Comedian Harry Shearer on When Marriage is a Punchline

Harry Shearer and wife Judith Owen Rex USA

Judith Owen and I had met in 1992 at the Conrad Hotel in London. I was over there doing Spinal Tap at Royal Albert Hall and she had taken a gig singing in the lunchroom. I had hair extensions and had grown my facial hair out, so I really did look like Derek Smalls, and This Is Spinal Tap happened to be her favorite movie. We were checking into the hotel, and Chris Guest, who was standing with me, says that as he watched me spy this singer through the lunchroom door he saw my eyes go cartoon-boing.

Not long after, I invited Judith to the U.S. and she said, “All right, I’m coming to Los Angeles.” She’s a U.K. citizen, and she’d never been on an international flight before. She lands and the immigration people ask, “Are you here for business or pleasure?” And she says, “To tell you the truth, I’m coming to meet the man I’m planning to marry.” They say, “Come with us.” And they do a four-hour interrogation and say, “We’ll let you in, but if you leave the country you’ll never get back in.”

So now we get married, because she doesn’t want to be deported. We’re together because we love each other, and I could have lived for another 4 million years without registering my emotions with the government again, but she had a good reason. Now two years down the line we have to go do this examination to prove to the federal government that our marriage is not a sham. So we head to the federal building in downtown Los Angeles. We have an appointment with a Filipina lady who is going to decide whether our marriage is a sham or not. Judith is petrified. She collects documentation of everything we’ve ever done together—every canceled check, every photograph of every trip we’ve been on, two shopping bags full. We’ve memorized the location of each other’s moles and are prepared for a really in-depth examination. And we sit in the little cubicle and the Filipina lady does a little small talk and then she says, “All right, Harry, when did you two get married?” And I said, “March 29, 1993.” Judith sends a hockey-level elbow into my ribs and hisses, “March 28!” And the woman sees this and says, “You’re married. You can go.”

What that taught me was you can study and be prepared, but being natural wins it every time. If Judith had pretended to be a loving wife or I had pretended to be a knowledgeable husband, we’d still be talking to that lady trying to prove we were married.

Interview By Lloyd Grove

Career Arc


Appears as a child actor in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars.


Portrays bassist Derek Smalls in This Is Spinal Tap.


Joins the cast of The Simpsons, voicing Mr. Burns and others.


Marries Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen.


Stars in Nixon's the One and releases Can't Take a Hint, a satirical album.