Shearer Does Trump, Singing “Mother-in-Law”

You loved him as Mr. Burns. You feared him as Nixon.

(Or maybe it was the other way around.)

Anyway, now Harry Shearer takes on a yet more demanding (or was that “demeaning”) role—Donald Trump.

During his Sunday night radio program (um, I meant “podcast”), “Le Show,” Shearer has, ever since the 2016 election, reluctantly coughed up the words “president Donald Trump” with something between a sardonic chuckle and a dismissive guffaw.

Shearer’s new video depicts Trump singing a song in praise of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, It’s the first track of his forthcoming album, The Many Moods of Donald Trump —“a cycle of satirical songs inspired by the last four years of U.S. politics and in particular the often mercurial behavior of the current occupant of The White House.”

Written by Shearer, the video is based on “Mother-in-Law,” an Allen Toussaint tune that was a hit in 1961 for Ernie K-Doe. The band includes A-list New Orleans musicians such pianist David Torkanowsky, bassist George Porter, Jr. and drummer Raymond Weber. Even their innate sense of groove can’t rescue Trump’s characteristically rhythm-less phrasing, which Shearer captures.

I talked to Shearer about this latest role, and his presidential fixation.

Who has been your favorite president to portray, and why? Continue reading “Shearer Does Trump, Singing “Mother-in-Law””

Laugh, Don't Cry! It's Christmas With Harry Shearer, Judith Owen and Their Talented Friends

photo: Greg Shappell

Harry Shearer described his wife, Judith Owen, as “a Welsh woman prone to melancholia who could not stand the fact that, at Christmastime, Southern California was about 78 degrees and sunny.”
She confessed the truth in all that. “In a strange way, bad weather means Christmas to me.”
I learned that at last year’s New York edition of “Christmas Without Tears,” the annual holiday season pageant, a fundraiser for charity, that the couple hosts each year. There, Shearer, the humorist and actor—whose many credits include The Simpsons’ megalomaniacal Mr. Burns, Spinal Tap’s affably insecure bassist Derek Smalls, and former president Richard Nixon (who was, among other things, both megalomaniacal and affably insecure)—revealed his innate musicality. Owen, a magificently gifted singer, pianist and songwriter, flashed a biting wit that might well cast Harry as the straight man in the family.
The couple’s traveling Christmas show, now in its tenth year, began as a house party in Los Angeles, a way for Owen to “reinvent the joy and fun of Christmas” not long after losing her mother and moving to Southern California (with its oppressive lack of incelement weather). Continue reading “Laugh, Don't Cry! It's Christmas With Harry Shearer, Judith Owen and Their Talented Friends”

New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 3 (Masters of Disaster)

Shearer adReaders of today’s New Orleans Advocate found this full-page ad in today’s front section, courtesy of Harry Shearer.
Shearer, who has a home in the French Quarter, has played many roles during his career: Spinal Tap’s affably insecure bassist, Derek Smalls; the megalomaniacal Mr. Burns of “The Simpsons”; and, on last year’s brilliant series “Nixon’s The One,” the 37th president of the United States.
He’s every bit as compelling in his roles as commentator of his syndicated radio program “Le Show,” and as New Orleans homeowner committed to both the ugly truths that underlie the 2005 flood and the beautiful truths that uphold the city’s indigenous culture.
I ran into Shearer a few years ago on St. Joseph’s night, when Mardi Gras Indians come out after dark. It’s my single favorite time to be in the city—for the mystery, odd pageantry and communal spirit of this annual event. And yet, this tradition, too, has met with serious tensions involving New Orleans police. On one St. Jo’s night, Shearer and I got to talking about the things that oppose or impede New Orleans culture—why, for instance, a brass band might get shut down on its usual corner due to a phoned-in complaint.
“This city doesn’t hand out a manual or an informational DVD when you moved here,” Shearer said. “But maybe it should. People need to understand what’s going on so they can learn to respect it.”
On Monday night, Shearer sat in the front row at the Basin St. Station panel discussion I moderated. When it came time for questions, he asked something along these lines (I’m paraphrasing, having not yet transcribed…): “Once these cultural traditions become entertainment commodities doesn’t it demean them or rob them of their spiritual and cultural purpose?” That made me think about a long list of jazz musicians—from Louis Armstrong though Miles Davis and on—who seemed to uphold both functions at once. Yet I’m still wondering if Shearer has a good point when it comes to stuff that grows from and is functional to neighborhoods first and foremost (Louis and Miles were onstage or in recording studios, after all).
Shearer created a documentary for BBC Radio, “New Orleans: The Crescent and the Shadow,” that reflects on the experience of the 2005 flood and its aftermath today: It airs Sat. Aug 29 at 3 pm ET, and can be found here.
On the website, Shearer’s comments include these: Continue reading “New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 3 (Masters of Disaster)”

Harry Shearer On What's Funny About Nixon And What's Not In New Orleans

At Manhattan’s Slipper Room on Wednesday night, Harry Shearer spent two hours on a stage discussing the role he considers his defining one.

Not the megalomaniacal Mr. Burns, who he voices on “The Simpsons,” nor Spinal Tap’s affably insecure bassist, Derek Smalls. The character Shearer has lived with longest is Richard Nixon. His latest take on the 37th president, “Nixon’s the One,” can be seen in weekly episodes through Nov. 25 on YouTube.

With the Nixon historian Stanley Kutler, Shearer combed through thousands of hours of the tapes Nixon secretly recorded in the Oval Office, then staged re-enactments of key moments as if captured by hidden cameras, remaining “faithful to the words, the rhythms, and even the pauses,” he said. Even so, he said, “it’s not a history show, but a character comedy series.” My interview with Shearer about all that ran recently in The Wall Street Journal.

After that Slipper Room performance, Shearer, who lives in New Orleans, and I spent some time discussing an issue that just now seems defining for anyone who understands and adores New Orleans indigenous culture. And is distinctly unfunny. Continue reading “Harry Shearer On What's Funny About Nixon And What's Not In New Orleans”