Harry’s back in town!
Not for long. But you can dive into his endlessly fascinating creative world for a couple of hours this Friday evening, 7 – 9 p.m., at Santa Monica College, in the HSS building, Room 165.
Harry Shearer hears voices in his head. But unlike the grungy guy you scoot away from on the bus bench, Shearer doesn’t just mutter incoherent replies to all those tortured inner characters, he voices them with great thespian skill, and for that, has more respect and a much higher income than grungy guy.
You may not know his name but there’s no question you’ve heard his voice. He does 11 characters on “The Simpsons,” including Mr. Burns, Smithers and neighborly Ned Flanders. He was the voice of Carl Sagan in “My Stepmother is an Alien” and of a fleet captain on “Star Wars IV.” He was also in “Godzilla” (1998).
In 1968 he was part of a satirical news team named The Credibility Gap, vamping on KRLA-AM and recording three very hard-to-find albums (I’ve got one). But he could go serious journalist too, and covered the Watts Riots for Newsweek.
When you listen to his current events radio broadcast “Le Show” (Sundays 10 – 11 a.m. on KCSN-FM, 88.5 – my favorite station, by far), almost all the voices in all the bits and skits are him. He originated the show right here at Santa Monica College’s KCRW in 1983, and broadcast worldwide from there for 30 years – until new management unceremoniously dumped him without even the opportunity to do a last show and say goodbye. He landed at innovative KCSN three months later.
A 21st century Renaissance man, all his credits are too much for one column. He wrote book and lyrics for a musical about J. Edgar Hoover, wrote-produced-directed-acted in numerous films (including “The Fisher King,” “The Truman Show,” and “The Right Stuff”). He broke into show biz at age 7 (“The Jack Benny Show,” playing Jack as a child) and three years later was in “The Robe.” He was on TV’s “Death Valley Days” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” and “Laverne & Shirley,” “Miami Vice,” “L.A. Law,” “Murphy Brown,” “ER,” “Friends,” and played George W. Bush on “The Golden Girls.” At 13 he played the part that became the Eddie Haskell character on the pilot for “Leave It To Beaver,” but his parents didn’t want him tied down to the commitment of a weekly show. (He would’ve made a great Eddie Haskell.)
He was on the newspaper staff of UCLA’s Daily Bruin, is an exhibited artist (MOCA, Connecticut, Spain), taught high school, wrote three books, has an honorary doctorate, is a record producer and runs his own label, and served two stints on air with SNL (brought on when Belushi and Aykroyd left). He has an Emmy and a fistful of Emmy and Grammy nominations, and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
He’s been in the zany Christopher Guest movies “A Mighty Wind,” “For Your Consideration” and “Waiting for Guffman” (composer), but we music nuts know and love him best for that other movie he made with bandmates Guest and Michael McKean – “This is Spinal Tap.” Who can ever forget bassist Derek Smalls, and all he did for garden vegetables and Stonehenge?
With some people it was an instant hit: music insiders. They got it right off, floored by the absurd accuracy. Literally floored. I will never forget seeing it at a pre-release screening for a mostly music industry crowd, and we were howling from the opening, with one guy literally falling onto the floor. I never saw that kind of a reaction from any other audience seeing that movie.
Shearer still has his homes in Ocean Park (and one in London) but spends most of his time now in New Orleans. He has been a crusader for placing blame on the US Army Corps of Engineers for their faulty job building and repairing the levees in New Orleans, which resulted in the disaster of Katrina that many think was avoidable, and wrote and directed the award-winning film called “The Big Uneasy.”
Shearer took a few minutes out of his insane schedule to give a call to a neighbor, about Friday’s appearance.
CWA: Harry, what is this thing you’re doing Friday at Santa Monica College? It seems vague. I mean, you’re so many artists – actor, musician, producer, comedian, author, authority on dikes… Who will show up Friday?
HS: Authority on flood control, I prefer to phrase it. I bring ’em all. Depending on what I’m asked, a different one will jump out. I’m studying up on my life and career, just to make sure I don’t make a mistake. I studied up on Trump’s news conference today, so I may use some of those answers. I’m prepared to answer any question with the phrase, “Ted Cruz is unstable.”
CWA: So along those lines, who do you like, Hillary or Fiorina?
HS: You know, it didn’t escape my attention about the whole thing with voting your gender. But I think Hillary’s position now is, you have to support a woman… as long as it’s me.
CWA: Harry, you reside mostly in New Orleans now – can we still call you a local boy?
HS: I suppose. I grew up and spent so many years living in Southern California, I think I still can be considered a local. I have a local’s memory for stuff that ain’t dere no mo’, as they say in New Orleans.
(He said he still plays the bass, more upright lately, every day, and was in fact noodling as we spoke. He dismissed the chance of a Spinal Tap reunion, but said he will be in the studio in L.A. working on a recording that he declined to describe.)
CWA: You’ve been connected to Santa Monica for so long – any parting advice for us locals?
HS: Well, yeah, next time there’s a rapid transit line built to Santa Monica, my advice is that it should go all the way to the beach, the way the old one did, and not stop at a shopping center. You know, the next time you’re going to spend a billion dollars or two. When it opens, I can’t wait for the howls of delight from people when they realize how far they are from the beach.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It’s such a fine line between stupid, and, uh… clever.” – David St. Hubbins
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com