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Harry Shearer

Humorist Harry Shearer is something of a comic Renaissance man, having worked in music, film, television, radio, and literature over the course of a career that's spanned five decades. Born on December 23, 1943, Shearer began his career at the age of seven, when his piano teacher suggested he might have potential as a child actor; he made several appearances on radio shows, made his film debut with a bit part in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, and had a recurring role on Jack Benny's television series. Shearer put his acting career on hold when he was in his teens, but in the late '60s he reemerged as a member of the Credibility Gap, an improvisational comedy troupe which also featured Michael McKean, David L. Lander, and Richard Beebe. The Credibility Gap was a popular fixture on Los Angeles underground radio and in local nightclubs, and Shearer recorded four albums with them, but they never advanced beyond cult status outside California, and split up in 1976. Shearer next appeared in a number of independent comedy films, including Prime Time and Cracking Up (the latter of which also featured members of the Firesign Theatre and the Ace Trucking Company), and co-wrote the screenplay for Albert Brooks' first feature-length directorial effort, Real Life. Shearer was also a writer and cast member for a sketch comedy pilot called The T.V. Show, in which he and fellow actors Michael McKean and Christopher Guest first appeared as a veteran British heavy metal band, Spinal Tap. In 1979, Shearer became a writer and cast member on Saturday Night Live, but left after disagreements with the producers, though he would return to the show for the 1985 season. In 1984, Shearer teamed up with Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Rob Reiner to resurrect the fictive heavy metal band they created for The T.V. Show in a semi-improvised feature film, This Is Spinal Tap; the film became a critical smash and a cult favorite, and Shearer spent a few days on tour with British metal act Saxon to research his role as bassist Derek Smalls, which came in handy when Spinal Tap hit the road for a short tour to help promote the film. Smalls would prove to be Shearer's most enduring role prior to joining the cast of the animated television series The Simpsons in 1989, in which he provides the voices of C. Montgomery Burns, Ned Flanders, Kent Brockman, Principal Skinner, Rainier Wolfcastle, Otto the Bus Driver, and many more. Spinal Tap made an appearance on an episode of The Simpsons, as well as recording a second album in 1992, mounting a world tour (which spawned a television special The Return of Spinal Tap), and even reuniting for the 2007 Live Earth environmental awareness concert. Shearer mixed music and comedy again in the 2003 film A Mighty Wind, in which he played Mark Shubb, bassist with the folk group the Folksmen, a group originally created by Shearer, McKean, and Guest as the opening act for the 1992 Spinal Tap tour. In 1983, Shearer began hosting a weekly public radio series, Le Show, in which he features music, humor, and political commentary; Shearer occasionally records original tunes for the show, several of which appeared on his 2007 album Songs Pointed and Pointless, while other material from his broadcasts was featured on two earlier albums, 1994's It Must Have Been Something I Said and 2006's Dropping Anchors. Shearer has also directed a feature film, 2002's Teddy Bears' Picnic, as well as several projects for television, and in 2006 he published a novel, Too Many Indians. In 2008 he released the presidential- and politically minded Songs of the Bushmen with the Wall Street-themed album Greed and Fear following in 2010. Shearer spent most of 2011 touring with his film The Big Uneasy -- a serious documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath -- but returned to the comedy album format in 2012 with Can't Take a Hint. The album featured guest appearances from Fountains of Wayne, Dr. John, and comedian Jane Lynch. In his private life, Shearer is married to singer Judith Owen, who has contributed vocals to several of his musical projects. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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