Denis Leary on Ben Rapelisberger and Rescue Me

Ranting standup comedian Denis Leary has found success on the long-running firefighter show Rescue Me. With the final two seasons in the can and season six set to air in June, Leary is going back standup for charity gig. For the second year in a row, Leary will host an 11-city comedy tour with Rescue Me costars Lenny Clarke and Adam Ferrara. Starting May 22 in Atlantic City, a portion of proceeds go to the Leary Firefighters Foundation. It also gives Leary a chance to rail on some of the recent news stories.

“One of the things, obviously, we’ll be talking about is the Catholic Church and Ben Roethlisberger,” Leary said in a conference call with the media. “Just the idea of talking about Ben Roethlisberger, athletes who are criminally involved in illegal pursuits, that alone could probably give me ten minutes of material.  I think we can safely say whatever night you come, you’re going to be entertained.”

He likes to redub the Steelers’ quarterback Ben Rapelisberger. You can get a preview of some of his material if you follow Leary’s Twitter account. “Most of the things I’ve mentioned on Twitter are things that are already occurring in my head. That’s the stuff that’s leaking out of my brain on a daily basis right now.  I think it’s safe to say those are some of the subjects that will be covered live.”

Fans may be surprised to hear that Leary’s rapid fire delivery of controversial thoughts isn’t a rehearsed act. “I get out there and I have a piece of paper in my pocket or in my hand before I jump on stage.  Generally speaking, it has about five ideas on it.  Those ideas feed into my brain and I kind of perform on my feet.  I find it as I go. Last year, I used very large plasma screens in the hall and on either side of the stage where I could display pictures and newspaper articles that sparked ideas for me.  I’ll probably do the same thing this year.”

In some of the cities, special guests will join the trio of Leary, Clarke and Ferrara. “Kenny [Rogerson]’s going to be with us for about five or six of the dates.  A guy named Tony V who is a very funny comedian out of Boston is going to be on a few of the dates.  I’m hoping, I don’t think it’s confirmed yet, but we’re hoping that we’re going to get Whitney Cummings, who I think is just about to break into a huge comedy star.  She was just at the Comics Come Home Benefit this year in Boston.  She’s just terrific.  So, I’m hoping to get her for a few dates as well. You never know.  I mean, we sometimes get special guest stars if we’re in certain places at certain times, like in New York or Los Angeles.  You might have a friend who calls up and says, ‘I want to come by and do something.’  So, I’m keeping that option open, too.” 

The diverse batch of comedians ensures that there’s something for everyone, and maybe something to offend everyone too. “The bulk of our approach is always kind of whatever the hell’s on your mind, especially with myself and Lenny, who tend to be sort of rude.  Not only whatever what is on our mind at any given moment, but both of us do a lot of very topical political stuff.  I speak for myself, and probably the other comics, there’s no subject that’s verboten on this tour.  I think everybody will find something that will either upset them a little bit or make them laugh at something they didn’t expect they were going to laugh at.”

This summer, season six of Rescue Me airs on FX. Leary has already completed the final seventh season. Coming up for next year is a return to television for Maura Tierney, who had to undergo cancer treatment in the last year. “Her arc will be in Season 7. So her episodes are a year away, but she’s really great.  I can’t say enough about her.  We love her.  She worked on a movie with Peter [Tolan] called Finding Amanda that Peter directed. I’d heard for years about how great she was.  She is all that.  She was great.  She came in at the tail end of her treatment.”

The storyline for Tierney’s character, Kelly McPhee, involves a subject close to home for the actor. “ The story line for her character follows a cancer story arc that she was willing play.  We’re doing a show about firefighters, but for person that’s not playing a firefighter, it’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen somebody do.  Because of her experience with it and because of her talent as an actress, it’s not only heavy, it’s a very heavy story line, it’s also in the tradition of Rescue Me, incredibly funny. She was willing to play this very dark, dramatic arc that has real, real humor in it that could only come from somebody who had the experience of going through treatments for cancer.  I just can’t say enough about the performance that she gives in the show.  I wish it was actually coming on this summer because we’re so excited about what she did.  It’s really great.”

By the time the show wraps up, it will have to come full circle. The show opened with firefighters dealing with post traumatic stress after 9/11, and the timing of the final season brings the tragic event up again. “Well, we have to deal with the fact that it’s ten years when the show airs.  It’ll be almost ten years to the day after 9/11.  That has been really the reason why people watch the show, I think at the beginning and throughout, has been knowing that these guys are troubled by what happened on that day.  Also the fact that they’re watching the inner workings of a firehouse, what really goes on, what its heroes can be. So I think the interesting thing for us is that we’re going to end up leaving the air right before the tenth anniversary of that event.  That reflects really heavily on the characters and what their futures might be, individually and collectively.  So, I think it’s going to be really interesting.”

Tickets to the Rescue Me Comedy Tour are available on



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