Oh Louis Theroux! You gorgeous, awkward, lanky British diamond. Whether I’m left with a glimmer of optimism after watching one of your documentaries, or like I’ve just experienced the five stages of grief over the state of humanity, there’s always a feeling that I’ve gone away a little wiser.
Yet there’s one quality of yours which, personally, I don’t think gets the props it deserves – how effortless you make leaving your comfort zone look in your more lighthearted earlier work. The fact that Louis Theroux is possibly the best team player the BBC has ever seen tends to be an overshadowed yet vital feature of his breakthrough series, Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends (1998 - 2000).
Reaching its twentieth anniversary earlier this year, the television documentary was a unique blend of critical and comedic, with Louis’ distinctive persona as the nerdy and relatable interviewer perfectly complementing each episode’s glimpse into a specific fringe-culture. What’s particularly striking though, when binge-watching a young Louis Theroux eagerly jumping at every new experience and opportunity to make a complete arse of himself, is the admirably high level of self-confidence hidden behind that dorky, awkward persona.
Although his naturally awkward demeanour is his trademark, Louis matches this with an equal, albeit less obvious, lack of self-consciousness when it comes to being laughed at.
And as a fellow dork, who unlike Louis still finds themselves worrying what other people might think, he’s the best kind of role model. One who, through his own example, challenges his audience to greet terrifying new experiences with enthusiasm, and to not automatically assume that confidence and nerdiness are two mutually exclusive characteristics.
Louis’ bravery as a journalist is now more commonly associated with the documentaries he made after established popularity gave him the freedom to shift into deeper themes and an increasingly sombre tone; but let’s not overlook the many moments from Weird Weekends where you find yourself in total awe of the way Louis just gives it all a red hot go.
Here are a few choice moments where young Louis truly embodies living life off the chain:
UFO Watchers (Series One, Episode Two)
This episode sees Louis travelling to America’s notorious alien hotspots, including California’s ‘Giant Rock’ (believed to be a portal for alien life) and Creston, Colorado (home to the animal mutilation phenomenon). He also meets a few intriguing alien enthusiasts on the way, like cargo-clad fellow Thor Templar, the leader of the ‘Alien Resistance Movement’, who shows Louis some products available in his catalogue to protect from alien attack, and reminds me so hard of Dale Gribble from King of the Hill buying drums of alien urine.
But the particularly inspiring Louis moment in this episode occurs on the boundary of infamous military base, Area 51. Leaving the tour bus to view the border, there are warning signs stating that the use of ‘deadly force’ is authorised if approached beyond that point. Yet Louis, being the complete adrenaline junkie he is, walks slightly across the boundary while playfully teasing the tour guide Renee.
Literally shaking, and looking giddy with excitement, he walks further up the hill. Such a natural rebel.
Porn (Series One, Episode Three)
I googled the gay porno Louis cameoed in during this episode – you know just as you do on a usual Saturday night – and apparently Louis’ bit was cut from the final edit. WHAT!!!! Why would you?! He nailed the bit of the asexual park ranger on the lookout for an escaped prisoner. Frankly, it turned me on.
However, believe it or not, this seminal appearance in… I think the film was called Snowbound (there was snow in it, that’s why it’s a clever title), isn’t even the best ‘zero shits given’ moment from this episode.
As part of his attempt to become more directly involved within the Los Angeles pornography industry, Louis signs up with an acclaimed talent agent, and part of creating a full profile requires a naked photograph. The truly inspiring moment of this episode occurs within the final credits. It’s a compilation of interviewee reactions to Louis just nonchalantly handing them this photo and asking what they think.
Louis has commented in other episodes - and even in later work, that he feels he’s a ‘weird looking guy’ - despite that belief he’ll still gladly show a nude photograph of himself to a whole bunch of porn stars, for a laugh.
Swingers (Series Two, Episode Two)
Speaking of body pride, how could we not talk of Louis’ time with Southern Californian ‘swinging’ couple Gary and Margaret?
Now while Louis is noticeably quite uncomfortable majority of Gary and Margaret’s party for fellow couples in ‘the lifestyle’, he does still make a genuine effort to get involved by swimming in their pool naked, and adorably asking “So I’m in the pool, I’ve got my clothes off, so am I swinging?”
Although jumping in pool may be considered pretty tame by other people’s standards, judging by the incredibly unsubtle looks of Louis’ face, attending this party is undeniably well beyond his comfort zone. He’s painfully awkward in this moment, yet there he is, literally diving into a situation which terrifies him - attempting to avoid sitting by himself all night yet also knowing his own limits.
Earlier in the episode, Gary also unknowingly gives a great bit of general life advice when discussing etiquette at swinging events; “embarrassing is something you’re going to have to get over… how else are you going to get anything done?”
Off-Off Broadway (Series Two, Episode Five)
As part of this episode’s attempt to fully comprehend the ‘cycle of rejection’ emerging actors face in New York City, Louis auditions for a musical on a cruise ship – and as someone who also can’t sing for shit, it’s excruciating to watch.
Despite being told earlier in the episode during a singing lesson, “I don’t think at this moment in your career you’re a singing powerhouse”, Louis is not deterred, and in a room filled with actors who actually have strong vocals he sings The Beatles’ ‘With a Little Help From my Friends’ quite out of tune.
Watching the other actors sing before him, he knows that his audition will bomb. But he does it anyway, smiling and completely unfazed that everyone in that room pities him.
It’s also another episode where we’re reminded that Louis knows a hell of a lot of the lyrics to George Michael’s Faith, and it warms my heart.
The final episode of Weird Weekends explores the rap scene in America’s ‘Dirty South’, and also happens to include a live rap on radio show, 9 O’Clock Props, where Louis lets everyone know how bad-ass his Fiat is.
Also thanks to this episode, I’m incapable of going to the supermarket without getting this one line in my head from Louis’ rap battle – “I gotta make this money it’s all on me – we gotta get this cheese, it’s all we need”.
The particularly great thing about this rap though, is how confident Louis is listening to caller feedback afterwards from listeners who wouldn’t have known that it wasn’t meant to be serious.
Images via nocontextlouis