High Value Detainees?
Young White Coconuts? Spinal Fucking Tap?!? YOU decide! Our conversation with
the comedian/pundit/musician continues. (Pt. 1 is here.)
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Given your past political
pontificating and the no-holds barred opinions contained on your earlier
efforts, do you ever get any criticism from any political sector?
I occasionally get a little pushback from liberals because
I’ve been making kind of strong fun of the President lately in regards to what
he’s doing. I think they think I’m supposed to be on their side. I don’t
believe that the Republicans expect anyone in show business who does what I do
to be on their side, at least the way the liberals do.
That’s true. If
you’re in show biz, most people assume you’re a liberal.
If you line up Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert against a
wall, I think they’d eventually ‘fess up to being supporters of this President.
I don’t think I could make the same statement.
Are you ever asked
for endorsements or to do a benefit for one party or another?
Occasionally, but I tell them that I don’t endorse, I don’t
make public statements about who I vote for or any of that. That’s not
congruent with what I view as a political comedian or a satirist’s job, which I
believe is not being kept in anybody’s house.
Are there other
political comedians that you fashion yourself after?
Mort Sahl absolutely. Mort was the first guy I saw who early
on, after his first wave of national success, turned on the liberals and said,
“I don’t belong to you either.” I don’t agree with everything he said, but I do
think he was kind of consistent in saying, “I do what I think is funny.” I
think the satirist’s job is to make fun of whoever has the monopoly of the guns
— which is the European version — and the American version would be whoever
has a majority of the guns. But Mort
was profoundly influential on me in that regard. Stylistically, it’s been a
different range of people – Bob and Ray, and then Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
and the Goons and a lot of character comics.
I’d say Sinatra. I was a fan of when he was making records
at Capitol. I wasn’t a fan of that wing a ding ding period where he became a
crooner, but those records in the mid to late ‘50s at Capitol were just
astonishing. I would put any of those back to back with one of the later
Reprise Records. I mean, he was obviously aging and he sounds it, but I loved
the way his voice was so beautifully recorded at Capitol, and how it never
sounded so good later on. But I’m a big rock ‘n’ roll fan, and I also love
Brazilian music. I live in New Orleans so obviously I love New Orleans music as
well. And I was raised on classical music. I have very, very broad musical
tastes and I get exposed to things that I wouldn’t ordinarily think were my taste.
For example, I love the old country writers like Mary Chapin Carpenter and I’m
a big bluegrass fan… so my ears go a lot of places.
You seem to define
the word “multi-tasker.” Is it hard for you to sit still?
My wife and I, the
one thing we have in common — actually, we have a lot in common — is that we
love our work. And it’s not a work ethic — it’s a work joy. The only thing
that’s hard is to get away from is the assholes that seem to dominate in show
business. Their job is to take the joy our of it and my job is to take the
assholes out of it.
Still, how do you
find the time to be so productive, what with the radio show, and The Simpsons, and the records and all
your other projects?
I don’t watch a lot of crap. My one big sport that I follow
is basketball, so there’s six months of the year where I have that time
available. And I don’t eat lunch. I don’t! I’m serious! You’d be amazed — you
can get a lot done in that extra hour, hour and a half every day.
Are you at the point
where you’re able to satisfy all your artistic ambitions?
As time goes on, I get more opportunity to do what I want. I
was looking back the other day and thinking, in my life, I wasted some time in
the ‘90s trying to get other people to let me do what I wanted to do and I finally
got to the point where because I have the resources or enough of a reputation
that I can just do what I want, and I don’t have to ask somebody’s
permission. Or if I do have to, I get it. But there was a time where I
was basically creating stuff and you never heard about it because I never got
permission from anyone to release it. That makes it seem like you’re not
working, but I was working just as hard then. Only now, you’re seeing the
fruits of it now because I have more ability to get it out there.
We read somewhere
that you were initially reluctant to work on The Simpsons because you thought it would be too solitary.
That’s what I feared, because it didn’t seem that much fun
to go in and track these lines with no one else around. However, it turned out
that the way we did it is more like an old radio comedy show where we’re all in
the same room together. So it’s more like acting. Acting is as much listening
as it is talking. When you can hear the other people and react to what they’re
doing, then it’s a better performance and that’s what I was interested in.
So you prefer to work
with other people rather than do things on your own?
I do. That would always be my choice, even though there are
things that I end up doing by myself – like the radio show – because that’s
just the way it is. But to me, one of the things I adored about Bob and
ray, beside their comedy and their voices and just their whole aesthetic, was
the fact that they worked together for all those many years. I just thought that
relationship — as a listener, as a viewer, as an audience member — gave me
such happiness. I coveted that for myself. By contrast, nothing made me sadder
than the breakup of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. When I first saw them, I
thought those guys would be working together until the day they died, because
they were just so perfect with each other. Their talents blended so perfectly.
Of course it ended with a lot of acrimony and that was too bad. But I love it
when like-minded people work together. No three individuals are more different
from each other than Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and me. We’re
startlingly different individuals, but we’re like-minded enough so when we get
together, we can still make each other laugh, we can still have fun playing together…
nothing’s better than that.
Would you ever
consider making a sequel to This Is
Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind?
I don’t think so. Chris is involved in a television series
of his own which I think is going to be scripted. I don’t want to speak for
him, but the last movie we made, For Your
Consideration — personally I don’t think it got treated very well by the
studio. If it were me, I wouldn’t think about having that experience again. I
loved it, but you work a long time doing all that stuff. You’ve got a comedy
about award season and you release it at Christmas time. Doesn’t make much
With your celebrity,
are you part of the Hollywood show biz scene?
Good lord, no. I don’t get involved. I live in New Orleans,
so I have a whole different group of people I regard as my friends — in New
Orleans, in Los Angles and in London. Unless it’s a very close friend who we
want to show support for, I will not be found at those Hollywood things. And
I’ll give my money to my charities in some other way than footing the bill for
a Hollywood ball.
Any plans to tour
behind the new album?
I’m trying to carve out some dates. And come up with a name
for the band. My band for the Bushmen record was anchored by Lee Sklar. We
called it the High Value Detainees. I was in Whole Foods the other day and I
saw this sign and I thought that it would be a perfect name for a band. So when
we go out the next time, we’re going to call ourselves The Young White