written by Nevin Martell
You may know him as the voice of Ned Flanders on “The Simpsons” or the fake bassist for parodic heavy metallers Spinal Tap, but there’s nothing funny about Harry Shearer’s documentary directorial debut, The Big Uneasy.This film investigates the manmade errors that caused the destruction of the celebrated humorist’s adopted hometown during Hurricane Katrina and how it might happen again in other cities across America.
What inspired you to make The Big Uneasy?
I was watching President Obama’s first presidential visit to the city. When I heard him describe the flooding as a natural disaster, my head figuratively exploded. If it had physically exploded, I would have more scar tissue than I already do. It dawned on me that was ignoring the fact that it was a manmade disaster. The media weren’t telling the story; they got their suffering footage and moved on.
What was it like moving from acting in dramas to directing a documentary?
We’ve gotten to this strange place where the guy from The Simpsons and Spinal Tap has to go and piece together this story. I had the feeling all the way through that I was doing someone else’s job.
You only appear in the film briefly. Why’d you stay away from the camera?
I was very aware of the danger of having people see the film and thinking, “Oh great, here’s a Hollywood guy telling us how he feels about something.” I didn’t want to make a Michael Moore film. I had 90 minutes to undo four and a half years of media mischaracterization and I couldn’t afford to fool around.
If Spinal Tap were to do a charity single for New Orleans, what might it be called?
Unfortunately, there’s still too much bad stuff that’s too close to the surface for people I live with and see every day for me to drag it into my satirical world. That being said, I know that [guitarist] Nigel [Tufnel] has some strange causes, such as ˜Free the Ferrets”, which he’s very passionate about. Now that’s a movement we can all get behind and in front of.
As someone who has been lampooning popular culture for so long, what do you make of Charlie Sheen?
He’s a gift. We do really love to look at crazy people. It’s not surprising to learn that they used to sell tickets to Bedlam asylum in England, so you could watch the crazy people. That’s still who we are. I can’t say that I’m above that myself; I’m fascinated by it. I have a friend with an adolescent son with substance problems and I was saying to her, “You should sit him down and make him watch Charlie Sheen, so he can see where it all goes.”