And now, comedian Harry Shearer.
What role do these gifted performers have in common?
Langella and Sir Anthony resurrected the 37th president within the framework of carefully crafted screenplays. Shearer’s approach is just as actorly, but his material isn’t exactly scripted. Instead, he and Nixon scholar Stanley Kutler pieced it together from unofficial banter on the 3,700 hours of audiotape Nixon secretly recorded while in office, supplementing with notes by those who were there.
The result is Nixon’s The One, a fly-on-the-wall web series in which virtuoso improviser Shearer sticks scrupulously to the script, recreating every pause and awkward chuckle. Compare Shearer’s lead up to Nixon’s televised resignation above, to the real thing, below.
It’s uncomfortable, uncanny, dissociative, and strangely human.
The only false note is Shearer’s glaringly obvious prosthetic nose, though given the professional, period-accurate set, this may have been a deliberate choice. Despite his insistence on authenticity, a biopic is clearly not what creator Shearer had in mind.
He’s been in training for this project for close to half a century, long before the idea itself was hatched. His first turn as Nixon came as a young, make-up free member of the L.A. comedy group, the Credibility Gap.
The next was on Sunday Best, a 1991 mid-season replacement on NBC. “I did a sketch I don’t think ever aired,” he told the Wall Street Journal, “Nixon as a guest on an infomercial demonstrating a magical teeth-whitening preparation.”
Le Show, Shearer’s extremely funny radio show, provided a forum for yet another ridiculous exercise at Tricky Dick’s expense.
The one-time political science major has elected to play it straight with this verbatim, long form labor of love, in order let the weird, unintentional comedy of Richard Nixon shine through. Find all the videos in the Nixon’s the One series here.
Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She embarrassed her parents on a childhood tour of the Nixon White House uncharacteristically boisterous demands to see Tricky Dick and a queasy stomach that healed itself in time for a visit to a Lafayette Square hot dog vendor. Follow her @AyunHalliday