On the Net with...Dennis Leary  by Mitchell Lavnick

It seems like every time you turn on the TV nowadays, there is another cloying ad from AT&T or Microsoft or MCI or Philips Magnavox, or some other big corporate bozo trying to sell their "version" of the Internet. You know the commercials. Sappy background music. A Don Pardo sound-a-like tugging mercilessly at your heart strings. The screen flashes some absurd scene, like starving children in Bangladesh teleconferencing with Sally Struthers (cut to the next scene), while a businessman hits the enter key, sits back contentedly in his chair, and waits for $700 billion of that easy Internet money to transfer to his bank account (cut to the next scene), and Grandma and Grandpa receive an e-mail finger painting, look lovingly into each other's eyes, and bless the technology they've lived to enjoy. Welcome to the Internet middle America...courtesy of the geniuses on Madison Avenue.

Such visual inanity is why it is worth giving the folks at Lotus some credit. Who cares if Lotus Domino, their entry into the Internet and Intranet Web server market, is any good? Even if the product name conjures images of a large pepperoni and mushroom more than it does a Netscape or Microsoft competitor, Lotus still scored big time, just by having the guts to hire Denis Leary as their pitchman.

Yup. Denis Leary. The raving, nicotine fit, screw-the-PC-crowd, comedian/actor with the Marlboro voice. The guy who summed up the '70s in his one-man stand-up comedy show, No Cure for Cancer, this way: "There we were in the middle of the sexual revolution wearing clothing that guaranteed we wouldn't get laid." The Denis Leary whose take on the '80s was, "That was the only good thing about the '80s--we got rid of one of the Bee Gees. One down, three to go. That's what I say, folks."

Oh, and Leary's message for the techno-hyped '90s? "If you want to surf, go to Maui!"

Or so he says in one of his Lotus commercials, the one where he paces around a cybercafé filled with cyberhipsters (read: dorky-looking actors and actresses), and asks, "You know what I am sick of hearing about?"

"The Internet," someone replies. "The Internet," another echoes. "The Internet!" Leary confirms, as he walks past a vitamin-deficient Lyle Lovett look-alike with a big, red pompadour. "Nice hair," he says sarcastically. "A zillion dollars worth of technology and what are we doing with it?" Leary rants. "Browsing," a lady replies. Leary looks pissed. It is a "don't give me any bull" kind of pissed. The kind of approach that resonates with his fans, whether he is giving his thoughts on racism: "I think Rodney King said it best when he said 'Ow, ow, ow, ow, '" or evaluating his own films via RealAudio at his official Web site (www.celebsites.com/DenisLeary) like Operation Dumbo Drop. ("Giant piece of shit! Huge piece of shit! Unless you are like four. Then maybe you'd enjoy it. It started out as a good idea, and ended up as a giant pile of elephant shit.")

You have to give Lotus credit for bringing this guy in to pitch their product. The fact is, there is a lot of bull on the Internet. And frankly, the Lotus ads make more sense than Leary's 1993 ads for Nike. You know, hire a guy to hawk your athletic shoes after he boasts in his stand-up act, "I love to smoke. I smoke 7,000 packs a day, OK? And I am never fucking quitting!"

So, you show up to interview Leary at the New York offices for his production company, Apostle Pictures, and you are expecting to meet a chain-smoking wise-ass with a one-liner about everything. You have instructions to get him to rant about the Internet like a trained seal. Instead, Leary is worn out, looking forward to the vacation that begins the second the interview is over, and he is dogged by a serious cold.

Perhaps it is his frantic schedule. He has several projects scheduled for release, including Wag the Dog with Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman, and Suicide Kings, where he stars opposite Christopher Walken. In addition, he is busy preparing new material for a one-man stand-up show, which will appear on HBO later this year. On this day, Leary is doped up on cold medicine, but he hangs in there to offer a serious thought or two about the Internet, his official Web site, oh, and why he should be the spokesman for NyQuil...

Internet Underground: In one of your Lotus TV commercials, you rave about how you are sick of hearing about the Internet. Does the hype really bug you that much?

Denis Leary: Yeah, I mean, I am not a computer-savvy guy besides sort of knowing how to turn on the computer and use it as a typewriter. So, I appreciated the increased technology in that area for a while, and then when the Internet thing happened, I primarily used it as a research tool. You know? I don't have a lot of down time, anyway, that I could spend in chat rooms and stuff like that, not that that would be the kind of thing that I would do. And, actually, a friend of mine, an actress, Sandra Bullock, who was really heavily into the Internet as soon as it took off, would spend a lot of time just talking to people and communicating with friends, and I sort of got into it through her, because she was telling me how great it was...So, I had an appreciation for it, just on the basis of what it was. And I think the Lotus commercials kind of summed up my feelings about it, because it is just typical human nature that once something gets invented, whether it is television or whatever it is, that there is the stuff that you want from it, and need from it, and then there are going to be a lot of people out there just bullshitting around, and going off into areas that you don't need to spend any time on...

So, what I liked about the commercials, even when they were first presented to me, was that the idea was going to be to use the Net for what it is good for, instead of getting all of this insane bullshit that exists out there...the UFO home pages, and all that stuff. It's the nature of the beast, you know?

IU: Have you checked out any chat rooms, or some of the insane stuff you are talking about?

DL: No. But I have a Web site. So we have an e-mail system, where whenever I get the opportunity I can go in and answer people and stuff. Even in that, the majority of the people are just regular people, but you get the 10 percent, or the 20 percent, who are just--I don't know what they are doing! You know? Like insane people in dark rooms, with computer terminals and nothing else. No friends. No family. No connections to the outside world.

IU: The gist of the Lotus message is people should use the Internet for what it is good for, business?

DL: Yeah. That's Lotus' message. And I think that includes, for instance, my business on the Internet would be film and TV and screenwriting. And I think that is what the great thing about it is.

IU: What were you trying to accomplish by developing your own official Web site?

DL: The Web site really came out of a number of fans. Two in particular have really incredible home pages, but you know, there is always that sense that they are skirting these copyright laws and stuff like that, and so they were sort of unofficial bootleg sites. And as I got more savvy to the Internet, friends of mine would ask me, "Have you seen this home page of yours?" And I was like "no," and I would go in and check it out, and I realized that they were sort of like up against a wall, in terms of getting certain information, or items, or bootleg CDs, or European versions of CDs, and stuff like that. And a couple of people that I knew, who were actors, had done the same thing. They had taken the home page people and sort of invited them in to help create this Web site so that everybody had this one place to go.

IU: How much e-mail have you been getting from your site?

DL: We get a lot of e-mail. We get like, jeez, I would say 300 or 400 pieces a week.

IU: And you actually read through it all?

DL: Yeah. It is hard. Sometimes I get these chunks of time, where I can do all of them. Right now I am like two weeks behind, because my schedule has been so insane.

IU: Are the people who write to you electronically typical fans, or are they different than people who write to you via regular mail?

DL: I don't know. It is hard to say what a typical fan is. Some people obviously just write because they write to every celebrity home page they can get a response from. You know what I mean? Because, I remember when I was a kid, you would sit down with your friends, and write out 20 letters to different athletes. Some of the guys you didn't even like--just to get their pictures signed, so you could say to your friends, "Hey, I've got this one, this one and this one." It was all about quantity, as opposed to quality. And I think the typical fans are just generally interested in what is going on, and sort of are happy to be able to touch base a little bit.

IU: You mentioned before that you are not very computer-savvy. Yet, you do the Lotus commercials. A guy who isn't that computer-savvy to be a spokesman about the Net--does that amaze you at all?

DL: No. It doesn't. Because I think the no-bullshit approach to it is the way to go. You can use it as a tool, for whatever means you need it for. And I am not saying people shouldn't go into chat rooms, but if you have ever been in a chat room on more than a regular basis, you find that some of the stuff that goes on is just insane. People talking for hours about insane things!

IU: One of the best things on your official Web page is the RealAudio clips of you rating your own films. I learned that The Ref is the "greatest film ever made," while Two if By Sea "really fucking sucks." Since you are honest enough to talk about your own films that way, could you do the same thing, and give me an honest appraisal of your Web site?

DL: I think we are still building towards where we want to be. So, I would say we are all right.

IU: Not the greatest Web site ever made?

DL: I don't think so. But we eventually will be the greatest Web site ever made, and then from there we will go on to control the entire planet. That is our goal. We want to go out and blackmail, and take over people's minds. That is our ultimate goal.

IU: How did you hook up with celebsites.com, the guys behind your site?

DL: They approached us, because they were already in business with Jim Carrey, and Jim and I have the same agent. So, they came to us, and said, "Look, what do you guys think about this?" And we said, "We have actually been trying to find a way for somebody to have the time to create a site for us."

IU: I saw that on the main celebsites.com page. How do you feel about being linked to a page where you can win a date with Brad Pitt?

DL: Ah. I don't think that is particularly my cup of tea. But he needs to have a Web page, if anybody needs to have one. I have a Web page. He should have a fucking Web page! There is no doubt about that. He should probably have three or four.

IU: Are you tracking how many people look at the page, and what they are looking at?

DL: No. But I think the guys from Celebsites do gauge that. You know? It always kind of amazes me, when you get behind on the e- mail, how many fucking pieces of e-mail there are. And a lot of those people just say whether they are students, or they work in a job--they say it like they have 10 minutes off and they are fucking around with their computers between things that they are supposed to be doing at work or at school. But some of them you get the sense that they are just roaming around the Internet looking for somebody to talk to. You know?

IU: Has the Internet been a good place to help charities you are involved with?

DL: It has been pretty good. The show itself (Comics Come Home, an annual show broadcast on Comedy Central, each New Year's Eve) does very well. The money we make from the broadcast on New Year's Eve is surprising...but the good thing about the Web site is that people find out about it. Some of them are more interested about the next live show, because they might be fans of me, or Janeane Garofalo or Jon Stewart, or whoever is involved in the show. But the good thing is they find out what the Neely thing is about. (The Cam Neely Cancer Foundation and Cam Neely House is a Boston-based organization that helps victims of cancer and their families, and is named for the Boston Bruins hockey player.) Because if they are attracted by the celebrity names, they don't really care what they give the money to. And once they find out what they are giving the money to, it is a cause, I think, that pretty much affects everybody, on some level.

IU: You also spotlight new comedians with RealAudio clips, at your site?

DL: Yeah. To a lesser extent, that is my sort of feeling less guilty about some of the guys that I think are great but haven't made it yet. I mean, overall, the key thing [about the Web site] is just sort of keeping in contact with people, and disseminating information on what is coming out next, or filmwise. Or, I am taping another one-man show for HBO in the fall, and so, as we go city to city on that tour, I will be able to let people know we are coming well in advance, and run contests, and that sort of thing.

IU: I know you are a big Boston sports nut, and a huge hockey fan. I saw that your favorite Web sites were mostly sports like the ESPN site. What do you use the Web for, aside from your own site?

DL: Yeah. I do a lot of sports updates. And a lot of times this stuff, especially if you are traveling, keeping updated on trades and drafts [is tough]. Like when they do the college draft and stuff for the NFL, baseball, even for hockey, the information is like almost always right there. Plus, a lot of times when you are watching some sport on television, and you get the updates, all you get is the scores. And if you can just jump into the Internet, sometimes you get everything you need to know in terms of particulars before the papers come out the next day. You know? ESPN has got a good one.

IU: Are there things, other than sports, you use the Net for?

DL: I am waiting for, you know, the Kennedy assassination Web site discussing and explaining all the possible theories for the Kennedy assassination. I would hang out there for hours. You know?

IU: You do stand-up comedy, you act, you direct, you write and you have your own film production company. You seem to be trying to get your foot into every aspect of media. Where does the Internet fit into that bigger world of media?

DL: I don't know. I mean, it looks like eventually it is going to sort of overtake all those things. You know what I mean? I mean, realistically speaking, you have got to assume that there is going to be a point in the not-so-distant future, where things like Premiere magazine, Details and Time magazine will all just appear on the Web. You know what I mean? It will still come out weekly, or monthly, or whatever it is. But you just punch them up on the Web and print them out. Otherwise, the difference between how fast you can get the stuff there, and how vast the audience is, compared to the newsstand, is amazing. You know?

I guess it will get better quicker, now. A lot of the movie Web sites are just terrible. They are like press books that they would give to the press when they went to the screening. And there is so much more they can do with it. You know? I think that is going to change now. One of the hardest things as an actor is when you are publicizing a movie, if you decide to publicize it, is then you have to sit in a hotel room and do what they call a junket, which is 60 reporters coming in one after the other, and asking the same questions. It is boring for the reporters, and boring for the actor, and I think eventually the solution for that, when the movie people figure it out, is that you can do it live on the Internet. You know? Where you can answer questions all at once. You are in one place, they are wherever they are. Nobody has to fly. And you can get it all done in one session. That is my dream, anyway.

IU: Do you have a message for people sitting in dark rooms playing with chat, or looking for conspiracy theory sites?

DL: I think people like that--if the Net didn't exist they would be doing the same thing, with whatever other piece of technology they had. You know what I mean? It is impossible to sort of cure them of the curiosity they have for minutiae, and for the things that the rest of us might look at very briefly, and go, "Yeah, OK." They're nuts. You know?

IU: Speaking of using it for what it is good for, so far, one of the most popular uses for the Net has been porn.

DL: Yeah. I have heard that. It is like Celebrity Skin magazine, which has been around now for 10 or 15 years, where they get a shot of Michelle Pfeiffer's left nipple, and they blow it up, and make it seem like a headline. It is just natural. I am just glad there are no shots of me out there.

IU: Seeing as how you have such a nasty cold right now, and knowing your material about cold medicine, I have to ask: Are you on DayQuil right now?

DL: I am on DayQuil right now, and NyQuil last night. I am just dying to do a NyQuil commercial. You know?

IU: On one of your unofficial Web sites, the guy has a banner that says "Sponsored by NyQuil."

DL: Yeah. Right. I remember that site. Yeah. Unfortunately NyQuil is afraid to sort of be involved with any celebrities, or have any kind of endorsement.

IU: Have you approached them?

DL: No. I just heard. Whenever you use NyQuil, or a product name, or stuff like that, you find out whether you have to get clearance, and you also find out what the company's attitude is toward being perceived a certain way. There is no question that NyQuil is perceived by all of us the same way, which is sort of like, legal drugs. And one of the great things--the only good thing about having a cold--is that you get to act like a junkie for the week that you have it, because you are allowed to take whatever you want, and knock yourself out, so that you can sleep your ass off. And during the day, you take legal speed so that you can keep going and have your sinuses dried out. It always amazed me that NyQuil would be sort of against somebody coming out and saying this is the greatest shit in the world! You take one shot, and it knocks you out. I mean, that is the point of the product.

IU: As part of your act, when you take jokes about the Internet to a non-hardcore audience, does it play well?

DL: Yeah. Surprisingly, most of the people I have bumped into, in terms of the Internet, and in terms of the Web site, and even the people from Lotus that we did the spots with, were really OK, in terms of sense of humor on that kind of stuff. So, so far I haven't had the politically correct Internet crowd try to chastise me. I am sure there is one. But most of the people that are involved in that seem to have a good sense of humor about things. I am sure there are some out there who don't.

IU: Has there been feedback as to whether the Lotus commercials are working?

DL: Oh yeah. They love it. They love it. I mean, I was very happy with it. I thought they came out very funny. That is my bottom line. As long as it is funny, I don't mind endorsing the product and being connected to it. You know? But if it is going to be uptight, and not funny, there is no point in it, as far as I am concerned.

IU: Well, I was supposed to get you to rant before I walk out of here. Rather than try to provoke you, I will just ask. Do you have an Internet rant in you?

DL: If I wasn't on cold medicine, I would probably have one. You know what I mean? It is back to being a junkie. I am kind of spaced out right now. So, I get permission to be fucked up.


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