Adult movies, baboons and shopping with David Soul: Louis Theroux's funniest moments

By Alice Vincent

Louis Theroux meets Tatiana, the 'baboon daughter'.
Louis Theroux meets Tatiana, the 'baboon daughter'.

On Friday, Louis Theroux's first feature film will be released. After a string of emotional, hard-hitting documentaries about paedophilia, transgender children and alcoholism, the documentary maker has returned to more lighthearted subject material in My Scientology Movie. Telegraph film critic Tim Robey calls it: "gloriously funny".

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While Theroux's most devoted fans will know the filmmaker has long incorporated humour into his work - frequently with a well-timed awkward pause or doing something goofy with the greatest sincerity - it's been a while since a Louis documentary has made us laugh.

As My Scientology Movie hits the big screen, here are some of his funniest moments:

The Avon Ladies meeting

Theroux's first foray into documentary presenting sees him travel to the Amazon, where 70,000 Avon saleswomen ply their wares to women on the breadline. The short segment in a 1994 episode of Michael Moore's TV Nation, Avon Ladies of the Amazon certainly has darker elements: such as the power of televised advertising in a society which is largely illiterate and the promises held in beauty products. However, we also get to see Theroux join in enthusiastically at an Avon Ladies' meeting and attempt to keep up with Avon's professional stock couriers.

The gay porn film cameo

Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends cemented Theroux as a star and saw him make the transition from fish-out-of-water to serious documentarian. Across three series he encountered Born Again Christians, Indian gurus, Black nationalists and people convinced of the existence of aliens. Early on, he tackles the porn industry, making a (non-sexual) cameo in a gay porn film: "Good evening gentlemen, I'm just telling people they should be on the look-out for an escapee from Jordan County prison".

Tatiana the baboon

In 2011 Theroux travelled to America to meet some of its more ambitious pet owners for America's Most Dangerous Pets. While he jostles with lions (owned by a man who laughs as he describes the way his pet would kill Theroux), it is his reaction to Tatiana, described as a "baboon daughter", that is by far the most entertaining: "There's something about her face that's a little bit off-putting."

The headshots

In 1999, Theroux headed to Manhattan to cover the world of the struggling Broadway actor, and see if he can make it himself. Before he can audition for a role on a Norwegian cruise ship, he must have some headshots taken. A ribald photoshoot ensues, in which Theroux dons a series of outfits and expressions, all of which is set off by the serious professionalism of the photographer and his mentor. He also sings in front of Craig Horwood - who would go on to be better known with a jazzy middle name as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing.

Going shopping with David Soul

This incident, sadly, was not caught on camera, but Theroux's report of the afternoon he spent with Starsky and Hutch actor David Soul documents it well enough. In 1998, years before he upgraded to a Fiat< (see the rap clip), Theroux drove the A-lister around West London on a shopping trip in his 1993 Yugo Tempo, which didn't have a front seat-belt. Before the interview can begin, Theroux and Soul go hunting for hamburger meat - a mission that fails to spectacular effect.

Transcript of the conversation between David Soul and Jason Theroux.
Transcript of the conversation between David Soul and Jason Theroux.

Finding the Survivalist who loves Are You Being Served?

While spending time with a series of military enthusiasts and right-wing patriots who spend their lives preparing to survive the apocalypse, Theroux encounters one, Jerry Gruidel, who enjoys camp Seventies sitcom Are You Being Served. Theroux is surprised, and asks him why he likes it, to which Gruidel replies that he likes the women who work in the lingerie counter. But his affections do not extend to the effete shop assistant Mr Humphries, it seems - something Theroux maximises on:

Theroux: What about Mr Humphries?

Gruidl: Well, I try to ignore that part.

Theroux: Why?

Gruidl: He's, uh, the one that's the fairy?

Theroux: The camp one [he imitates Humphries] I'm free! I'm freee!

Gruidl: No, I just ignore that.

Theroux: Why?

Gruidl: Because he's a queer.

Theroux: But he's the funniest thing in it.

Gruidl: Well, maybe to you. I think he's disgusting.

Theroux: But you said you liked the show and he's...

Gruidl: Oh yeah, the show. They throw that in because they have to have the 'diversity'. They have to show that 'Oh, we love everybody.' See, up here, we're free to say 'Hey, I discrimate.'

Theroux: [impersonates Humphries again] I'm free!

Gruidl: Yeah, I'm free to discriminate.

Theroux: I'm freee! [Theroux laughs, to Gruidl's discomfort] Say 'I'm free'. Do you want to? Do you want to say 'I'm free'? I'm freee!

Gruidl: I'm not free.

Theroux: Why not?

Gruidl: Because our country is in bondage to the Jews.

Groove is in the heart

Not produced by the BBC, but rather the result of some early-nineties japes with Theroux's friends, Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, who have since gone on to have similarly flourishing careers in the comedy and film industries. This is simply a minute of silliness.

The rap competition

This is, perhaps, the Weird Weekends zenith: Theroux travels to America's South to report on the Dirty South gangsta rap scene. While there he meets its stars and, most entertainingly, gets set up as a rapper - complete with artwork and a rap. His performance during a live radio rap competition has become so legendary people are now quoting it in graffiti - and made all the funnier because of the enthusiasm, and exasperation, of the radio show's host: "LOUIS!"

The shopping channel

Theroux fans will recognise it well: the broadcaster's gentle pestering of his mentors after he has eagerly undertaken a new activity. See it deployed to perfection after Theroux takes a turn in front of the cameras on a live shopping channel - and the presenter's increasingly brittle reassurances that he did well.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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