AirTalk for August 21, 2012

Harry Shearer can’t take a hint

US actor and comedian Harry Shearer prep

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Actor and comedian Harry Shearer

Larry Mantle and Harry Shearer converse on AirTalk on Aug. 21, 2012

Michelle Lanz/KPCC

Larry Mantle and Harry Shearer converse on AirTalk on Aug. 21, 2012.


Harry Shearer, who made a name for himself in “Spinal Tap” and “The Simpsons,” is lending his many talents to a new album.

“Can’t Take a Hint” is a collection of Shearer’s musical comedy sketches, the likes of which appear on his podcast “Le Show.” Whereas his past albums, both of where were nominated for Grammys, had a singular theme, Shearer chose to cover a broader swath of topics on his latest effort.

For instance, Shearer tackles Sarah Palin, the war in Iraq, Joe the Plumber, Rupert Murdoch and more through his humorous recordings. And Shearer doesn’t hog the spotlight here; he calls upon Jane Lynch, Fountains of Wayne, Jamie Cullum and his wife, Judith Owen, to help round out the vocals and music.

Interview Highlights:


On why he's been focusing on his music career:
"About 3 years ago about this time of year I realized, oh my God, everything I've done that year up til then had been in music and I've never been happier. Even though I love doing all this other stuff, I drift back to it because musicians are the greatest people to hang with for one thing, and there's always so much to learn about record making and about music making, so its really satisfying."

On why he prefers musicians to actors:
"I end up spending a lot of my time with actors, who are wonderful people, but the ego of actors and the egos of musicians tend to be differently shaped. There are a lot of actors whose attitude is summed up by, and I'm cleaning it up as I formulate it, as the show business version of an actors reading a script, "BS, BS, my line, BS BS" There are a lot of actors that I am lucky enough to work with like in the Christopher Guest improvisational movies who are trained and love listening to each other, that's a ball to be with. But musicians just by nature have to listen to each other and so there's just more of that give and take."

On whether today's political climate is ripe for satire:
"Certainly the raw material is great. People like Todd Akin keep popping up, Joe the Plumber, as you said. The gold of Joe The Plumber, who ran for Congress this year, is that his name is not Joe and he's not a plumber, aside from that everything's good. With stuff like that and on both sides of the aisle. The stuff you were talking about earlier, as voter being frustration with the system, can be translated into ridicule pretty easily now when you have the liberal guy, the largest contributor to his campaign in 2008 was Goldman Sachs, so that's the left. So in many ways it's a world that was foretold by the great satirist Mort Saul a number of years ago . I used to cavil at his depiction of liberals and i thought it was off base. It may not have been true then it sure seems true now."

On his London-based TV show, Nixon's The One:
"I don't think this has been done before, but my writing partner Stanley Cutler, who is an expert on the Nixon tapes, and I take some of the scenes from Nixon's tapes verbatim that are not about Watergate, not about Vietnam, not about politics, but just the crazy conversations that went on in that White House. We perform them as if Nixon had hidden not just microphones in the White House, but cameras, so they're all from weird hidden positions, and we do them absolutely verbatim, listening to the rhythms and the intonations. Thats why I have to do it in England because it sounds crazy here. I figured out why it may appeal to Brits more than it appeals to Americans. Because Brits grow up listening about their country's history through basically this gallery of insane characters that had crowns on their heads, so Nixon fits into that gallery, he's just another one of those ... Americans, we learn our history and learn about our presidents almost as Hagiography, as lives of the saints. It's very different.

On what makes "The Simpsons" such a success:
"I will say to me the great secret of 'The Simpsons' success, unrecognized by most observers, probably unknown by most observers, is that as a condition of doing the show, James L Brooks, who was a very successful movie director when Fox approached to be part of the making of the show, his condition was that there would be no network creative interference. So 'The Simpsons' is unique among American entertainment television shows in that regard. Given that as this is a society that loves to say that it emulates success you'd think that somebody along the 24 years would have said, 'hey let's try that at our network.' So far no."

Weigh In:


What spurred Shearer to record another album? What is his creative process? Was it harder to go beyond a singular topic for this record? What other projects are on the horizon for the talented actor, voice actor and musician?

Guest:

Harry Shearer, actor, comedian, writer, voice artist, musician, author and radio host well known for his work on TV (The Simpsons), film (This is Spinal Tap, A Might Wind) and radio (Le Show) whose new new musical album is “Can’t Take a Hint”


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