Thursday 1 November 2012

Q & A with Harry Shearer

It's hard to imagine anyone who doesn't have a place in their heart for Harry Shearer. He portrayed heavy metal legend Derek Smalls in the 1984 Rockumentary "This is Spinal Tap" and he was Mark Shubb of The Folksman in the brilliant ("A Mighty Wind" 2003). And, he provides the voices of such much loved characters as Ned Flanders, Waylon Smithers, Otto Man, Rev Lovejoy, Principal Skinner and the excellent Mr Burns in The Simpsons.
(Above: Harry Shearer collage by Harry Pye) You can find out more about him and his many projects by visiting his site: Here is a brief e-mail interview I did with him last week... THE REBEL: "A Mighty Wind: The Album" is a splendid soundtrack to a splendid film. What inspired you to write your charming song "Loco Man"? Harry: "We were all mucking about with the styles popularized by the post-folk folk boom--i.e., the "folk" music that was concocted in the Brill Bldg after the Weavers et al scored some chart hits with versions of real or semi-real folk music. Harry Belafonte's take on calypso music was such a style ("Banana Boat Song", "Matilda", et al), and that's what really inspired "Loco Man". And you're the very first person to describe it as "charming", so thank you." THE REBEL: The album's executive producer (T-Bone Burnett) produced one of my favourite records (King of America by Elvis Costello). What was he like to work with? Did he come up with any interesting suggestions for arrangements or ways of recording? Harry: "The arrangements, AFAIK, were pretty much set by the time we went into the studio. But this question really should be directed to the album's producer, CJ Vanston, who had much more contact with T-Bone than, say, I did." THE REBEL: The way Jane Lynch and Parker Posey take it in turns to sing the lyrics of "Potato's In The Paddy Wagon" never fails to make me laugh. Do you actually have much fun making films like A Mighty Wind or is it mostly just lots of hard work and concentration? (especially if you have to play an instrument and learn lots of words etc) Harry: "The best kind of fun is intermixed with hard work and vice versa. That film, like "Tap", was enormous fun to be part of, and an awful lot of hard work. Improvisation is hard work disguised as fun."
THE REBEL: What Christmas presents would you give to the following people -Seymour Skinner, Mr Burns, Rev Lovejoy, Ned Flanders? Harry: "Skinner--an early retirement. Burns--a Keith Richards-style blood replacement. Lovejoy--a more attentive congregation. Ned--a copy of Christopher Hitchens' "God is Not Great".
THE REBEL: Have you read any books by Jean-Paul Sartre? Do you go along with his famous quote: “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.” Harry: "Haven't read him, but I agree whole-heartedly, except for perhaps the second clause--that seems the result of a bit too much red wine with dinner." THE REBEL: Years ago I remember reading about a British comedian called David Baddiel say in an interview how he once had a one night stand with a comedy groupie who insisted on him repeating all his comedy catchphrases when they were in bed together. He found the experience very depressing. Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Harry: "Not in any way, shape or form. This is but one of a million excellent reasons not to base a career on catchphrases." THE REBEL: I seem to remember reading you've won big awards like Emmys and Grammys - how do you define success? What means the most to you? Harry: "I have never won either an Emmy or a Grammy. I've been nominated twice for Grammies, and once for an Emmy. So success definitely doesn't mean receiving awards. Success means being able to spend your productive time doing the projects you want to do in the way you want to do them. Period. All else is decoration." THE REBEL:Are you glad you have your birthday in December? As a child were you envious of the children whose birthday celebrations took place in the Summer holidays? Harry: "No, and yes. Hate my birthday. Anything anybody can do to help alleviate that, they're more than welcome to do."
(Above image: Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls (on left) of Spinal Tap) THE REBEL: Are you a fan of Ade Edmonson's "Bad News Tour" or were you filled with rage that some British comedians were ripping off Spinal Tap? Harry: "We heard about it at the time, but I never saw nor heard it. So it wasn't rage I was filled with, just determination that we not be accused of ripping them off." THE REBEL: Do you have many ambitions left. Are there any famous film directors or comedy legends you'd like to work with? Harry: "Many. I have a musical comedy, which I co-wrote with my friend Tom Leopold, which takes a distinctly different approach (compared to the recent dour film) to the life of J. Edgar Hoover, and I ache to get that properly, you should pardon the expression, mounted. There are dozens of directors and comedy legends I'd love to work with, but to call them out would embarass them, and piss off the ones I don't mention." THE REBEL: Can good comedy and good Rock and Roll be politicaly correct? Or does a Rock singer or comedian have to be in the wrong in order to be funny/exciting? Harry: "Not "in the wrong", but not kowtowing to the current conventional wisdom is certainly useful, at least in attracting attention, and at most in being socially useful." THE REBEL: Which lesser known bands, singers, comics do you rate? Are there any young kids on the block who've impressed or inspired you lately? Harry: "I don't know if they're lesser known, but I'm a big fan of Armstrong and Miller's sketch comedy shows in Britain. I'm intrigued by Australia's Hungry Kids of Hungary, a band clearly influenced by Brian Wilson.I love Alice Russell."

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