Long before there were podcasts, “Le Show,” which has been syndicated to NPR and public radio stations nationwide and around the globe, became an hour-long syndicated recap of the news of the week. It features comedy sketches, satire, book reviews, interviews and Shearer’s hybrid of irreverence and sincerity. And he does it all for free.
“There’s no money that changes hands in the existence of the show, at least that I know about,” Shearer, who co-wrote and co-starred in “This Is Spinal Tap” and plays a number of voices on “The Simpsons” including Mr. Burns and Waylon Smithers, told the Journal. “So, you know the price of freedom is you don’t charge anything.”
“Le Show” has quietly persisted on the air for nearly four decades. Shearer said that his own success in show business has enabled him to have a podcast-level of creative freedom for many years.
His show could be called, “The Facepalm with Harry Shearer,” because it’s easy to hear through his commentary just how much of the news world makes him facepalm with disbelief. But it doesn’t discourage him from continuing the grind. He goes after Democrats as well as Republicans and puts informing above performing.
Shearer’s 70-year career in media has been filled with highlights, beginning when he appeared on “The Jack Benny Show” at age seven.
Growing up as an only child in a Jewish household in Los Angeles, Shearer spent his childhood paying close attention to the news with his parents at the dining table. He was a young newspaper junkie, often obsessed with cutting out the mastheads and headlines from the Los Angeles Times—before he could even read the articles.
Shearer’s earliest memory of being fully immersed in a news event was watching the television coverage of the anti-Communist hunts during the 1954 Army-McCarthy Hearings in the U.S. Senate. It was a life-altering study on media communication and public discourse.
“It was an opportunity not just to watch people talk, which you’d see on the news,” he said. “It was an opportunity to watch people listen. It was an opportunity to watch the reaction to stuff being said, and that remained with me.”
He felt fortunate to have grown up with such supportive parents and fruitful creative opportunities as a kid. He only recalled one instance during his teens when he experienced antisemitism, though multiple extended family members were murdered in the Holocaust. He remembered a time that this weighed greatly on him. In the 1990s, he was dining at a restaurant in Cologne, Germany with fellow Jewish actor Christopher Guest, and Shearer remarked, “Fifty years ago, we couldn’t do this.”
After working at the Daily Bruin while a student at UCLA in the early 1960s, Shearer did a stint at KRLA radio in Pasadena. He then took a job at the California State Legislature in Sacramento before getting back into acting in his 20s.
On top of co-writing and playing bassist Derek Smalls in the 1984 mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” he’s acted consistently both on-screen and in voiceover roles in film and television, including “A League of their Own,” “Laverne & Shirley” and one season on “Saturday Night Live”—the latter an experience that he’s said publicly was his “worst year in show business.” One role that Shearer has played over and over is that of a newscaster, like in “The Truman Show,” “Godzilla” and “Wayne’s World 2.”
Among the dozens of recurring character voices he’s done for “The Simpsons,” the one that sticks out prominently is that of local newscaster, Kent Brockman. The character is whimsical, sarcastic, self-absorbed and often compromises news integrity for his own gain. These are flaws in the real-life news business that Shearer cringes at and aims to foil week after week on “Le Show.”
Shearer has an incredible voice and knack for news. Although he does not have children, his work on “Le Show” shows a deep concern for future generations.
“Those of us who are alive today are owed at least as much consideration as those who come after us,” he said. “We have obviously a debt to them because it’s the mess we create that they have to deal with. And certainly in the case of environmental crimes or misbehavior, we don’t suffer the consequences nearly as much as those who are going to come after us.”
Environmental crimes are not something he takes lightly. In 2010, he released a documentary called “The Big Uneasy” about the failures of the Army Corps of Engineers during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Shearer’s current place of residence. He doesn’t speak up just to hear his own voice. He has gone out of his way to talk at local city council meetings about rampant short-termism.
“One of the reasons I like being here [in New Orleans] is because as opposed to the very large and splintered way that Southern California is governed, it’s possible here without an great expenditure of energy to be a participant in the political life of the city and to make oneself heard at hearings.”
Shearer sees having a strong community as vital to surviving the chaos he inevitably presents on “Le Show” each week.
Shearer sees having a strong community as vital to surviving the chaos he inevitably presents on “Le Show” each week. Between recordings, he walks to long dinners with friends and enjoys live New Orleans music. He’s grateful to no longer live in what he calls the “stoking of the Los Angeles envy machine,” the ever-present advertisement apocalypse that pervades the town he grew up in. However, he advises LA residents that “the haven in Los Angeles is in the space you create with your friends.”
Shearer hopes “Le Show” can continue to impact audiences hungry for news who are too-often bombarded with sensation, but without a moment to digest.
“There’s such an overload of stimuli that turning off the listening apparatus sometimes is almost an act of self-preservation,” Shearer said. “Most Americans aren’t all that interested in national politics—they like to pay attention when it’s an election season, and then their attitude is ‘You go do your job and we’ll look back at you in two years.’”
You can listen to “Le Show” on www.HarryShearer.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed.