Sometimes, no matter how jaded I get, work and pleasure cross over to such a degree, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins. I’m not claiming that filling in for Shaun Keaveny at Breakfast on 6 Music is the hardest job in the world, but it is a job. Yesterday, though, the “job” included talking to Harry Shearer for the best part of an hour and a quarter, interrupted only by records, news and music news. He was ostensibly in to promote his new album Can’t Take A Hint, his latest collection of satirical songs, which you can read about here. But Harry is a generous soul, and is more than happy to tangent off and talk about the other stuff from his long and illustrious career, which goes back to being a child actor in the 50s, and snakes from pioneering radio comedy music group The Credibility Gap through Saturday Night Live (which he hated), Spinal Tap and The Simpsons to the syndicated radio show that is still running after almost 30 years, Le Show (which is really worth seeking out in podcast form via iTunes or other means – you can also stream from Harry’s website).
He’s been a fan and supporter of 6 Music since the very start, and, it transpires, used to listen to my Teatime show in the early days as his breakfast show in LA. (I must admit, I’m glad I didn’t know this at the time. Harry Shearer? Listening to my show? I would have had the vapours.) Anyway, I heard about this long after my show had ended, via Shaun, when Harry came on as a guest. After that bombshell, I was dying to shake his hand, so when he last came into the building – again, to talk to Shaun – I frankly loitered. On that occasion, he was in to promote his documentary about the real causes of the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, The Big Uneasy (Harry lives in New Orleans and has a special connection to the place). This is our first meeting:
Our second meeting was yesterday. Because of the Olympics, all cabs are being booked early, so Harry was delivered to 6 Music about an hour before he was required to speak for his supper. An easygoing fellow, he didn’t seem to mind. But you can’t have Harry Shearer sitting on the wrong side of the glass in the green room while you are live on air. This is not a time to stand on Breakfast ceremony (guests go on-air at approximately 09.10 and must be dispatched before the 09.30 news) – so we had Harry in at 08.45 and he stayed until the end of the show at 10.00, more than happy to keep yakkin’, and to add that all-important third voice to Matt Everitt’s music news bulletin. (Matt is on the left in the big photo above.)
Talking of voices, as an illustrious member of the Simpsons voice cast, Harry must dread hearing the words, “Do Mr Burns.” I was trying to think of a subtle, postmodern, ironic way of getting him to do Mr Burns, but I didn’t have to. He dropped into the voice, without prompting, to wish a listener a happy 41st birthday. I think he did it because I didn’t say, “Do Mr Burns.” Anyway, you can listen again to the entire show, including the Harry Shearer Hour, on iPlayer until next Tuesday. The podcast, which includes the best of Harry, is also available for a week. (Cough. It’s no longer a “podcast”, it’s a “download”, let’s get the Stalinist BBC terminology right.)
Oh, and he did a private Ned Flanders for our producer Claire. It’s a memory she will forever cherish. Harry Shearer: one of the good guys. And more than a one-man Burns unit.