SPINAL TAP Star turns Michael Moore-style muckraker!
You can’t make this stuff up, and that’s what I love about show biz.
Yes, “New Orleanian” Harry Shearer has brought us The Big Uneasy, an eye-opening look at the time when the President and the press were calling the Katrina situation “a natural disaster,” and it wasn’t! As Shearer learned, it was the result of man-made design and construction flaws.
I just talked with Shearer to open some floodgates of information.
Me: Hi, Harry. Were you always such a muckracker?
Shearer: When I was helping edit the school newspaper in college, I ran a series on wasted space in the student union. That was the last time!
Me: When you embarked on a doc, were you afraid people might not take you seriously?
Shearer: Absolutely. At first, I wasn’t in the film at all. We didn’t want people saying, “Who’s the guy from The Simpsons? Why am I looking at him?” But we needed somebody [as point man]. I thought, “I can be Ed Sullivan.”
Me: Meaning the weird, 1960s variety show host? But you have a neck.
Shearer: So far. Gravity works wonders.
Me: Did you know right away that the disaster wasn’t caused by nature?
Shearer: I was in L.A. when it happened. By time I got back, the reports’ first interim findings were getting into the papers, but one didn’t know for sure. I had no damage to my place, so I had all that energy that other people were spending in trying to get their lives back together, and I could pay attention. I remember the National Hurricane Center’s Max Mayfield saying in December 2005 that Katrina was only a “strong category 1” or “weak category 2” by time it struck New Orleans. It was not the big one.
Me: Why do you think Obama kept saying “natural disaster”?
Shearer: I don’t know. I thought, “He’s a smart guy and he had to have been well briefed. He can’t really believe that.” Either he was pandering to ignorance or if you acknowledge the culpability of the federal government, the obvious followup question is “What are you gonna do?”
Me: What’s been the reaction to the film so far?
Shearer: Whether you’re in Sacramento or Dallas or Dublin, the reactions are the same. Upset, angry, trying hard to process how this could be, and wanting to know what can we do about it. I was careful not to put a call to action. I’m not trivializing The Cove, because that’s a wonderful movie. But to change what happens is a big heavy thing that’s not going to be done by one phone call.
Me: On a lighter note: Did Spinal Tap change your life more immediately or over the course of time?
Shearer: It was more long run. This is like a Barbara Walters question! I was going to go with “walnut tree or…”
Me: You’re more of a perennial. Good luck with The Big Uneasy.