Harry Shearer, Comedic Actor

On January 20, 2008, by AMI Staff

You know Harry Shearer. You may not know you know Harry, but you know him. An actor, author, director, satirist, musician, radio host, playwright, multi-media artist and record label owner – his talents are in the heads of millions worldwide thanks to his voice work for The Simpsons where he plays characters Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Rev. Lovejoy and Scratchy.

A child of Hollywood, Shearer made guest appearances on a variety of A-list television series while still in his teens on such shows as The Jack Beeny Program, General Electric Theatre, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In the early 1980s, he and friends Michael McKean and Christopher Guest, along with director Rob Reiner, developed the idea for a fake documentary about an aging heavy metal band. The resulting movie, “This Is Spinal Tap,” in which Harry played mustache hero Derek Smalls, became the granddaddy of the mockumentary genre and gave the world new insight into spontaneously-combusting drummers.

More recently, in July, 2007, Shearer plunged into the on-line video universe when the Harry Shearer Channel became a cornerstone of My Damn Channel, an entertainment studio and new media platform specifically created to empower artists to co-produce, distribute and monetize original, episodic video content. Each week a new political or pop culture satire written by and featuring Shearer is unveiled.

He was kind enough to endure a few minutes speaking to the American Mustache Institute for it’s Monthly Mustache Interview.

Q: Why on earth did you start acting at age seven? Were your parents trying to torment you?
A: Quite the opposite. It wasn’t their idea, it was the idea of my ex-piano teacher-turned-children’s agent. But it was the fulfillment of my fondest desire as a kid, to hang out with the grownups. I got to hang out with, at the time, the coolest grownups imaginable, the cast and crew of “The Jack Benny Program,” while still staying in public school.

Q: What do you think the return of the mustache would mean for American culture?
A: It would mean Geraldo Rivera might not feel so terribly alone.

Harry Shearer Playing Derek Smalls

Shearer as Smalls

Q: Two of your memorable film roles involved strategic facial hair (Derek Smalls and Mark Shubb). Did you take the method actor approach and actually become a mustached / bearded-American? If so, how did your life change when you had facial hair?
A: I grew the facial hair for Mark, and I believe I did the same for Derek (I know I grew it for D when we went on tour in ’92). Frankly, the facial hair for Derek scares some people. I got some “here comes the perp looks” when I walked into a store. But far more disruptive to my normal life was the shaved head and facial hair for Mark. That was two and a half months of, “Since when you did become Amish?”

Q: Do you think you might go by “Harry” rather than “Harold” as a subliminal wish that you wore the Derek Smalls mustache your entire life?
A: Harry is my given name.

Q. Who was your mustache hero that you used as a role model when you first grew a mustache?
A: I think the first mustache I wore was in a short film I wrote and directed, and the character was the straight, rather clueless client in the “making of” an industrial show.

Q: We certainly hope it was a mustached character – but of all of the characters you’ve played, was Derek Smalls your favorite? If not, what’s wrong with you?
A: Yeah, D’s my favorite, I’ve clearly spent more time with him, and as him, than any other.

Q: In the greatest animated program of all time – The Simpsons – you play the voices of Mr. Burns, Smithers and Ned Flanders. Flanders is obviously your favorite because of his mustache, love for Jesus, and that he is left handed – but what has been the most interesting aspect of your affiliation with the show?
A: Probably the delight I saw in the audience’s faces the few times we performed an episode of the show “live” in a theater. That was amazing.

Q. Why do you think Ned Flanders is the only mustached character on the Simpsons? Can you get that changed? Come’on, you could if you really wanted to.
A: Frankly, they wouldn’t listen to me if I told them their houses were being robbed.

Q: When you first heard there was an entity called the American Mustache Institute, did you think the apocalypse was upon us?
A: No, but I did think it should be a foundation instead of an institute. Personal preference, I guess.

Q: You had a long-standing and successful relationship with Christopher Guest, who at times has worn a mustache (The Princess Bride). Tell us a little about your relationship with him? Do you think he is he a better film maker with or without a mustache?
A: I’ve worked for Chris as a director when he had a mustache and more recently when he had strange hair and other anomalies. Through it all, he’s a wonderful director, surrounding his actors with an environment of trust that’s essential to doing this kind of work.

Q. You live part-time in New Orleans, a city that encourages non-conformity? Does a mustache make more sense in a place like that than in L.A.? Are we a little obsessed with this subject (never mind, don’t answer that)?
A: I think New Orleans’ idea of non-conformity goes so far beyond the notion of growing a mustache that it’s not even funny. Or rather, it’s very funny. When you come to notice as a regular part of your neighborhood walk to buy the morning paper a dwarf on a bicycle, that’s New Orleans.

Q. Have you ever thought about visiting St. Louis, the home of the world’s largest mustache? We have an airport and roads and everything, in case you want to. You can stay at the Institute’s bachelor apartment overlooking the arch.
A: I have visited St. Louis. Next question, please.