You may know him as the voice of Mr. Burns and countless other “Simpsons” characters and her as his Welsh singer-songwriter wife. But to locals, Harry Shearer and Judith Owen are part of the extended New Orleans family. The comedic couple, who purchased their French Quarter home in 1996, divide time between here and Los Angeles but are always in town during December, when they mount their annual holiday show, Christmas Without Tears (Does This Tree Make Me Look Fat?).
What started in their L.A. living room as a gathering of friends has since grown into a seasonal must-see, with special guests such as Steve Martin, Jane Lynch, Bryan Batt and Béla Fleck, that serves as a fundraiser for a variety of charities, including the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation. Prior to this year’s production, which includes stops in L.A. and London before wrapping in New Orleans Dec. 17 and 18 at Le Petit Theatre, Where caught up with the duo for a bit of holiday cheer.
Where do you celebrate Christmas, New Orleans or L.A.?
JO: Always NOLA. I can’t think of a more fun and loving place to spend the festive season, surrounded by great friends, great music and, of course, the best food!
What’s the main difference between the two?
HS: Try talking to strangers in L.A. Try giving strangers eye contact in L.A. I think the difference between here and most cities is that, with all its strengths and weaknesses, New Orleans is still an actual community.
Why does “Christmas Without Tears” remain so popular?
HS: Judith is a wonderful mistress of ceremonies, she’s sharp and funny, and she won’t allow people to not have a good time.
JO: Because it still feels like a party in our house that the audience has been invited to. It’s reverent and irreverent, there’s music and comedy, burlesque and audience singing, but nothing beats the ferocity with which the audience commits to my annual rebooting of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which I have them act out in 12 separate sections. The winners receive the worst prizes you can imagine, and for this people create human trees and partridges, dance like disco queens, and let’s not even talk about the maids a-milking! It’s the same joy you see at Mardi Gras, and, though every city jumps in head-first, no one does it quite like NOLA.
What is the most memorable performance over the years?
JO: I think last year’s was really remarkable and had the perfect balance of humor, musical brilliance and an added element of seasonal warmth, thanks to John Goodman’s reciting of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Every year it gets better.
What are your favorite New Orleans holiday traditions?
JO: I love going to the Christmas concerts at St. Louis Cathedral, and it’s simply not Christmas unless I’ve walked through the Roosevelt Hotel’s fantasy of lights lobby.
HS: We usually have a New Year’s Eve party to watch the fireworks over the river, and on a clear night, we can see them from surrounding areas as well.
What is your Christmas wish for New Orleans?
HS: Better drainage.
JO: It’s one for New Orleans, L.A., London and everywhere these days: That we who have must try to take better care of those who have not.
Any New Year’s resolutions?
JO: To start planning and making my Mardi Gras costumes earlier.
HS: I resolve to personally make a better Sewerage & Water Board…which is about as likely to be fulfilled as any other resolution.