Shearer Makes It Clearer
The Spinal Tap bassist slaps us around
Teddy Bears’ Picnic European premiere Kino Oko on June 22 also showing on June 23 and 24. When someone says that a certain person (or personality) is “multi-talented,” it usually means that the person/personality in question is directionless, possessing more enthusiasm than ability. Harry Shearer is an exception. He’s an actor, director, producer, old-time-type radio artist, writer and voice-over artist. And he’s not bad at any of them. Well known as what’s-his-name who played Derek Smalls, bass player in the finest metal band on the planet named after a surgical procedure (Spinal Tap), Shearer went on to work for “Saturday Night Live.” Later, Shearer achieved his highest invisibility as the voices of C. Montgomery Burns, Mr. Smithers, Flanders and a host of others, walk-ons and semi-regulars, on the hit animated comedy, “The Simpsons.” Shearer emailed this interview to the Pill prior to flying to Prague, to plug the European premiere of his new independent flick, “Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” Pill: On Hollywood.com, you’re described as “a compact, wire-haired performer.” Do you ever feel compact or wire-haired? Shearer: Compact... I guess I have to plead guilty to that, although statistics tell me I’m the height of the average American male. But, when I go to the gym to play basketball, I definitely feel compact. Wire-haired? Nope, not even my dog. I’ll admit to wavy, but that’s about all. Pill: Have you ever gotten a real spinal tap? Shearer: Not exactly. I got a procedure back there that was close, but not nearly as painful. Details in my autobiography, whenever I write that. Pill: UCLA and Harvard? (Yeah, we read your bio...). You studied political science. So what’s your opinion on the European Union, which uses The Simpsons as mascots? Will they invade Belarus? Shearer: Only if that’s where Saddam is hiding out (one tip from an Israeli intelligence website). I like the European Union better than the unions I belong to. Pill: They have some guy here on Czech TV dubbing your characters from The Simpsons. He’s not that good. What tips do you have for him? Shearer: Give up. Run the show with subtitles. Pill: Years later, how lame is the phrase “Don’t have a cow, man”? Shearer: I suppose it was precocious, coming out of the mouth of an eight-year old, at the beginning. But, to be fair, Bart hasn’t used that phrase in years. We’re on to new and better catchphrases. Pill: “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” has its European premiere in Prague. What’s what? Shearer: It’s a dark little comedy about a group of the richest, most powerful white men in America who, every year for more than a century, have gone on retreat in the redwood country of northern California. What they do there, it turns out, is regress to their sophomore year in college, except on a much bigger budget. It’s top secret, and the story of the movie is how they react when that secrecy is suddenly threatened. It’s all based on a real place. Every sitting Republican President since Coolidge has actually been part of this. It’s got a great ensemble cast; I made the picture on a shoestring, shot it digitally, and I think it looks pretty damn good. Oh, and the title is a sly reference to an old children’s song, the first line of which is, “If you go out in the woods today, you’d better go in disguise.” Pill: What’s the most essential thing to have with you on a picnic? Shearer: Ants. Pill: How many teddy bears were harmed in the making of the movie? Shearer: Thousands. It was unavoidable. Like the chick in Baghdad, they were in the way. Pill: You have a lot of experience in radio. How important today is radio as a medium? What do you find interesting about it? Shearer: Radio in America has largely been killed, thanks to the loosening of ownership rules that allows one company to control literally thousands of stations. Public radio is pretty sad as well. I listen to BBC world in the car, and BBC Radio 4 at home, and they’re far superior to the swill we get. I love the medium for its ability to paint pictures with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of cost—no crew of hundreds, no days of waiting, just some recording equipment and a supple voice. Pill: Your wife, Judith Owen, is playing at Železná Jazz Club. How high the moon? Shearer: She’s a phenomenal singer and songwriter who just wowed them at Piano Night at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Her songs are melodic (there’s a new concept), her lyrics are witty and emotional, and she’s funny and fiery onstage. Also, she looks like a million Euros. Pill: Is Charlie Parker dead? Would he ever blow with Derek Smalls? Shearer: Charlie Parker is dead. Also Elvis. Derek doesn’t blow. He smokes. Pill: Fill in the blanks: America is ______, but Europe is ______. Shearer: America is arrogant, but Europe is haughty.