Harry Shearer’s Le Show: Sonic Portal to News, Satire, Memory, History

Overview


Introduction

On Sunday morning December 4, 1983, Harry Shearer took his talents to public radio with a program initially called The Voice of America, then The Hour of Power, and finally Le Show.1 Since that date, with the exception of eight months2 during his second stint on Saturday Night Live,3 actor, writer, director, musician, composer, and multimedia artist Shearer has every week written, performed, produced, and delivered an hour4 of news, music, satire, and impromptu commentary via terrestrial and satellite radio broadcast.

"I'm not a comedian," Shearer told Rick Kogan of the Chicago Tribune in 1988, in advance of Shearer’s solo performances at George’s supper club on West Kinzie Street. "Writer, actor, director are the functions I perform. People can decide for themselves if I’m funny or not."

Kogan clarified: Shearer "is very funny, as listeners to Le Show, his hour-long program of music, satire, and commentary on National Public Radio know…. At a time when far too many comics are operating on the mistaken theory that topical humor involves making fun of the service people at McDonald's, Harry Shearer is coming to the rescue of those of us who like a little meat in our mirth."5

Asked if any particular episodes of Le Show stand out in his memory, Shearer resists: "The allure of weekly radio is that, once done, it's immediately forgotten. Next show to do...."6 That may be true for Shearer, the creator. For listeners, however, Le Show provides a cornucopia of vital information, sonic satire, and rhetorical richness well worth remembering — and listening to again and again.

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting's Le Show archive offers online access to more than 2,000 programs and pre-recorded elements digitized from Shearer's own collection. This AAPB exhibit spotlights a small but representative fraction of the Le Show archive.

If journalism is the first rough draft of history,7 Le Show is the second, revised through a lens of satire,8 each week managing not only to teach but somehow to delight — though the delight is sometimes excruciating.

Next: Harry Shearer's Creative Life

Harry Shearer at WWNO in New Orleans, February 17, 2019. Photo by Rosa Eberly.

Curator

Rosa A. Eberly

Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Department of Communication Arts & Sciences, Penn State University

Additional Resources