Me and my travels, Harry Shearer, actor

Harry Shearer, actor

My favourite city is ...

New Orleans. I have a place there and one in Los Angeles, which is where I spend a lot of time because of The Simpsons [Shearer voices characters including Mr Burns and Ned Flanders]. The saving grace of New Orleans - and this may sound cool or ironic, but has the added advantage of being true - is its poverty. There's never been enough money in New Orleans to destroy either the architecture or the music scene. People don't play music in New Orleans for the reasons they do in Nashville or LA - to become stars or to get rich - they play because they've got to. It's in the streets, in their family, in their blood. It's not a figure of speech to say it comes from the streets: come out your door in the right neighbourhood and you'll hear a band go by.

My first vacation ...

Involved seeing three of the most beautiful places on earth. My family was lower middle class and my parents both worked so we couldn't take proper vacations. We'd go for three days to Santa Barbara or to the desert, so my first real vacation came was when I was 12, when friends of my parents were taking their kids away. We went to Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in Arizona and Utah. Bryce Canyon isn't as famous as the Grand Canyon but it is just incredible - nothing compares to it. I went back recently and you can't get better than the combination of the blue skies and the red rocks.

My favourite hotel is ...

The Four Seasons in Prague. I've always loved the city and it's still spectacular and gorgeous apart from the British stag- and hen-do thing. When we went it had just reopened and there was something sweet and caring and wonderful about the way they took care of people.

My idea of paradise is ...

Fiji. I have a friend who has a house there, about 20 minutes from the Cousteau resort, and it's beautiful. I went night snorkelling with a torch and that was incredible; a whole different group of fish come out at night. I try to get there every year.

My favourite restaurant is ...

A place two blocks from where I live in New Orleans called Stella, named after the character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The food is wonderful.

I'd love to go to ...

Brazil. I think it's probably the same as New Orleans for me. I've been seduced by its music for years. I know that when I get there I'll think 'Why did I wait so long?' I have a dear friend who goes every year who keeps on telling me to go with him, and when The Simpsons ends I probably will. It's hard to do really major-league travelling while that show is around because we're in production spring, summer and fall and you can't really go away over Thanksgiving and Christmas as they're the time the family comes together.

I always take with me ...

My AM/FM shortwave portable radio. I have my iPod and iPhone with me every day, but when I travel I need my radio. I don't trust alarm calls; I want a radio that I don't need to read the manual to operate and something so that if I'm way out in the middle of nowhere like Fiji I can pick up the BBC on shortwave. There's something about that which means you're magically in touch wherever you are. The internet does that, but there are times and places where you just don't get the internet and never will.

I always bring back ...

Dirty underwear. I'm not a collector. I realised a good time ago that I have enough stuff. My wife's not at that point yet, so she brings back enough for both of us.

The most interesting person I ever sat next to on a plane ...

Was an expert on global security who was on her way back to university in California. There was some incident on the plane that struck me as peculiar and that got us talking. It turned out that she was one of the three most knowledgeable people in the world on terrorism and secret service operations.

A lot of food in Los Angeles ...

Is what I call actress cooking, which means that you can eat it without feeling guilty. But there's a really eclectic restaurant called Josie's that has really good strong flavours, and if you like jazz there's a wonderful room called the Jazz Bakery in a former bakery in Culver City, which is the hot new 'burb. It's got great sound, great piano and great acts playing there.

• Apart from his work on The Simpsons, Harry Shearer is best known for playing Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap. Songs of the Bushmen, his musical satire on the Bush administration, is out now on Courgette Records and available on iTunes and Amazon.

Interview by Jon Bennett

The GuardianTramp

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