: Real people.

SAGAL: I know, really interesting.

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: And I loved how they encouraged you to be all that you could be within limits.

M: Well, my parents were Irish immigrants that came from actually, adjoining farms in Killarney. They came to New York and settled in Wusta, Massachusetts. And at that time, when I was a kid, President Kennedy was the president of the United States. And I went to school one day, and one of the nuns gave a speech about if you were born in the United States, you can become the president. Anybody could be the president as long you're born here. So I went home and I said, Dad, Sister - you know - Blah-blah-blah said that, you know, anybody that's born in the United States could be the president. And he said, that's true. And I said, does that mean that I could be the president? And he goes, hell no, what are you...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Are you nuts?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: So it was a major blow to me at the time. And then I realized, as I got older, that he was trying to explain that you could be almost, almost anything.

SAGAL: Almost anything.

M: But president was a little bit out of reach. So, you know, it was a self-esteem thing that was true, because I couldn't have been the president. First of all, I didn't pay attention in school at all, which didn't help, you know, at all.

SAGAL: No.

M: No. I really kind of - I just chopped my own feet off from the presidential race.

M: Because the current...

M: You wouldn't want me as president. I love these people who say, you know, I like Sarah Palin because she's so much like us. I don't want somebody like us running the country, OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I really don't.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

M: I think most of us suck, and I'm one of those people that sucks. I want somebody really smart running the country, all right?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well, Denis Leary, we're delighted to have you with us. We have invited you here this week to play a game we are calling...

KASELL: "Can You Tell Me How To Get, How To Get to Sesame Street?"

SAGAL: The generation of men and women now running the world were shaped by, more than anything, the TV show "Sesame Street." I'm sure you watched it as a kid.

M: No.

SAGAL: No? You're too old.

M: I'm too old.

SAGAL: That's the thing; you're too old.

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: That's why you're so bitter and mean, because you didn't have...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Look what happened.

SAGAL: So we're going to ask you three questions about that landmark kids' show.

M: Oh, boy.

SAGAL: Taken from the new, authoritative history of "Sesame Street" called "Street Gang," by Michael Davis.

M: OK.

SAGAL: Get two of these questions right, you win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell on their home answering machine, singing his theme song, "It's Not Easy Being Avuncular."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl, who is Denis Leary playing for?

KASELL: Denis is playing for Edith Lees(ph) from Omaha, Nebraska.

SAGAL: All right. First question, as I'm sure you remember, or maybe you don't, "Sesame Street" was known for introducing kids to real-world concepts in a gentle way.

M: Uh-huh.

SAGAL: One of the notable early examples was an episode in which one of these things happened. Was it A, Mr. Hooper's grocery store was vandalized; B, folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfed her baby right in front of Big Bird...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C, special guest star Elizabeth Taylor explained to Grover why she had had four different husbands?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Oh man, I'm going with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A?

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: It was Buffy Sainte-Marie.

M: I can't believe it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Really?

SAGAL: Yeah, she really was. She was a guest on the show for the first five seasons.

M: Really?

SAGAL: They went through her pregnancy and the birth of her baby - off-screen I hope. And so she breastfed him on camera. And Big Bird asked about it and eventually said: You know, that's nice, quote, said Big Bird.

M: I can't believe Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfed her...

SAGAL: It's true.

M: I can't believe Big Bird was OK with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: OK, here's your next question. The show, of course, was for kids but produced, of course, by adults, who off-camera acted like adults. At one of the season wrap parties, the puppeteers introduced what new character, just for their own entertainment? Was it A, Ally the Alcoholic...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, Big Butt; Or C, the Nookie Monster?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I really got screwed on this quiz.

SAGAL: Yeah.

M: Yeah.

M: Oh, boy.

SAGAL: So it's a wrap party. You know what they're like.

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: You're familiar with them. They got a puppet...

M: Well, the wrap party makes me think they'd go right to the Nookie Monster.

SAGAL: So, Nookie?

M: I'm going with Nookie.

SAGAL: You're right, Nookie Monster.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

M: Hey.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done, sir. All right, last question. Many foreign television companies bought the rights to show the series in their own countries. But the head of children's programming for the BBC, back in the late '60s, turned it down. Why? Was it because A, she thought the way the show insisted on right answers to questions was quote, authoritarian indoctrination; was it B, she noted that many of the Muppets were naked and therefore, immodest...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C, she felt that it was another attempt to create American cultural dominance of the English-speaking world?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I am going to go with the nudity.

SAGAL: You're going to go with the nudity. She said all the Muppets were naked. She's like this is...

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

SAGAL: They don't...

M: Wait, wait, wait, wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

M: They don't know, either.

M: You guys don't like the immodest idea.

SAGAL: They don't like it.

M: OK. Let me float another one.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Just spitball it here.

M: What do you think of the authoritarian?

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

M: What would your...

M: All right, you want C then, is that what you want?

(SOUNDBITE OF YES)

M: All right, I'm going with you. We will sink or swim together.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I'm going with C.

SAGAL: I applaud your solidarity, but you're all wrong. It was A.

M: Oh, my god.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: It was A, authoritarian. She thought it was authoritarian the way they answered the questions correctly.

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: You know this, Mo?

M: No. Yes.

M: You know what, let's boo them until they give us the right answer.

M: That's awfully authoritarian of you.

M: I know, it really is.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

SAGAL: Sorry.

M: At least we were together, right?

M: Yeah.

M: We have a bond.

M: You would have been wrong without them.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Carl, how did Denis Leary do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Denis needed two correct answers to win for Edith Lees, but he had just one.

SAGAL: Oh. Denis Leary is a comedian and the starring co-creator of "Rescue Me" on the FX Network. He's also the author of the new book, "Why We Suck." Denis Leary, thank you so much for joining us.

M: Oh thanks guys, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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