ATLANTIC CITY - Denis Leary has always been crude, lewd, obnoxious, opinionated and vulgar. Most of the time, he was also very funny. He exhibited all of those traits Saturday night for the kickoff of his "Rescue Me Comedy Tour" at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa … minus the funny.
You would think Leary's return to the stage as a stand-up comic after a 12-year absence would be chock-full of new material he has been dying to get out of his system. Instead, Leary basically had no new material. He didn't have any old material, either. Instead, he ranted next to video screens for 40 minutes about current events and celebrities as if he were auditioning to be the next host of an uncensored version of "SNL's" Weekend Update.
To say Leary's return to his stand-up roots was a disappointment would be an understatement. It was a disaster. As soon as the curtain opened to reveal a seven-piece band, the audience should have known it was in trouble as Leary joined "The Enablers" for a new song called "At The Rehab," which ridiculed train wrecks such as Amy Winehouse and Lindsay Lohan with juvenile lyrics that couldn't have taken Leary - or one of his writers - more than five minutes to pen.
He followed that masterpiece with "F--- You," another mind-numbing waste of time that was neither funny nor clever in any way.
When the star of films that include gems such as "The Ref" and stinkers such as "Demolition Man" finally got into his stand-up routine, it was like watching a Denis Leary slideshow gone bad as he talked about people including Bernie Madoff, Salma Hayek and "Octomom."
"If (Madoff) was Italian, he would be sleeping with the fishes," Leary cracked.
Leary has never been afraid to speak his mind, but he may have never been so cruel about it as when he brought up the skiing accident that killed actress Natasha Richardson this past week in Canada.
"Lord, before you pass the helmet laws in Montreal," Leary fake prayed. "Here's a couple of actresses I would like to go skiing. Can't Sharon Stone go skiing?"
The audience moaned. Way too early for a joke like that.
Leary also proved he isn't above being racist, doing an overlong, stereotypical impression of Chinese people that was more embarrassing than humorous.
When Leary finally got done with his slideshow, he finally showed some of his brilliance with a story about how he is mistaken for actor Willem Dafoe and how he used it to his advantage in a hot tub, where he found himself naked with two female strangers.
Leary must have known his material was weak because he actually opened the show, which is odd for a headliner.
Fortunately, all three of the comics who followed came with prepared material that was better than Leary's.
Tony V, who Leary said played a carpenter on the series that returns to FX in April, was a nice transition from Leary with his laid-back, self-deprecating routine.
"(A few months ago), I said I have to get back in shape," the portly comic joked. "Then I realized I've never been in shape. This is going to have to be my shape."
Lenny Clarke, who plays Teddy Gavin on "Rescue Me" and was one of the most famous comics in Boston in the 1980s, showed he still has the chops to be a headliner. With his thick Boston accent and boisterous personality, he's like the Irish uncle who is always the star of every family function.
Clarke was by far the highlight of the evening as he told stories at a breakneck pace about his marriage and claiming bankruptcy.
"If you don't pay your credit card, they call you up and yell at you," Clarke said. "I'm married. I can take that. If you don't pay your taxes, you go to jail. … Did you know that you can pay your taxes with your credit card?"
Adam Ferrara, who plays Chief "Needles" Nelson on "Rescue Me" and recently starred in "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," was disappointing. Pacing the stage like Richard Lewis without the neurosis, Ferrara had some good moments, but the laughs were few and far between.
The night ended with Leary rejoining the band for a good version of his popular song, "A-hole," which seemed to please the crowd that endured two hours of mediocre comedy.
When Leary was younger, he was accused of plagiarizing routines from the late Bill Hicks. If Saturday night's return to stand-up proves anything, it's that he should go looking for some new jokes to steal.