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Shearer Sharpens Wits at Convention

July 20, 1988|ZAN DUBIN

ATLANTA — Humorist Harry Shearer, who has used his caustic wit to assault most contemporary politicians, has come to the Democratic National Convention armed with his emblematic sense of irony and irreverence.

"The single funniest thing going on here is that taxpayers are putting up something like $9 million to finance both the conventions, which amount to nothing more than spectacular four-day commercials which the TV networks are trying not to broadcast," he said. "So we're paying more and more to put on something that is getting less and less coverage. Makes sense to me."

Shearer, 44, a former "Saturday Night Live" regular, is here to deliver his own brand of convention coverage for KCRW-FM (89.9) in Santa Monica, the station for which he regularly produces his acerbic "Le Show" on Sunday mornings. "Personal Privilege," his convention lampoon, is being carried live each day this week over KCRW from 7:50 to 7:59 a.m. and again on tape at 12:30 p.m. It is also running on KMPC-FM (101.9) between 8 and 9 p.m. and is being made available to other public radio stations.

In an interview here, Shearer offered his wry, deadpan observations on everything from the nature of the convention itself to the media armada that has descended on this sweltering Southern capital.

"There's no story here-- no story," he observed of the some 14,000 journalists crammed into 339,000 square feet at the gigantic Georgia World Congress Center next to the Omni convention hall.

"It's 14,000 people cooped up with nothing to say and nothing to write about and nothing to do except go to parties," Shearer said. "I mean, a year ago, with all those (presidential) candidates in the race, it looked like something real might happen here. But by the time anybody got a chance to vote (in the larger states' primaries), there wasn't anybody left in the race. It's a very clever system we've got."

KCRW general manager Ruth Hirschman said she sent Shearer down South "to provide an unconventional way of covering the convention.

"Given the spectacular lack of luster in the campaigns, it seemed to me that (the media) needed to get something more dynamic into the coverage," she said. "I think we should be sending poets, satirists and the like to cover the political process with a fresh eye."

(She's not alone: Other humorists covering the convention include Paul Krassner and Al Franken on CNN, Mark Russell on ABC's "Good Morning America" and Pat Paulsen for KNBR-FM in San Francisco).

Using mostly recorded skits in which he impersonates politicians and often skewers the media, Shearer has attempted to deliver what Hirschman had in mind.

On Monday, he did a sendup of Dan Rather and his CBS colleagues preparing for their coverage. When a floor fight erupts in fireworks, his Rather said, "Let's just hope . . . they're not the Guns of August."

On Tuesday's broadcast, Shearer impersonated Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis asking the Rev. Jesse Jackson if he intended to watch more of the previous evening's televised proceedings. Jackson's reply: "I haven't been to a movie in 20 years, Mike. Why should I start now?"

Meanwhile, Shearer had Dukakis desperately searching for a "TV Guide" to make sense of it all, and later had him ask Jackson about the civil rights leader's bus caravan to Atlanta. Dukakis: "Bus trip rough?" Jackson: "Rough enough!"

"The purpose of the show is to be at play in the field of the political parties," Shearer said. "I have no particular agenda as to what I'm looking for, or what I hope will happen or expect to happen. But, basically, I look for what makes me laugh. That may be the inflated rhetoric, it may be the behavior that contradicts what's being said, it may be the necessity to turn a very sharp corner at very fast speed and look like you haven't made a turn at all."

Shearer, who will make his directorial debut with "Portrait of a White Marriage," scheduled to premiere in August on Cinemax cable, is busy here. In addition to his KCRW show, he is scheduled to appear on NBC's "Today" show this morning and on CBS' "Nightwatch" Friday.

Next month he'll fly to New Orleans, where he will fire off his satirical salvos at the Republicans, who, he predicts, will stage a bland, uneventful convention.

"That one's going to be paint by the numbers," he said. "They always are."

Meanwhile, Shearer is not the only KCRW representative in Atlanta. The station also sent its campaign editor, former Time magazine correspondent Ben Cate, who is hosting a half-hour convention program each day through Friday at noon.

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