You probably know Harry Shearer from the characters he's disappeared behind: the moustachioed Derek Smalls from mock glam rockers Spinal Tap, and Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Waylon Smithers, et al., from The Simpsons. Shearer's Simpsons voices hit the screen this weekend (see review, page 102), but he was in town this spring to talk about other things, including his very funny DVD Now You See It.
Are you tired of doing the voices and hearing other people's Simpsons impressions?
I don't get tired of doing the guys. It seems to be something people like. Anybody who's got the balls to do a Simpsons voice to me has my grudging if rapidly retreating admiration.
You've criticized some of the shows you've been involved in, including The Simpsons, saying some of the seasons weren't up to par. Has that got you in hot water?
Yes. And no comment.
You were very public about your experiences on Saturday Night Live. And you have one of the best exit lines ever, citing creative differences: "I was creative, they were different." Do you regret saying that?
I regretted going to that show. We did some wonderful work, some of which is on the DVD. And I'm proud of it. But the experience was unnecessarily harsh. Having produced shows myself and directed movies, having been in charge of groups of creative people, I know that you can get very good work out of people without psychologically torturing them.
And that torture came from SNL creator Lorne Michaels?
Yes. I've often said that a really great comedy show for charity could be put together by assembling all the guys from the show's various eras doing wicked Lorne Michaels impressions.
When I saw Blades Of Glory, I thought of that classic SNL male synchronized swimming sketch you did with Martin Short. Homage or rip-off?
People have told me they were reminded of it. But when I saw the billboard I actually thought, "What a good idea. Dammit, I wish I'd done that."
You've been quite outspoken on your radio show, Le Show, which you've broadcast now for more than 20 years. Has your comedy work - particularly your impressions of broadcasters - affected your work on the show?
My outspokenness is in the same vein as my comedy. I don't endorse candidates. I don't lend myself to people's campaigns or write jokes for certain candidates - unlike people like Al Franken, who wrote jokes for Al Gore and Bill Clinton.
Why do you like spoofing broadcast journalists?
I don't like spoofing - I like savaging. A lot of them are perpetrating a fraud that they're informing the public. What happens in TV quite a lot is what happens to politicians. Over time they're surrounded by people - producers, consultants, handlers - who say, "You know what you do that's great? This. You know what you do that isn't great? That. Do more of this and less of that." Over time, they start to become caricatures of themselves. Then all you have to do is be an accurate reporter or observer of that. They're doing their own political cartoon of themselves.
But making fun of the broadcast media has taken on a darker edge, because they've failed so spectacularly on the two major news stories of our time: the run- up to the Iraq War and what really happened in New Orleans. They feel a little abashed about the Iraq thing, but they're still patting themselves on the back about how great they did in New Orleans.
That's when you realize how fraudulent their work can be.
Spinal Tap reunion?
We're getting together to do a Live Earth concert at Wembley Stadium to premiere our new song, called Warmer Than Hell. We're in the early stages of thinking about what we want to do for 2009. The band will be celebrating its 25th anniversary, and we'll be eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
You were the original Eddie Haskell on the pilot for Leave It To Beaver. Ever wonder what your life would have been like had you gotten the role?
I guess I'd be doing whatever he's doing. Become a cop or run a 7 Eleven, whatever the rumours are this week.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On the fact that he and his Spinal Tap co-writers don't "own" their characters:
On playing the "straight guy" in alot of comedy: