Denis Leary attempts to ridicule kids with autism, fails badly

Denisleary_lI like Denis Leary. Ever since those MTV spots back in the ’80s. I can’t say that I’ve followed his career, but whenever I’ve seen him in something he’s either made it better or not actively made it worse. And I’ve got enormous respect for what he’s accomplished with Rescue Me. Television is not the easiest place to examine personal responsibility, puncture our ongoing addiction to hero worship, and show how some of the worst people can do the best things—the fact that Rescue Me is still going strong is laudable. He’s a funny guy, one who can do almost anything with that talent.

He’s chosen to write a book, Why We Suck: A Feel-Good Guide to Staying Fat, Lazy, and Stupid. And in this book, Leary writes "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 give a s— what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you—yer kid is not autistic. He’s just stupid. Or lazy. Or both."

F— you, Denis Leary.

I’m not writing this as the parent of an autistic child (though I am), who’s angry and hurt by that statement, which lesser educated people will likely glom onto when faced with local and federal tax increases going to special education and genetic research. And I’m not writing it as someone who thinks that certain topics are off-limits to comics, because I don’t—Bill Hicks’ "Your Children Are Not Special" bit is phenomenal; George Carlin’s incendiary, fearless skewering of religion; Sarah Silverman kills with jokes about everything, including rape. I firmly believe anything is fair game, so long as the joke works.

Which is the problem with that autism "joke": It’s not funny. It doesn’t bring anything to the table aside from a desire to denigrate without perspective. It doesn’t expose a truth, in the way that Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle did. And, as such, it qualifies as a galactic fail.

So, f— you, Denis Leary. The fifth season of Rescue Me starts in Spring 2009.


Comments (1086 total) Add your comment
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  • Daniel

    That stinks. As I have autism myself, and I attend college and am friends with Leary’s son, he and Leary (who I had the pleasure to meet when he dropped off his kid last month) just got put “on notice”!

  • kathy

    Just my opinion, but it does seem like you’re angry because he joked about something that affects you personally.
    Because the reaction of someone to an unfunny joke is not “F*** you”. It’s not to laugh. The reaction of someone who was offended by a joke is “F*** you”.
    Which is not to say you can’t be offended by a joke — you absolutely can. It just doesn’t seem like you’re being intellectually honest. You’re pissed because Denis Leary made fun of autistic kids and their parents. Which is fine by me, it’s just that that is exactly the persepctive you are writing and reacting from…so why go out of your way to say it isn’t.

  • LJ

    From that passage, it sounds like he’s not talking about truly autistic kids, which would be pretty low. He’s talking about our over-medicated and over-diagnosed society where we can’t just accept that not everyone can do everything equally well, so we give a deficiency a name and call it a disease. Very different things. Though his rant is a bit Tom Cruise-ish, I agree with the broad strokes of his argument.

  • Mr Kitty’s Mom

    My son’s step brother as Asberger’s. I am so disappointed in Leary – he should know better – even if he really believes this he should have never put it in writing. Such a jerk thing to do.

  • Al Fredo

    I am smack dab in the space as LJ. I seriously doubt Leary was referring to true autistic kids. Given the title of the book, he is no doubt targeting that sizable chunk of our population that completely fits the description. So yes, you could say the joke fails – if you take it at its literal wording and not the likely intent/context of his statements.

  • SD

    Dennis Leary like so many other individuals in show business, is mis-informed and disillusioned by the millions of dollars Hollywood has to offer.

  • Crosspatch

    I like Leary for the most part, but I have to agree with Bernardin on this one. If Leary would’ve said A.D.D.(which IMHO is way over-diagnosed) instead, I might defend, but not autism.

  • Marc Bernardin

    Well, Kathy, I respect what you’re saying but, to me, the only defense for this would’ve been if it WAS funny. That would’ve been the saving grace, if he’d punctured through the bile to touch humor. But without that, it’s just knee-jerk cruel.

  • emily

    Mr. Bernardin, I am not a parent of an autistic child. I am not even a parent. It doesn’t matter. The only people who could glob on to what Leary has said are a mix of stupid, ignorant, and heartless. Even people w/o kids know that autism is a huge problem that needs to be figured out and dealt with to help the new generation of children. Leary should be ashamed and embarassed by his mix of stupid, ignorant, and heartless.

  • Jay

    What an a**hole. I’ve never liked that guy. What an idiot.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the fact if he used a different diasease it could have been funny. I understand what he’s trying to get acroos, but the truth is autism is a growing problem. I don’t know if it’s overdiagnosed, but I don’t think most parents just assume their kids have it if they’re a little slow.

  • BrandonK

    It’s not a joke so much as a rant, from what I can tell from the above. It doesn’t seem like a funny rant, though.

  • Raven_Moon

    That’s pretty messed up, but Leary did say in an interview that anyone who read the chapter fully would know that he is actually very supportive of parents of children with autism. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t say.

  • daisyj

    What this sounds like to me is a repurposing of a now-cliche “overdiagnosing ADD” rant, where he just swapped in autism to make it “edgy,” without any real sense of what the disease involves. Because, honestly, anyone who’s ever met a pre-verbal fourteen-year-old is never going to confuse autism with overanxious parenting.

  • Lauren

    Funny thing about learning disabilities is how often people who have them are incredibly intelligent people.
    I went to a magnet arts high school and one day a friend of mine asked everyone at our table if they had AD/HD. Out of eight kids two didn’t have it.

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