By Peter May
This is it, the Christmas season has arrived, is it taste the season to be jolly, and we all know what that means: tears, lists and preparing for the most important meal of the year.
But this year we have something special for everyone to enjoy, Christmas Without Tears. It is a tradition that began in Harry Shearer (an American actor well-known for his character voices in The Simpsons) and Judith Owen’s (a Welsh singer-songwriter) Santa Monica home, as Mr Burns would say, “EXCELLENT”.
Each performance is a relevant and irreverent antidote to the stressful season, which includes star guest performances from singer and radio presenter Rob Brydon, Australian comedian Clare Teal, British singer Julia Fordham and award-wining musical comedy cabaret act Miss Hope Springs.
As Harry Shearer tells us here at The Church of England Newspaper, the show started, as Judith, a proper Welshwoman, didn’t think sunny and warm California Decembers made for a proper holiday.
“She proposed inviting all our talented friends for a big dinner (one of them was a fine baker), and a gathering round the piano for an increasingly bibulous singalong — each person contributing a song or two, and then all joining together for carols. We did that for several years. Then word leaked out and we were invited to take the party to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA.”
The invited guests can enjoy the holiday spirit with comics, magicians and even circus acts, which make this a true variety show like no other. If you like home comforts this is an impressive living room setting.
Harry explains why the stage is a replica of his and Judith’s living room: she wanted to replicate the environment of the original party as much as possible.
“So there’s a living room setting, there’s food and wine, in Los Angeles at least there’s also our dog.”
The show has since been developed, for the first evening out of the house, Harry laughs, Judith came up with a way of relieving the tedium of “Twelve Days of Christmas”
by dividing the audience into 12 sections and having each section act out one of the days. In return, the best sections would win what Judith has always accurately described as “crap prizes”.
Also in recent years, she’s made an effort to include more “variety” or circus talents in the lineup. The show is also in aid of a great cause, supporting homeless charities across the land, so not only can you embrace the magic, you can also be part of a production that is unique.
Harry comments: “In most cities where we do the show, we’re helping the homeless charities, so I guess one message would be ‘pay attention to those people, why they are on the streets, and what — aside from momentary assistance — we might do to alleviate the situation longterm.”
Since 2014, the production has been producing these live events to benefit the people in need in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans and now we have the pleasure of welcoming them to London for what is going to be the best Christmas show in showbusiness! But we had to ask how Mr Burns would spend Christmas?
“Mr Burns never spends,” he replies. Shearer is now one of the leading voiceover actors anywhere, voicing Reverend Lovejoy and Ned Flanders, but he reveals how he discovered his talent.
“I was fooling around with doing voices making taped sketch shows with my friends in middle school. And I have no ‘method’ — with fictional characters, I just take an intuitive leap and hope they don’t say ‘Nah, doesn’t work’.
“For doing real people, usually the grain of sand has to be some degree of anger or critique about how they conduct themselves publicly.”
He tells me his favourite Christmas song is one of Judith’s originals, about her love of dressing the tree. “When she was little, she thought the blinking lights were dancing, so the song is called ‘The Dancing Tree’.”
We couldn’t just leave it there: it was intriguing to find out more about what Harry has planned for his next mission and what inspires him, after all he is one of the legends that brought us the film Spinal Tap. But despite that, he says that the highlight of his career was ‘Working for eight years of my childhood with the great American comedian Jack Benny. It’s been all downhill from there.”
He has, of course, worked with many illustrious figures, but does he have a favourite? “This can only make me some enemies. I’d choose two, actually. “From the wonderful group of improvisers I worked with in the Chris Guest films, I’d say Catherine O’Hara, she’s breathtaking. And in scripted films, Glenn Close. No diva stuff, just doing the work, and brilliantly.” And what would he want to be remembered for…?
“About four hundred years.” The comedian, who says his hidden talent is cooking, is currently working on a live tour based on Derek Smalls’ solo record. The show is called ‘Lukewarm Water Live’.
“And a musical comedy about the life of the longtime FBI director J Edgar Hoover. And, unavoidably, my weekly radio show.”
Given the choice, who would be his ideal guests dead or alive to have at your Christmas lunch? “All the really funny people I’ve known or admired. Very long list, starting with Mr Voltaire.”
And that leads on to a more serious question. I asked him if he was to be US president for one day, what single law would he introduce…? “Anyone who evinces the least detectable interest in running for President would thereby be disqualified from holding the office.
“Seriously, though, a one word amendment to the 14th Amendment —‘natural’ — describing the ‘persons’ whose Constitutional rights are guaranteed. This would end the grotesque situation we have now where corporations, supposedly enjoying the same rights as ‘natural persons’ — ie, humans — can throw huge sums of money into our politics.”
Christmas Without Tears starts on 3 December at the Mayfair Hotel Crystal Room, where tickets start at £31.50. Book at: http://bit.ly/2DXRKNx