The Simpsons’ Harry Shearer on why it would be a “thrill’ to work in British comedy

The voice of Mr Burns and Ned Flanders says that many US comedians "have really out-sized egos...but in Britain, the guys just do the work and don’t proclaim themselves in the same way."

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Harry Shearer talks British radio, his love of Episodes and why the Simpsons has lasted so long…

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What do you watch on TV?

I don’t watch a lot of entertainment; mainly factual programmes and sport. I do love Episodes, though. It’s one of the few shows I make an appointment to watch and never miss. It’s my number one fave.

Which other British TV programmes do you enjoy?

I do find myself pining for another series of Harry & Paul. I absolutely adored Nurse. I loved Armstrong and Miller. Sketch comedy in the States has not been at that level for a while. And my wife, being British, is a long-time Father Ted fan. I watch that from time to time.

What are the differences between British and American comedy?

In America, our comedy people, with some notable exceptions, have really out-sized egos. But in Britain, the guys just do the work and don’t proclaim themselves in the same way, and their work is great.

Would you ever consider working in British comedy?

Oh my God, yeah! Absolutely. I’m a collaborative person by nature. As time goes on, and people’s lives change, I find myself doing more things by myself than I would prefer. To work with any of those guys would be a thrill.

The Simpsons have been on air for almost 27 years now. Did you ever imagine it would go on for quite so many years?

No sane person could have imagined that! It was flukey beyond belief.  

And the reasons for its success?

Aside from the writing, a little-known fact is that there was no network interference in the show whatsoever, and that is unique. The Simpsons was directed entirely creatively, rather than by managers. You would think that successful model would be replicated, yet no other show on a commercial network has taken on that position of ultimate freedom. 

You’re the voice of Mr Burns, Ned Flanders and many more – did you ever want to play Homer?

No, not at all. The thing that captivated me about The Simpsons at the start was the opportunity to play multiple parts. By doing a lot of different character work, people always want to talk to you about different things.

You’ve been involved in several British radio broadcasts. Why?

There’s no way to say this without being a little bit insulting to my countrymen, but when I go to Britain and switch on the radio, it speaks to me like an adult… The difference between radio in the States and the UK is overwhelming.

What inspired you to make a documentary about New Orleans?

I live in New Orleans, and an awful lot of myths remain about what happened before and during Hurricane Katrina. There were grotesque rumours that babies were being raped and having their throats slit that persisted in people’s minds long after they were disproved. The city has recovered remarkably, at a grass roots level, without the aid of any large-scale programmes. And, with Katrina’s tenth anniversary, I thought that was a story that was important to tell. 

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Harry Shearer’s documentary, Archive on 4: New Orleans: the Crescent and the Shadow, is on Saturday 29th August at 8pm on Radio 4. The Simpsons are on Monday—Friday at 6.30pm on Sky1