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Sun Jan 12 07:22:30 MST 2003
NY Times, Jan. 12, 2003
Taking Apart Politics (While Playing all the Parts)
By FRED GOODMAN
Man, you still good!" chortles James Carville. He is listening to Bill
Clinton juggle telephone calls from an achingly clueless Al Gore and a
desperate Tom Daschle, admiring the silk-smooth Clinton's effortless
evasions. Help the party? Clinton's gone solo: he's jetting to England to
see his pal Tony Blair and renew an acquaintance with an actress who
auditioned to play Xena. "I have to be out there where the game is played,"
Clinton tells his former political consultant. "Mark of a pro."
Of course, it's not really Carville. Nor is it Clinton, Gore or Daschle.
The voices and the peerless ability to poke and pull at the masks of
public figures, exposing the insatiable egos beneath are all Harry
Shearer, on his radio program, "Le Show." For a cadre of listeners around
the world, Mr. Shearer's cutting wit, broad musical tastes and unfailingly
subversive approach have made "Le Show" a weekly ritual for 20 years.
"He's not only the best political satirist around," said the writer,
publisher and veteran pundit Paul Krassner, who has performed with and
known Mr. Shearer since the mid-80's, "but there hasn't been anyone since
Lenny Bruce producing these little theater pieces and playing all the
parts. I edited Bruce's autobiography, and when anyone asks me who follows
in his footsteps, I say it's Harry."
A writer, director and actor, Mr. Shearer, 59, is most widely known for his
work on the rock spoof "This Is Spinal Tap" and for doing the voices of
about half of the supporting characters on "The Simpsons" (including
Montgomery Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, Lenny and Dr. Hibbert).
His first feature film as a director, "Teddy Bears' Picnic," was released
last year. Listeners to the hourlong "Le Show" are apt to hear Mr. Shearer
portray whoever is in the news. Along with the Clinton crew, he creates
phone conversations between Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. a feature dubbed "41
Calls 43" and diary entries from the vice president's secret, secure
location ("Dick Cheney Confidential").
A news junkie and obsessive media observer, Mr. Shearer has outfitted his
Los Angeles home with enough satellite equipment to pull down station feeds
and off-air conversations, and he takes a special pleasure in mimicking the
likes of Tom Brokaw and Larry King and poking fun at his own network,
National Public Radio. ("Le Show" originates on KCRW-FM, 89.9, in Santa
Monica and is heard on 88 stations, including WNYE-FM, 91.5, in New York.)
Some of the program's most entertaining and revealing moments come when Mr.
Shearer simply shares things he's found on the satellite, like a befuddled
Dan Rather off-air, or Charlie Rose working as a shill at a Coca-Cola
stockholders meeting. The essence of Mr. Shearer's comedy is getting behind
the public facade: he catches people being themselves or suggests what
they're likely to be saying behind closed doors.
Ruth Seymour at KCRW said: "Harry is adventurous and daring, all of the
things that have been in great danger on public radio since the emergence
of radio consultants."
Indeed, at a time when smart comedy on public radio is defined by the
wistful and sentimental Garrison Keillor of "A Prairie Home Companion" or
the cuddly and self-congratulatory musings of Sarah Vowell on "This
American Life," Mr. Shearer is still climbing out on a limb. When America
mobilized for the invasion of Afghanistan, Mr. Shearer unleashed a
ferocious "41 Calls 43" sketch in which his George W. declared himself
stoked. "I haven't felt this focused," he told his father, "since the
fourth time I quit drinking."
"I never understood tying your sense of humor behind your back," said Mr.
Shearer, who picks on whoever is in power. "If you're in this business,
it's your job to make fun of the guy who's got the biggest collection of
guns. That's the job. I don't care what his approval rating is and he
doesn't care what mine is, so we're even."
Mark of a pro.
Shearer's shows are archived at: http://www.harryshearer.com
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