Denis Leary has been the subject of controversy over his years as a well known comedian, but that tends to be how comics get notice: making people angry. If they are not angry, they find you hilarious, and those two extreme reactions can make an unknown stand-up suddenly famous. Leary is something of a personal favorite of mine, since I come from (less intense) Irish Catholic upbringing, and we used to watch his Christmas comedy The Ref ever year. Leary is known for his fast talking sarcasm, his angry ranting, and his heavily smoking, Red Sox-loving, lapsed Catholic personality. Over the years he's made several films and starred in the hit FX show Rescue Me, and Why We Suck was his first attempt at book writing. Amusing, insensitive, and not quite as offensive as he probably intended, the book is a look at the downfalls of American society.
Leary writes exactly how he speaks, which means there are insane run-on sentences that go on for a page and have you laughing from the beginning. This would make an excellent audio book, since half of Leary's charm is in the execution and performance. He talks about his own background, both coming from a poor Irish immigrant family and about his wife and children. Subjects that get rants out of Leary include the differences between men and women, the over-diagnosis of children in America (especially as autistic), and generally how parents pay no attention to their kids today. While he seems to think he will offend a lot of people, and in parts he did, reading carefully in the text will see Leary specifies the people he means to insult in every chapter. For children who are neglected, he does not mean the average hard working parents, but rather the people who have children as accessories and then get annoyed they have to change their lives for the kids. The ones who hire five nannies and still complain about going to a play or not having the time for dinner.
One of the biggest controversies that sprang from this book was from the autistic community, where they got angry due to his chapter about how parents say their kids are autistic rather than admitting they just aren't very smart. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that Leary is referring to parents who want to throw prescription drugs at their children and the misdiagnosis of autism. He talks about the autistic children he does know and therefore believes steadfastly that it is a serious and true condition; he's talking about the fake cases when parents just want an excuse for their children not being the best at everything. Leary directly apologized to the autistic community for their concerns, and they seem to have dropped it.
The best parts of the book are, by far, when he talks about his upbringing with his hard but loving parents, his surprising love of Oprah, and a cute little chapter about dogs and cats. As a cat owner I was slightly offended, but it was still pretty hilarious … and somewhat true. Leary's obsession with Oprah was shocking and very sweet, especially since he intended to snark about her instead and then fell in love with the show. Most of what Leary rants about has been said and heard before, so these highlights are more personal and specific to him. In fact an entire book about his upbringing plus a few random snippets about Oprah might've been overall more entertaining and unique. We get it; men and women are different. Women like to talk and shop, and men like sex and sports. There's nothing new or particularly special there. But conversations with his mother and the seductive quality of watching his wife change outfits three times a night? That is the gold in this book.
Leary is a very intelligent man, and you can see it in his quick analysis of social norms, and while his language can be vulgar it has a very fluid and genuine feel to it. Why We Suck is easy to read and moves fast, and it does feel like more of a spoken dialogue than a written text. The book was entertaining and a nice read, but readers who are overly PC or sensitive will probably not enjoy it. Anyone who is familiar with Leary's sense of humor and general personality will love this transition of his comedy to written form, but anyone who dislikes his stand-up will feel no differently toward the book.