The legendary Louis Theroux, who has been a staple of English culture and a figurehead in documentary film-making, graced our laptop screens via The Guardian’s ‘In Conversation with Louis Theroux’ on Monday to discuss his recent(ish) autobiography Gotta Get Theroux This.
Its paperback release has seen people rediscovering the life and times of the British journalist, from the exploration of his childhood, to his time in America as a satirical writer, and his ‘big break’ with a gig at Michael Moore’s TV Nation. Whilst devoting a good chunk of his time to discuss his literature, he also entertained questions from the audience, ranging from his work with infamous children’s TV presenter Jimmy Savile, to how his rap persona, King Lou-E, has developed over the years.
The conversation started with Louis discussing the nature of writing a book, a task which saw him deal with mental battles, and a constant state of ‘second-guessing’. “It’s really hard [to write a book], especially when you’re used to having collaborators. When I do a TV show the biggest misconception is that I’m the creative author of the project, whereas in fact it’s a group effort”.
“So when you actually start to write, and the words aren’t coming easily, and you read it back and it’s not very good, you think: I’m a big fraud”.Louis Theroux
However, whilst a significant section of the book is dedicated to his childhood, and other personal explorations, he has voiced his desire to have made the book more personal.
“It was late in the day that I made my peace with the idea of it being revealing of my private life. I released the deeper I went into my own private life, the better it got. I released this relatively late. If I had to do it again, I’d go further”.
A significant aspect of the conversation was based, somewhat inevitably, around Jimmy Savile; the notorious children’s TV star, who abused his power to prey on children, had featured in one of Louis’ earlier documentaries. In an early draft of Gotta Get Theroux This, he had dedicated around 40,000 words on Savile alone. Louis gave us a unique insight into his experience with the child predator.
“[I spent] a lot of time in his company, visiting him. That’s a lot to process when you later find out he was a serial predator. So I thought it’d be a good idea to process some of those feelings in writing”.
Later on in the talk, an audience member asked him the question: “Did the experience impact your mental health?”
“Mental health is perhaps too big a word to use. It made me feel worried and upset. Learning about his history at Leeds General Infirmary, and also at Stoke Mandeville, it [was] extraordinarily upsetting to read. For me, personally, there was a lot to process”.
Throughout the book, Louis establishes an analysis of why his documentaries are so successful. A key phrase of his was “Go dark, but cast it light”, relating to the grim nature of his documentaries, but the light, and at times comic, mannerisms that come to light in his work.
“The second segment I made for TV Nation was about the Ku Klux Klan. It’s an awful world to be in – and yet the people, without intending to, can be quite comic. They say silly things. There’s a queasy mixture of their menace and a strange comedy of misunderstanding.”
One of the people he visited stated that “he didn’t hate any other races, he just loved white people. We’re just a civil rights group for white people”.
“And then I’d find some racist [objects], and he has to cover his tracks, so there’s an unintended comedy to it”.
Our conversation with Louis Theroux continues over the page…