February 25, 2018

LJ Talks to Harry Shearer

By LJ Staff

Harry Shearer has been just about everything in his show business career, starting out as a child star on the Jack Benny Show. He’s been a writer and cast member of Saturday Night Live, a screenwriter and actor (in such cult classics as This is Spinal Tap), and has created memorable characters, including Monty Burns on The Simpsons. He has even been a blogger for the Huffington Post, and the host his own radio show. This fall, he adds novelist to this list of accomplishments with the publication of Not Enough Indians (LJ 9/1/06). At the recent American Library Association conference in New Orleans, LJ caught up with Shearer to talk about his literary debut.

What prompted you to write a novel?

I just had this idea, and I was in the middle of working on a project with sometime writing partner, Tom Leopold. We’ve written a couple screenplays together, and a Broadway musical that hasn’t been on Broadway yet. Tom has written two novels, and he said, ‘you should write that as a book,’ and I thought, ‘yeah.’ It’s complex enough in terms of its twists and turns and plotlines that it could be a little book, so it is a little book. I thought about it as a screenplay for about a millisecond, but it’s been a novel from the top.

Can you give us an idea what we can expect from your literary debut?

Well, it’s hopefully funny. It’s about a small group of people who realized that an Indian tribe starting from almost nothing could realize the American dream running a casino without state taxation or regulation, and came to realize that the distance between starting an Indian tribe from almost nothing and starting an Indian tribe from, literally, almost nothing was just a couple of adverbs.

After working as an actor, screenwriter, and radio personality, how did the novelist experience work for you?

Well, I gave myself two rules. I just tried to make it easy for myself. I knew it was important to write every day. So, as very judgmental person when it comes to myself, I told myself I wasn’t going to count. Not hours, not pages. If got a paragraph, that’s a good day; if I got a page, a chapter, that’s a good day. The other rule was: don’t go backwards. There is plenty of time to edit later. Both of those turned out to be very useful.

You live in New Orleans, correct? How do you see the city dealing with Katrina?

My wife and I live in New Orleans part time. I’m a native of Los Angeles. Katrina, the city handled the hurricane just fine. It was the floods. The levees failed. While a lot of people justifiably focus their anger on FEMA, my main anger is with the Army Corps of Engineers that built this crappy system that failed us and are building it again. This is going be a boomtown for the next three or four years. There’s at least $12 billion coming in a very concentrated period of time, and that by any standard is a lot of money to be sloshing in. It will be a boomtown for the next few years, but the long term question is what kind of a town it will be.

Do you think your being Harry Shearer will that effect how people look at your novel?

I had the choice of when I approached the marketplace of going the celebrity book route and I sort of disdained that and went with an agent and publisher who were about the book not the celebrity. I want the book to be evaluated on its own merits. I hope being Harry Shearer will help sell a few copies, but I can’t even begin to guess what is in people’s minds about me. As I go around in my life I can tell you people want to a talk about a lot of things; it’s not all Simpsons, and it’s not all Spinal Tap. I’m just amazed how many people react to the radio show, for example.

Is there a memoir in your future?

Yeah, I’m sure there is. I have to wait until the people I want to talk about are dead, libel laws being what they are (laughs)…. No! Forget that, truth is a defense! You know I had an experience once: my then partners Michael McKeon and David Landers got swooped up into the world of Laverne and Shirley, and I went along for the first 13 weeks. It was so crazy, a friend of mine who was an author told me to keep a journal, and I did, and at the end of that I thought, hmm, I have a choice. I can write this, or I can have a career in show business! So, down the line when I’ve done everything I want to do in show business, maybe I can write the memoir.

Of all your great characters over the years, which do you think you are most associated with?

It’s half and half between Derrick Smalls (This is Spinal Tap) and Mr. Burns (The Simpsons). I created all of Derrick Smalls and the voice of Mr. Burns, so that’s fine with me. I’m proud of them both.