Every year, the Dallas VideoFest gives an award of special achievement to a pioneer of television and film in honor of the late TV comedian Ernie Kovacs. This year, that supreme honor will go to comedian, writer, musician and Richard Nixon impersonator Harry Shearer.
The Dallas VideoFest announced that the star of Saturday Night Live, This is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons will receive this year's Ernie Kovacs Award, a special recognition that honors "the career and talents of some of television's greatest visionaries," according to a statement released by the VideoFest.
The award will be given to Shearer during the VideoFest at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 at the Angelika Film Center. Past recipients of this award include Martin & Rowan's Laugh-In creator George Schlatter, Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill creator Mike Judge, Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator and star Joel Hodgson and SNL and Late Night with Conan O'Brien writer Robert Smigel.
Shearer's career spans almost the entire length of his life starting with his film debut in the
1943 1953 film Abbott and Costello Go to Mars and his fabled performance as Eddie Haskel in the pilot episode of Leave It to Beaver. He landed a writing job and some small parts with SNL in 1979 before joining the cast of the 10th season in 1984 where he wrote and starred in one of the show's most memorable sketches about a brother synchronized swimming team with eyes on the Olympics alongside Martin Short.
The same year saw the release of the classic rock mockumentary This is Spinal Tap written by and starring Shearer as the bassist Derek Smalls alongside Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, a partnership that continued through subsequent rock comedy albums, tours and a reunion as the Folksmen in the 2003 comedy movie A Mighty Wind.
These days, he continues to provides voices on the long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons for characters such as Kent Brockman, Dr. Julius Hibbert and C. Montgomery Burns. He hosts a weekly satirical radio show for NPR called Le Show, and produced and narrated a hard-hitting documentary about Hurricane Katrina and the manmade weaknesses that led to the devastation in New Orleans called The Big Uneasy. He also created the reenactment series Nixon's the One featuring live reenactments of President Nixon's transcripts starring a fully made-up Shearer in the title role. Shearer will premiere Nixon's the One at the VideoFest before its full release on the web portal My Damn Channel.
Bart Weiss, the program and director and founder of the Dallas VideoFest, says Shearer embodies the spirit and creative enthusiasm of the late Kovacs and the award because of his unique ability to rebel and work within such a seemingly restrictive medium.
"There's something kind of unique about [Shearer's] spirit," Weiss says. "With all the things he does, he works within the system but he's a totally unique character within the system, which is very much what Kovacs did. Kovacs worked in television. He had the brain and mind of a poet and an artist as you can see from his work but he was able to work within the system. Harry Shearer has been able to do his own TV series, radio show and what he does on The Simpsons but he is his own man. He has his own unique sense of identity and he does some really cool stuff."
Weiss says that Shearer's sharp wit and satirical eye fills a deep void left by the instant gratification style of programming that has permeated across the media landscape.
"I really believe very, very deep down that film and video have an incredible power to transform us, enlighten us, to make us better humans," Weiss says. "It can be the ultimate form of entertainment to move us. The problem is that 90 percent of the time, what we see is not that. So what we try to do at the festival is point to the possibility."
Tickets for the awards presentation and more info at dallasvideofest.org.