Format: satirical news-reading, monologues, and sketches
Archive available on iTunes: last ten
Years ago, I thought Harry Shearer was living the radio dream. Each and every weekend, he rolls into the studio — usually KCRW in Santa Monica, which he rightly calls “the home of the homeless” — and cranks out an hour of solo broadcasting, mixing news with commentary with comedy with music. His program, Le Show
], is heard all over the world, and he’s been doing it since 1983. This once seemed like such a sweet deal, until it occurred to me that he probably doesn’t get paid. Luckily, he can bankroll all his radio efforts, no matter how pricey, with all the money he earns as the voice of Bart Simpson.
No, I kid; Bart’s voice actor is actually some lady Scientologist. But, having voiced half the remaining population of Springfield over the past 20 years, Shearer does indeed draw what must be a luxurious Simpsons
paycheck. That means, not to put too fine a point on it, that his next meal ain’t comin’ from Le Show
, which effectively makes it the highest-profile, highest-gloss one-man volunteer community radio public affairs shows ever. And when you’re talking about volunteer community radio public affairs shows, you’re talking about hobbyhorses.
Of all the Simpsons
characters he’s done, Shearer’s “actual” voice sounds most like a very relaxed Principal Skinner, which, for me, remains a little surreal to hear saying things about Afghanistan and such. But for better worse, his has lodged itself in my mind as the voice
of Sunday mornings. I find something very appealing, tonally, in hearing him calmly read the week’s selection of stories that appall and outrage him most. Though he pre-produces any number of sketches and surprisingly elaborate comedy songs about current events, he’s at his satirical best when simply peppering the news with off-the-cuff witticisms, jabs, even puns.
And yet, somewhere in the mid-2000s, I found I couldn’t bring myself listen to another second of his complaining about Dick Cheney. Shearer seemed to have developed an unhealthy fixation on the ex-Vice President to which he spared his audience no exposure. It was a bit like when Phil Hendrie
decided to stop doing fake phone-ins and just talk about Iraq all the time. They’re men of two different ideological perspectives, sure, but an ideological perspective is an ideological perspective. If the Cheney thing hadn’t cut off my regular Le Show
habit, I’m sure one of the other horses in Shearer’s table would’ve: high-definition television, maybe, or more recently, the Army Corps of Engineers.
But I kind of miss it when it’s not around. Returning to the program via its podcast in this post-Cheney era, I find that, though the positions of Shearer’s individual obsessions have reshuffled, the themes remain the same. He’s more or less entirely concerned with waste, incompetence, and general failure committed by corporate or governmental institutions, whether in distributing sodas, building nations, or all points between. There’s a place for this, of course, and Shearer’s take on it does seem to generate a certain amount of dark, Kafkan stupidity-of-systems laughter. Yet I find that most of the troubles he highlights, no matter how ridiculous, seem pretty much par for the course.
Maybe this is a generational thing, but I’ve always thought of sufficiently large companies or bureaucracies as the primary engines of epic failure. That’s what they’re for
, right? So when Shearer goes on with very low-key indignation at the Army Corps of Engineers somehow flooding Denver or Pepsi accidentally giving Saudi Arabia the bomb or the U.S. military spending ten million dollars per year on a ragtime band or whatever, it can feel like he’s reading out of the phone book. “Joanne Smith, 847-2351. Joe Smith, 452-2822. John Smith, 358-2384. John Smith, 358-2384
, ladies and gentlemen.” I have to wonder: what on Earth does he expect?
[Podthinker Colin Marshall
also happens to be the host and producer of public radio’s The Marketplace of Ideas
], the blogger of The War on Mediocrity
and the writer of The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project