We’ll cut to the chase: what happened when you went to lunch with Liz Hurley recently?
Well, that depends on how much you know.
We gather you almost twatted the waiter.
That’s true, yeah. Okay, what happened was the waiter allowed friends of his to take photographs of the two of us while we ate. I eat like an animal and I’d rather people weren’t taking photos when I have half a steak hanging out of my mouth. I took exception to this and we had words. Fortunately, Liz was a little more democratic than me and she calmed the situation. I can get a little hot-headed. I almost hit a cab driver the other day for holding me up at the lights, but I had to get a grip. I’ve decided I’m only going to get angry if people pay me to. I’m too close to offending the wrong person and getting sued.
Speaking of which, you laid into Mel Gibson for his anti-Semitic remarks on live TV. Any word from his lawyers?
No. I think Mel is a talented actor and director but what he said was seriously misjudged. Just look at the mug shot from when he was arrested, and compare that to Nick Nolte when he was busted. Nick looked like a guy who wouldn’t fucking remember being arrested. He looked hammered. Mel on the other hand looked like he could easily sink some more drinks and looked as if he knew exactly what he was doing. I’d be more inclined to forgive Nolte, if you know what I mean.
When’s the worst time your name has been spelt wrong?
Obviously I get two “n”s put in Denis all the time but the worst was when my dad wrote me a letter to take to school saying, “Please excuse Denis from classes early today…” The “D” of Denis looked like a “P”. I was crucified. I’d have girlfriends asking me, “Why do your friends call you Penis Head?” Come to think of it, to this day my friends call me Penis Head.
Okay, Penis Head, in your show Rescue Me you play a fireman. Surely that’s just sitting around eating lasagne all day?
No chance. Once you realise what the real job entails a line is drawn in the sand and those that can do it stand on one side and those that can’t stand on the other. I know which side I’d be on. I could get through the training but when you go to your first job it becomes a reality and a lot of guys can’t do it. It’s the ultimate display of teamwork. You have your team mates’ lives in your hands, and if you jeopardise that, they’ll let you know about it. They have balls of steel these guys.
Our firemen love going on strike.
Well, I’ve spent a lot of time in US major city, urban fire stations and they are either very busy or desperate to be busy. I have nothing but admiration for them. And those guys get a lot of pussy, too. I thought comedians got a lot of action but I’ve seen extremely unattractive firemen walk off with outrageously hot girls.
You keep getting visited by your dead brother in the show. What’s that all about?
I am a huge cynic when it comes to religion or the supernatural, but my cousin, a fireman, died in 1999 in a warehouse fire and I often think I’ve seen him in the street or in a shop. I see people that look like him all the time. I lost friends in 9/11 as did some other guys who work on the show and much of what we do in Rescue Me comes from actual experiences of losing people close to us. That’s the reality and more often than not portraying reality works better in drama, and sometimes comedy, than just making stuff up.
You wanted to be a professional ice hockey player. Did you knock seven bells out of the opposition?
Yeah, I was out of control. I played with the same guys since I was a kid, so whenever I got in trouble I’d have a group of friends on the team who’d have my back and would come in and help out. Unfortunately, that feeling of security stayed with me so I’d find myself in bar fights, turn around and none of the guys would be there to back me up. That was dangerous so I had to curb my temperament.
What’s the key to winning a hockey brawl?
There’s an art to it. It’s nothing to do with who has the hardest punch, it’s all about who has the best balance. And you’ve got to get the gloves off real quick. Hockey fights are great because they’re like Queensbury Rules boxing. Despite how it looks, it’s gentrified – throw a punch by all means but never, ever pull hair, kick or bite. That’s fucking unforgivable.
Ever play football?
The only football.
I played with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel a few times. I was truly crap but I had one advantage – I could run. Those boys didn’t seem to have much of an engine. I’ve seen a few games too. Frank took me to see West Bromwich against QPR and Celtic versus Rangers. The Glasgow match was intense and there was some trouble between the fans. I have to admit it gave me a buzz to be among that tension. I understand that Rangers and Celtic is about religion more than tribal hatred, but I have no use for religion so I just sat back and absorbed this fierce-as-hell rivalry.
Is it really all Guinness and parades for an Irishman in the States?
It can be but strangely, on St Patrick’s Day, the Irish contingent don’t get as smashed as everyone else. In New York you have Puerto Ricans with their heads painted green, drinking green Guinness until they pass out, and everyone else doing the same, except the Irish. All those that can drink don’t; all those that can’t get shit-faced.
Your son was born in England. Are you bringing him up so he has bad teeth and is shit in bed?
No, but he’s very proud of his English roots and has a rabid obsession for the music. I owe England a lot. I was visiting the UK with my wife for a weekend and her waters broke – so I ended up staying a lot longer than I had planned. I then met Frank and Dave, they introduced me to the producers of the Edinburgh Festival, I got onto that and my career took off.
Send us some royalties…
You lived with Skinner for a while, didn’t you? How was it?
I’m a filthy slob but even my standards are dwarfed by how bad Frank is. We shared a place and he used the kitchen as one giant waste bin. No kidding, he just threw any old garbage in there. He’d open the door and just toss it in. He’d bring girls back and just warn them not to go in the kitchen. It was like some science experiment.
You like a smoke more than the next man. We’ve got a New York-style smoking ban heading our way, so how have you coped with it?
You know how people in the criminal world sometimes commit crimes in broad daylight because people assume it can’t be law-breaking because of how blatant it is? I use that system. I walk into a place and just light up. Recently I lit up in the presence of former Mayor Bloomberg who introduced the ban in New York. His entourage came rushing over to tell me to extinguish it, but I like to smoke too much so I invited him over to have his photo taken with me. Just keep fucking smoking, man.
Lastly, we hear Dean Martin was a big fan of yours. You met him, didn’t you?
Dean Martin called me a “pussy”. It was fan-fucking-tastic. He liked my stand-up and I got a call from his people saying he wanted to meet. I went round to his house and had some drinks but I wanted to remember the moment so I was nursing a beer while he was knocking back whiskies. Hours in, he offered me one and I declined. “You’re a pussy!” he said. Brilliant! I was so proud. As soon as I left his place I rang my friends and said: “At 9.30pm, this evening, Dean Martin called me a pussy.” It remains one of the greatest moments of my life.
Original interview by Tom Cullen in the April 2007 issue of FHM UK magazine