No one can accuse Harry Shearer of fearing commitment.

December marks the 40th anniversary of “Le Show,” his syndicated, satirical weekly public radio show.

For 35 seasons, he’s voiced Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders and other characters on the animated Fox juggernaut “The Simpsons.”

Forty years after he first strapped on a codpiece as bumbling bassist Derek Smalls in the hard rock mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” Shearer — who turns 80 on Dec. 23 — is gearing up to shoot a sequel.

He and singer Judith Owen, who live much of the year in the French Quarter, have been married three decades. On Dec. 19, they’ll host the 18th edition of “Christmas Without Tears,” their irreverent holiday variety show at the Orpheum Theater. Scheduled performers include actors John Goodman and Bryan Batt, guitarist Sonny Landreth and burlesque star Trixie Minx.

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Harry Shearer and Judith Owen, getting into the spirit of 'Christmas Without Tears.'

The following interview with Shearer, edited for clarity and length, is excerpted from this week's episode of “Let’s Talk with Keith Spera” on WLAE-TV.

You missed the 2022 “Christmas Without Tears” because you had COVID. Will you be back onstage this year?

I am still dealing with COVID. I have the famous long COVID. I’m in my second year of it now.

But I’m planning to be there at least for part of the evening. I just show up and try to be a straight man.

Judith does all the producing. The talent lineup for this year is phenomenal. I plead guilty to being the biggest Sonny Landreth fan. I’ve pushed to the front of the crowd at Jazz Fest to see Sonny many a year.

Growing up, Christmas was not a big deal in your household.

You handled that well. (laughs). My parents were from Austria and Poland, so anything that went on here was strange to them. I was basically responsible for introducing myself to American culture. My dad was trying to teach me soccer when I was 5, and I went, “I don’t think so.”

I was a media kid. I was working in media at 7 (on the radio and TV show “The Jack Benny Program”) but was obsessed with it even before then. I got a full dose of American pop culture through the media.

You flirted with becoming a member of the media at your college newspaper.

I was the editor of the editorial page. Ran for editor, was refused the editorship by a student council that thought I was anti-Greek, that I was somehow opposed to fraternities and sororities. I had published an editorial by a guy who had been on the paper and was now in graduate school who requested anonymity. The student council thought I was hiding behind that.

Did that discourage you from journalism and nudge you toward entertainment?

I think it was a hand from above. I was writing freelance for a while after I left school for everybody from San Francisco Magazine to the New York Times. But I got pulled into this radio show in Los Angeles called “The Credibility Gap,” which was doing comedy about the news on a rock ‘n’ roll radio station.

I did three 10-minute shows a day, with a Preparation H commercial in the middle. It was exactly the kind of overwork you’re supposed to do during your twenties.

The path you took probably worked out better than journalism.

No kidding. I was obsessed with newspapers. When I was 5, I was cutting out sections of the paper. But I dodged a bullet. I’m thankful every day.

Wasn't Mel Blanc, who voiced Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, a mentor?

He did all the Looney Tunes voices except for Elmer Fudd. “Mentor” is a little strong. We were together as cast members of Jack Benny’s show. Mel had a son about my age, so he was paternal towards me. He wasn’t ever saying, “Hey, kid, here’s how you do voices” or anything like that. He was just a very good friend of me and my mom.

Which celebrities should replace Harry Shearer on 'The Simpsons'?

Some of "The Simpsons" characters voiced by Harry Shearer include, clockwise from top left, Mr. Burns, Smithers, Rev. Lovejoy, Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner.

Mel voiced so many instantly recognizable Looney Tunes characters, now you do the same on “The Simpsons.” Maybe Mel planted some sort of seed.

If so, it was a very subtle one. I had no plans to do that until I ran into (“Simpsons” creator) Matt Groening at a newsstand in Hollywood. I was a fan of his comic “Life in Hell” and he was a fan of “Le Show.” We just started talking, and that’s really how it came to be. It wasn’t like I was going out for auditions for cartoon shows.

That chance encounter at the newsstand changed your life.

You don’t know what’s going to come, but when it does, be ready. I wasn’t practicing cartoon voices or anything, but on “Le Show,” I do a lot of characters. That’s what Matt had heard and that’s what gave him the idea.

After 35 seasons of “The Simpsons,” does the cast still do collective table reads of the scripts?

Not all together. Like everything else, it started being remote at the time of COVID. So we’re all on the phone together.

Are the table reads done in the characters’ voices?

Oh, sure. That’s what they want to hear: how the dialogue is going to sound, how it’s going to hit, in the voices of the characters, so they can judge whether the script needs any improvement, or total improvement.

You voice both Mr. Burns and his assistant, Smithers. When they have a conversation, are you able to flip back and forth between their voices in real time?

Absolutely. That’s one of my little tricks. That’s the kind of deal Fox got — two characters, one mouth. I do a lot more than two, of course. But it’s pretty easy for me.

(In Mr. Burns’ voice): It’s almost this easy.

(In Smithers’ voice): I wouldn’t say that, sir.

Could you use those voices to do car commercials, or does Fox own them?

They own the characters. I couldn’t say, “Hey, I’m C. Montgomery Burns, buy a Chevy today." But can I make that sound for somebody else with a different name? I haven’t explored that … yet. But I wouldn’t say (Fox) is the least litigious company in the world.

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Actor and satirist Harry Shearer as Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls.

“This Is Spinal Tap” director Rob Reiner said recently that you guys will shoot a sequel in 2024. Did disagreements over intellectual property rights delay the sequel?

No. The intellectual property had been claimed by a French company, StudioCanal, a part of Vivendi, and they had not been particularly generous (with the actors/creators). So there was no motivation on our part to do anything for them. When we got the rights back, that’s when the interest (in a sequel) began to flower.

That was a very rocky relationship. You hear these Hollywood stories and you think, “C’mon.” But they’re true. “Hollywood accounting” — you know about that?

Where a movie that makes $500 million somehow does not turn a profit?

That’s correct. It’s a wonderland of stardom, but the financial chicanery in that town is remarkably detailed and inventive.

But the “Spinal Tap” sequel is moving forward.

We had a music rehearsal a couple weeks ago here in (New Orleans). If you like to play music, it’s fun and something that’s totally different from the rest of our careers. The opportunity to get together for a week and just do nothing but play was splendid.

It was you and Michael McKean, who played singer/guitarist David St. Hubbins, and Christopher Guest, who played lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel?

And a drummer to come.

As Spinal Tap's Derek Smalls, you don’t need to be as good of a bassist as Rush’s Geddy Lee — or is it more complicated than it seems?

I’m in a constant effort to improve as a bass player. I did have some lessons from the original bass player from Blood Sweat & Tears, so I had a nice little start.

I go through periods when I practice and I go through periods where I find other things to do. But I love playing.

Anybody who’s anywhere near adept at a musical instrument will tell you that you go to a different place. You’re in an extremely different head space. It’s a great place to be when you and your colleagues are together in a deep way. It bears no relationship to real life.

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Comic actor, satirist and bassist Harry Shearer and his wife, pianist and singer Judith Owen.

Being able to get into that conversation with other musicians is a great gift. You’re communicating in a whole different language.

The original Spinal Tap movie spoofed heavy metal and rock documentaries. But the music had to be legit for the whole thing to work.

Who wants to sit through 90 minutes of s***** music? The humor was in the lyrics and in the posturing that accompanies the music. But the music itself has to be more than halfway decent. A, it has to be fun to play for us, and B, it has to be fun to listen to for the audience while they’re laughing at the lyrics. There’s no real value to bad music.

Is your Courgette Records logo — a phallic zucchini — a reference to the “Spinal Tap” scene in which an aluminum foil-wrapped vegetable in Derek Smalls’ pants sets off an airport metal detector?

Yes it is.

Was a zucchini or a cucumber used in the film?

It was a zucchini. If you think about it, a cucumber is a little bit too large and its surface is a little bit too wart-y to be an appropriate symbol.

All these years later, does the codpiece still fit?

Last I tried, yes.

The 2,000 or so weekly episodes of “Le Show” are all you doing character voices, satirizing the news, etc. What is your method for producing them?

Waiting until the last minute. That’s really a great motivator. When you’ve got to get it done, you’ll get it done.


Actor Harry Shearer reigns as King Plenipotentiary and Captain of New Orleans in the satirical walking parade Krewedelusion in New Orleans on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.

I used to do it live on Sundays, but I’ve had to start prerecording it on Saturdays as late as possible. Because it is a topical show, I was always bedeviled by the thought that if I recorded in advance, something would happen late Saturday night that would embarrass me because I had missed it.

I’ve learned to ride that wave. I read and watch a lot of news anyway, so I have in mind what’s big that week. A staff member who is more adept at computers than I am sets up searches for stories that fit certain descriptions and categories. Crypto right now is one I’m following a lot. Companies are going under left and right and people are still thinking, “Wow, this is a great way to invest my retirement money!”

I’ll go into the studio mid-Saturday. If I’ve got a sketch, I’ll do that first, then incorporate it into a show that I do as if it’s live, straight through.

Some weeks it takes five hours, some weeks it takes eight. It takes what it takes.

So your Saturdays are pretty much spoken for.

It never bothered me, because I thought Saturday night belongs to the civilians. I have the privilege of being able to go out other nights of the week.

After 40 years of “Le Show,” you’ve never run out of material.

The world does not disappoint when it comes to people being stupid.

I forgot to mention the other thing that happens every week: after I’m done, I think, “I’m not doing this again.”

“Le Show” pays a little less than “The Simpsons.”

Yeah, like zero. I discovered very early on as an entertainer and a creative person that “free” equals “free.” If you want to be free to say whatever you want, in whatever way you want, for however long you want, you’ve got to take no money.

Working in public radio for no money — fortunately I have other sources of income — I’ve never been bothered by people saying, “You can’t say that!” Which is a danger in bigger, more commercial media.

That hour of “Le Show,” which airs on WWNO 89.9 FM every Sunday at 8 p.m., is yours to do whatever you want.

I don’t even obey the standard public radio format of (including) some message every 15 minutes. It is all mine, all 59 minutes of it. And that’s a huge privilege.

You’re turning 80 in December. Do you plan to keep doing all these things indefinitely?

Yeah. There’s no sign that any of it’s going to stop, and I hope that it doesn’t.

"Let’s Talk with Keith Spera," a partnership between WLAE-TV and The Times-Picayune |, airs Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., with repeats on Sundays at 9:30 p.m., on Channel 32, COX Ch. 14 and 1014, Spectrum Ch. 11 and 711 and AT&T and DISH Ch. 32. Episodes are also available on the WLAE YouTube channel.

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