Jerry Gallegos and Brian Porizek photo
When he played the role of skivvies-stuffing bassist Derek Smalls more than 25 years ago in the cult flick This Is Spinal Tap, Harry Shearer first earned his place in pop-culture history by helping spawn the mock documentary. Today, the genre is alive and, well, everywhere. But so is Shearer. Of course, he's the voice behind no fewer than 15 recurring characters on The Simpsons. He's also an author, a blogger, a playwright, a musician and the host of a weekly syndicated radio broadcast, Le Show. Shearer visits town on Nov. 22 for a special appearance and screening of Spinal Tap at the Byrd Theatre, an event to raise money for Richmond's WRIR 97.3 FM. In the meantime, he offered a little repartee by e-mail.
Learn more about WRIR's evening with Harry Shearer at wrir.org .
Q: As a satirist, you've been known to throw a little pepper at the mainstream media. What can I do to stay off your hit list?
A: Your job. Cover the news, don't take surveys to find out what readers want. If they knew what they wanted, they wouldn't need a newspaper. It's not elitist to say that — it's true. The news is what we don't yet know, so how can we know what we don't yet know? Frankly, being a New Orleans Hornets fan, if the local newspaper surveyed me, I'd say I'd want the sports section to report that the team won every night.
Q: While we're at it, what's your least favorite cliché question in an interview like this?
A: "What's your favorite Simpsons character to do?"
Q: Your Simpsons characters include Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Jasper, Principal Skinner, Otto Mann, the Rev. Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert and Scratchy. Which one embodies the true essence of Harry Shearer?
A: None of them. I don't think I have a true essence. I have a lovely cologne and some fine eau de toilette, however.
Q: You have this multidirectional career — comic actor, voice actor, author, satirist, radio-show host, director, musician and playwright. Do you ever think about paring down the job description? Or perhaps even expanding it?
A: Actually, the description is bigger — blogger, video artist, blah, blah, blah. I just look for places to do what I want to do, where I get minimal supervision from the "grown-ups."
Q: With your work in This is Spinal Tap, the credit for spawning the "mockumentary" genre is partially yours. Given its proliferation in film and TV, do you ever wish you could put the genie back in the bottle?
A: Look, everything, good or bad, gets over-copied and overdone. Same with this. I think mock-doc has become the TV cliché of the day for producers looking for a way to freshen up the sitcom. Should they be sending me and my colleagues on Tap a royalty check? Only if their shows succeed.
Q: OK, I'm wondering if you can help us with a little back story here. Is it possible that Derek Smalls ever set foot in Richmond during Spinal Tap's heyday? If so, what was his night in the River City like?
A: Derek has no recollection of ever being in Richmond. Of course, that's true of most cities he's been in.
Q: In an interview earlier this year, you talked about how un-fun it was to write your 2006 comic novel Not Enough Indians. Have you forgotten the experience enough to consider writing another novel? If so, what direction will it take?
A: Well, writing large pieces like that isn't supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be hard, grueling, unpleasant work, with months or years spent in frustrating solitude followed by two weeks on the book-promotion circuit. But, yes, I'm turning a couple of ideas around in my head. Just having finished my third solo music CD in three years, I'm thinking about going back to more prose writing for a while. Just at the time the publishing industry is preparing to crater. Timing is everything.
Q: Who in government or public life is currently earning their way into your Le Show material?
A: I'm working on my Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper characterizations, but right now, it's still Larry King at the top of the list. Just for sheer pith. The ET/Extra-type shows always make me laugh. The Clintons, of course. I'm working on my Glenn Beck and still having a great time with Rush [Limbaugh]. My wife turned me on to Project Runway, which I've used as a template for a few pieces already. The latest: an alternative way for the president to select his new war policy, "Project Afghanway."
Q: You're using your celebrity and the cult following of This Is Spinal Tap to help a small independent radio station generate some financial support. What is it about radio that made you willing to help WRIR?
A: I'm doing that? Damn, always the last to know. Seriously, I have always loved radio, generally despite what the corporate owners of most stations do to trash it, so I'm always up for helping people who want to do something adventurous with the medium. It's still the most personal of the mass media, and the most intimate.