“Is this how Zoom works?” frowns Jon Ronson. “Zoom must be making so much money right now,” nods Louis Theroux, as the pair confab via the video call service for Theroux’s inaugural lockdown podcast, which sees him interview a different guest each week. It is such an excellent hour of story-swapping, with Ronson in upstate New York and Theroux in London.
Not friends, they’ve envied each other from afar, both having monetised the ability to be the British person who sits there looking simultaneously appalled and accepting while some gun nut says incoherent things. Amusingly, Theroux remembers balking at transporting burlap sacks for a cross burning with the Klu Klux Klan, and Ronson reminds us that David Icke thought Cherie Blair was a lizard but not Tony. Neither man boringly pretends to not be extremely successful. Theroux has his own section of BBC iPlayer for God’s sake, like Top Gear.
Theroux is synonymous with “intelligent investigative documentary making, with a moral basis”. This seemingly gentle, listening Alpha… pretending to be Beta. We’ll forgive anyone in this country (even Gordon Ramsay!) if they “don’t suffer fools”, but Theroux has a brand of mildness that makes him particularly powerful. Such suckers we are in the UK for lightly worn intelligence. Probably because we’re a kowtowing, forelock-tugging kind of nation and have to find ways of getting round that. Hence, the humble posho is so adored.
Theroux is an acute person (“I had a tiny squirt of panic” he says here, a brilliant description) who accomplishes his job by generally appearing to be obtuse. That money shot: Louis Theroux looking troubled. Although I suspect that Theroux is a bit obtuse, or wrapped up in himself – that his acting is a bit more method than you first think. That’s why he’s so good at it. But hey, it’s Louis Theroux, and we love him. Although as a rule it’s probably a good idea to not love people off the TV too much. (Apart from David Attenborough, obviously.) Future episodes will feature Lenny Henry, Boy George and Miriam Margolyes. Anticipate some epic oversharing.
Grounded with Louis Theroux
BBC Radio 4
This article appears in the 06 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Remaking Britain