Harry Julius Shearer is an American actor, comedian, writer, voice artist, musician, author, radio host and director. He is known for his long-running roles on The Simpsons, his work on Saturday Night Live, the comedy band Spinal Tap and his radio program Le Show. Born in Los Angeles, California, Shearer began his career as a child actor, appearing in The Jack Benny Program, as well as the 1953 films Abbott and Costello Go to Mars and The Robe. In 1957, Shearer played the precursor to the Eddie Haskell character in the pilot episode for the television series Leave It to Beaver, but his parents decided not to let him continue in the role so that he could have a normal childhood. From 1969 to 1976, Shearer was a member of The Credibility Gap, a radio comedy group. Following the breakup of the group, Shearer co-wrote the film Real Life with Albert Brooks and started writing for Martin Mull's television series Fernwood 2 Night. In August 1979, Shearer was hired as a writer and cast member on Saturday Night Live. Shearer describes his experience on the show as a "living hell" and he did not get along well with the other writers and cast members. He left the show in 1980.
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Hi reddit. Harry Shearer here. You might know me as the voice of Ned Flanders on The Simpsons, or from SNL or Spinal Tap. I just created a new show called Nixon’s the One ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9HtoWea72A ) that I think you might like. I'm happy to take your questions about anything. So go ahead.
Looks like we're just about done here. Thanks, everyone, for asking pretty damn good questions. I do hope you catch "Nixon's The One" on YouTube for the next six weeks. It's a show I created, and I'm very proud of it. Bye.
How hard was it for you to get into character as Handsome Dan, in Wayne's World?
Did your ancestors shear sheep?
No, that name was given to my dad when he hit Ellis Island. It's a shortened version of his family name, Sheepshearer.
My last name is also Shearer, so I occasionally get asked if we're related. I only said yes to one friend, and he still believes it. Could you say something that I can show him to keep the story alive, Uncle Harry?
Still got you pop-bottle collection?
Lifelong Simpsons fan here, thanks for doing an AMA!
Who is your favorite Simpsons character that you don't voice? Who is your favorite that you do?
A: Lionel Hutz. B: Mr. Burns.
What methods would you suggest to help me stop thinking of Flanders in a skin tight skiing outfit when i need to be focusing on something else?
Mr. Shearer, I'm a long-time fan of your work on the Simpsons and in the Christopher Guest movies. I was recently delighted to discover that you are also quite a fan of jazz (as am I). Your endless talents never cease to amaze me. Thanks for everything you do.
I'll keep it short and sweet:
1) Favorite thing to say in Mr. Burns's voice?
2) Favorite jazz instrumentalist, singer, and/or album?
3) Can I raise a practical question at this point? Are we gonna do Stonehenge tomorrow?
1) Release the hounds. I've adapted it for my yoga practice: "Release the hands".
2) So many: right now deep into Nicholas Payton, going back to Ron Carter. As for singers, Mel Torme of the old guard, and a UK friend Ian Shaw among the current crop.
Hi Mr Shearer,
The Simpsons has been on for over 20 years now. How many years do you feel it could go on for and do you think the quality has declined?
I think it can go on until Fox finds another hit comedy for Sunday night at 8--so, basically, another 50 years.
My professor said we could get points for class participation by asking you a question. What a time to be alive.
How was Spinal Tap's Japanese tour?
I was fortunate enough to see Spinal Tap in concert, back in 1992, and I'm always amazed at the musicianship that I see there or in A Mighty Wind. How did you three discover each other as musicians? Was that something you were all good at and into before Tap, or something that came about as a result?
Michael and I were in a comedy group together, and before that Chris and Michael were in a band together. In the comedy group, Michael would write and perform songs, and I'd bang along on whatever improvised rhythm thing I could find. And sing high b.g. vocals sometimes...Those were the days.
I'm not sure if it's allowed but I'm going to ask another question. Why is the Sincronized Swimming skit you did with Martin Short the best skit that has ever been skitted?
I think it's just because the water content in that sketch was higher than in any other sketch
Hi Mr. Shearer!
Since you do so many voices on The Simpsons, do you ever get confused and mix them up?
Also, when you voice a new character, how hard is it to actually come up with a new voice that doesn't resemble any of the existing ones?
Thanks and best regards from a fan in Germany!
No mixups yet. Not hard, just reaching into my crowded trunkful of voices I've heard and noted through the years.
I read somewhere that you saw The Day the Clown Cried. If that's true how terrible is it?
True. It's something perfect, in the sense that if I told you Jerry Lewis made a serious movie about a clown in a concentration camp, you couldn't imagine it anywhere near as bizarre and uncomfortable as what was actually done.
Bill Murray considers himself the adopted son of SNL. Do you have a title for yourself regarding SNL? thanks and hello!
The red-headed step-child. Hello back.
What was it like working with and knowing Mel Blanc?
Man, he was the greatest. A very funny actor, with, obviously a million characters and sounds (he was the sound of Jack Benny's old broken-down car!), and a very nice man to me when I was a child actor. He had a son the same age as me, and so he took a certain fatherly interest--and I don't mean that in the ecclesiastical sense.
Hey Harry, thanks for the AMA!
Is there any one person (celebrity or not) that you haven't worked with but would like to work with on the Simpsons?
Also, are you still a Sphincter Boy?
I like to work with anybody who's funny. The celebrity guests usually come in on their own schedule, so the last one I remember working with was the late Michael Jackson. And, yes, I still have all my plumbing.
I only have one question, Mr. Shearer: are we still gonna do Stonehenge tonight?
No, we're not gonna do Stonehenge tonight!
What's your favorite episode of the simpsons? And why is it Last Exit from Springfield?
It's from season 3--Burns runs for Governor--tied with, from Season 9--Homer eats the magical pepper.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from professional rock musicians about "This is Spinal Tap"?
Most of them love it. Some are freaked that we made a film that so parallels their lives (see Liam Gallagher's reaction, e.g.)
Hello Mr. Shearer! Welcome to reddit!
I am always very impressed when watching your dialogues between Burns and Smithers on the Simpsons, they seem so fluid. Are they particularly difficult to perform?
No, it's like singing snatches of one song, and then another. Piece of cake. Which, by the way, is harder to make than a whole cake.
Mr. Shearer, what can one expect from your show at the Largo in LA?
Also, you're awesome.
Thanks. The Largo show is the holiday show that my wife, Judith Owen, and I do every year to raise money for the NO Musicians' Clinic and local mental-health charities. Lots of surprise guests, doing their holiday numbers--either serious or funny--and then Judith forces everybody to sing carols and gives out really crappy prizes.
Hello, Mr. Shearer!
How do you feel about Smithers' crush on Mr. Burns?
Also, is Ned Flanders's gibberish ad-libbed or actually written like that in the script?
I think it started as ad-libbed. In any case, now it's written. Crush?
Thanks for doing an AMA Mr. Shearer!
What has been your all-time favourite character to voice?
Mr. Burns. He's pure evil. Can't get better than that.
How does one break into voice acting? And also how did you develop your personal catalogue of voices?
One makes a "reel"--now a file--of one's best, most original work, sends it to reputable agents who specialize in repping voice talent, and then one prays...a lot. My catalogue, as you call it, is just the people I've heard and observed, both in the media and in my life. So much of this work is not about the voice, but about the ear....
Thanks for doing this AMA!
I've got two questions. First, what is your favorite book? Second, a little while ago, Bob Balaban said that I should ask you about your musical about J. Edgar Hoover. Can you tell us more about it, and more importantly, why we haven't seen it yet? Sounds like it would be awesome!
Thank you so much for everything you do!
Favorite book? Stumped, because I almost never read a book more than once. I plan to, once I'm in traction. I love the comic novels of Stanley Elkin, though, particularly, "A Bad Man" and "The Dick Gibson Show". "J. Edgar: The Musical" has had a rocky road: a lot of producers were "interested" in it, but not interested enough to put the money on the table. I've now written a film adaptation of it, still a wacky musical version of that man's life, and I'm going to try to make the film very soon.
If you could only work at one of the jobs you listed in your headline, which would you pick and why?
Music. If you can make a buck playing music, it's an amazing way to spend your life. It takes you to someplace very special.
After Nixon, then all over again after Bush, is it hard to stay engaged in politics? Was it a crushing disappointment to find out there's no improvement in all those years? It was for me.
Yes. I was fascinated with politics as a kid. Now it's mainly the kabuki aspect that interests me--e.g., a guy, or gal, looks in the bathroom mirror every morning for years thinking "You're special enough to be President of the United States", then spends three years eating crap food at campaign events to prove they're "just like us".
How closely would you say you live your real life to that of the life of Ned Flanders?
Not very. I have no lawn.
You and Albert Brooks wrote one of the great prescient movies of all time with "Real Life." What's your opinion of reality shows, in general, and did you get to keep the over-the-head camera from the film?
I did not get to keep the Etinauer. Thanks, I'm very fond of that film. Reality shows, as everyone must know by now, are mis-named. They're just scripted shows with amateur actors.
Hi Mr. Shearer, thanks for doing this.
My big question would be about your future plans with Spinal Tap and more movies with the Guest/Levy crew.
I loved the "Unwigged" tour and dutifully bought the DVD from your website; will you be doing anything else with Tap in the near future? Any possibility of another tour?
Also, it's been far too long since we've been treated to another in the Guffman/Best In Show/Mighty Wind "series". Is there a specific reason for that, and will we get another one anytime soon?
I'd also like more people to be aware of your non-Simpsons, non-Tap, non-Acting work. Your books, your CDs, your radio shows, all brilliant.
Thanks. The check is in the mail. I don't think there will be more Tap gigs in the near future. Re: Chris, I don't know for sure, but I think he got a bit disillusioned with the film biz based on the treatment the studio gave the last one--but that's just surmise on my part.
Huge fan from way back in the Credibility Gap days. Big fan of Le Show.
Is it difficult to switch between voices rapidly (as in Attie [sp?] the Atom) and your own voice?
Did we, as a nation, learn anything from Watergate?
Did you ever meet President Nixon?
Did anything you heard on the Nixon tapes shock you?
Not hard to switch voices, or I wouldn't do it.
I think we learned that our Presidents shouldn't tape every single word they utter every day. I think.
Never met Nixon, met GWBush, Clinton and Carter.
Actually more shocked by what I heard recently on some LBJ tapes the BBC aired this past March. He finds out Nixon has tried to sabotage his Vietnam cease-fire talks (Nixon's emissary promised the S. Vietnam Pres. he'd get a "better deal" when Nixon was elected), and calls Nixon a traitor, on tape. Then he calls Hoover and tells him to bug Nixon. On tape.
Mr. Shearer, good day to you sir!
Was there ever a role you were up for that went to someone else that you really wish you could have done? I'll take my answer off the air.
Please turn your radio down, just in case. Yeah, just recently, a nice part in a BBC television film about the televising of the Eichmann trial.
As a man who is primarily famous for his voice, how often aer you usually recognized on the streets?
More than you'd think. Even more on the sidewalks.
Does Christopher Guest have any plans to get you and the rest of the gang together to do another mockumentary of any sort? It's been way too long since the last one!
I agree, but I don't think so.
SO, what's KCRW's deal anyway? Why'd they bail on Le Show?
You'd have to ask them. Then give money. Then ask why your question didn't get answered. Then give some more money.
Did you really write, Jazz Odyssey?
Big Christopher Guest fan, love your work. Any cool stories from the Wayne's World 2 set? I love the Handsome Dan character & still quote that bit of dialogue to this day.
No, just that that bit was adapted from a sketch I did with Howard Hesseman in my first SNL season.
Do you listen to Gilbert Gottfried's podcast? You would be the perfect guest, amazing old show biz interviews. I think he thinks there is 30 year old tension between you two, because of something said on SNL. Is that the case?
Yes. Something he said. About me.
HARRY!!! HUGE FAN!!! There was a huge rumor that you and Martin Short did not get along on the set of PURE LUCK largely due to his farting during your scene. Is there any validity to that at all????
To my knowledge, Martin has never farted.
Hello Mr. Shearer. I've seen This is Spinal Tap umpteen zillion times and I've always wondered, is there a back story to the Zucchini in the tinfoil? Is the tinfoil supposed to help keep it from spoiling or to add tecture?
The former. Keeping an unwrapped zucchini next to your nether region while you sweat is a sure-fire recipe for a flaccid zuc.
Dear Mr. Shearer,
With all the craziness that's going on in the world right now, would say it's finally time for us to crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo within?
Also, did you ever find that Hellfish Tontine?
Thanks a million for your good works. Take care. I love you.
I'm afraid, thanks to all the chemicals in the food we've been eating for the last half-century, the goo within isn't good for us any more.
Thanks for all the great things you do - listening to Le Show is the perfect way to finish a weekend.
How long does it take for you to prepare for each show? And how many google news alerts do you have set up?
I don't use Google alerts to find my news. Not knocking them, just sayin'...Prep for the show takes from 5-7 hours, depending on whether or not I'm doing a song. Thanks for listening, really.
Hello Mr. Shearer,
Just want you to know that This Is Spinal Tap is, to me, the funniest movie ever made--and I've seen all the classics, from Chaplin to Sturges, to Wilder, to Brooks, to the Farrelly brothers. Never has a movie comedy aged so well.
Being aware that Spinal Tap was a collaborative effort, are there jokes that you can claim ownership of in that film, that you are particularly proud of?
We were all in the room. Jokes sort of grew naturally and organically among us. No personal ownership possible. Sort of like the Native Americans' view of land.
Harry!! What is your single most enduring memory from the time you spent with Saxon 'researching' your Derek Smalls role?
I'd have to say that my single most enduring memory of that time was seeing Sheffield by night.
I can't wait to see "Nixon's the One." Is there any other historical character that you'd like to portray?
I'm not big on historical characters, per se. NIxon fascinated me because he was such a major figure on the American political/news scene for so long, and because he did us the favor of taping every waking word of his for 5 1/2 years. The attraction to me was being able to enact, not some satirical or fictional view of what he and his aides were saying, but the actual conversations. Much weirder, spookier, stranger, funnier than I, at least, could ever write.
Do you think the Christopher Guest repertory company got a little large? Why so much loyalty? All hilarious, but I think in some ways it hurt some of the films - having characters and storylines for so many people.
Interesting question. I think Chris was interested in creating whole worlds, so the choice may have been an esthetic one rather than one of loyalty.
You've already answered about your favorite Simpsons' episodes, and it sounds like The Principal and the Pauper was at one point your least favorite. So you have entire seasons you feel particularly strongly about, one way or another?
Hi Harry! Back in the early days of the web, The Simpsons site actually had email contacts for the voice actors. I sent you an email and got a reply. Was it really from you or was it an intern/PA?
In the early days of the web, I didn't have an intern/PA. Now, of course, she's writing this.
Why Doris119? Any significance?
Yes. Doris is our dog, and she's 119 years old.
I read that the character of Dr. Marvin Monroe died off because it was too much of a strain on your voice. Is there any truth to that, or was he removed for some other reason?
It was a terrible voice to do, but I don't think that had anything to do with it. I only learned he was killed off when I saw his name on a gravestone in a "Treehouse" opening sequence.
Mr Shearer, how did you get to be so awesome? Sorry, I don't have a real question. I just appreciate all the work you've done.
Thank you. I do appreciate it. There are a lot of slings and arrows one experiences in this business, so encouragement does help.
Do you ever think in your character voices?
No. Not that I think that often, anyway.
Are we ever going to see Saucy Jack on the big screen?
I fear not.
Hello Harry! If Ned Flanders was an atheist, what would he say? What would he do for a hobby?
Thank you for all your excellent work on the Simpsons and helping the people of New Orleans. :)
If Ned Flanders were an atheist, he'd say "Oh, my dear Ford!"
Hi Mr. Shearer! Thank you for providing so many hours of entertainment over the years. When you reflect on all of the various guests that have appeared on The Simpsons, do you have a particular favorite?
The aforementioned MIchael Jackson. Can't get weirder.
How did you channel the spirit of Schwarzenegger to do the Mcbain voice and was Arnold ever asked to cameo on the Simpsons as himself? Arnold vs McBain!
I just drink four cans of high-protein energy powder before the recording session.
All of your characters are currently in a battle to the death. Who comes out on top?
Round 1) No weapons
Round 2) Characters can use any items readily available to them the would be typical for them to have (Derek Smalls has his bass, Skinner has his mother...etc)
McBain. He has his protein powder.
I imagine that voice acting is different that acting on a set in many ways, but do you ever just get "tickled" and can't stop laughing from one of the lines that you're reading? Ever any room to improve? can you share an example?
I suspect you mean improvise. No, our show, like most American TV, is a writers' show, and they like the lines read as written. Not much breaking up, either. Usually at mistakes.
Hey Harry Shearer ! Thank you for this chance
what was it like working with the cast and crew of The Fisher King?
What's it like voicing so many different characters on The Simpsons?
Thank you again for this opportunity, on behalf of this AMA I'd like to commend you on your amazing talents and wish you luck on your current and future projects
Well, I just did a day in TFK so not many memories. The number and variety of characters is the reason I took the Simpsons gig in the first place. Never wanted to do a standard sitcom, trapped in one character for (one hopes) many years.
Whats your favorite animated shows besides the Simpsons?
I always liked King of the Hill.
Hello Harry! Thanks for doing this AMA! I've always been curious about getting into voice acting, so naturally I want to ask, how did you get started with it? What was that process like for you?
I really didn't enter the profession until I got invited to join the Simpsons cast. But I'd been doing my radio show for six or seven years prior to that, and--given the economics of radio--I did, and do, all the characters of my show, so that was really my start.
Who is the most underrated of the Lampoon/SNL/SCTV era?
Who is the most overrated?
I think Jan Hooks, who just passed away, is quite possibly the most underrated. Very funny every time I saw her. Most overrated? I'll pass on that one.
When you first started working on the show The Simpsons in your wildest dreams did you ever imagine the show would become as big as it did?
In my wildest dreams, I didn't think the Fox network would become as big as it did.
Michael O'Donoghue was a pretty influential part of the 70s comedy and creation of SNL. Yet, outside of serious nerds, he is largely forgotten. I have difficulty wrapping my head around his place in it all. Any thoughts on him? Was he funny? Was he a good guy?
Very dark figure. I think he was supremely clever, in the American sense. Not sure how funny he was. First time I met him, he attacked Bob & Ray, which didn't earn him a lot of points with me.
What is your dream role?
Whole wheat, with raisins and walnuts.
1)What was your first impression of the Simpsons when you started? 2)How did you come up with so many different voices/characters? Did the writing staff drive that discovery, or did you come across them yourself?
From the first script I could see it was a very smart show with interesting cross-currents of warmth and skepticism. I just intuited sounds for all the characters the writers specified me to do in the scripts as time went on...
Do you have any priceless memorabilia from the simpsons?
A yellow bowling ball. You did say worthless didn't you?
Of all of the characters that you have, and currenly play, who can you say that you relate to the most?
I think there are parts of both Derek and (horrors) Nixon that I relate to.
Dear Mr. Shearer,
lmanders32's question prompted me to have one to post here: Did you feel an affinity with Joe in Oliver Cotton's "Daytona" when you played that character? I saw some of your Nixon in your Joe, strangely.
Thanks, as ever. rx
Well, Joe was a character with whom I felt strong resonance because his life adjustment reminded me a lot of that of my folks, who, like him, emigrated from Europe, but had not, unlike him, had to survive the camps. Thank you.
Do you ever find yourself tired of comedy being a commodity? Since comedy is a large part of your career I expect you have to be very serious about it-- but isn't that a bit of a conflict? Taking laughs so seriously?
It's all paradoxical. When I did guest shots on TV hospital shows, everybody was joking around prior to doing scenes about death and blood. On comedy shows, more often than not, it's like some tragic grand opera backstage. Girls just wanna have fun!