Louis Theroux is a storyteller, and during his stage show an Auckland audience found out what makes him a great one.
The 49-year-old British documentary presenter and author has interviewed the world's weird and wonderful, from porn stars to Westboro Baptist Church members, and Neo-Nazis. He's best known for his series Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends, his BBC Two specials and his series When Louis Met.
Those familiar with Theroux's work know him as a goofy, tall guy with glasses who doesn't shy away from the tough questions. At his stage show Louis Theroux: Without Limits last night at Auckland's Civic Theatre, the crowd were given access to a deeper layer of the British documentary maker.
Going into the show last night, I had no idea what to expect. Would it be Theroux giving a grand tour of his past works, and reading passages from his book? It was both of those things, and a whole lot more.
As any journalist would probably relate to, I wanted to know how he managed to talk to almost any person from any walk of life so effortlessly.
Theroux opened the show by casually walking on stage, and sharing an anecdote about one of his documentaries. It was his first time in New Zealand for the Brit.
In an admission that would add to the themes of the night, he explained that he's "been worried at three and I've been worried ever since."
Host Julia Zemiro, an Australian presenter and actress, coaxed out stories from Theroux's decade-spanning career, taking us through a tour of his work in a This Is Your Life style segment. The beginnings were clips of his most embarrassing on-camera moments, like the time he starred in a gay porn movie as a Park Ranger and auditioned for a cruise liner.
Goofy moments aside, it was the more serious clips with his documentary "contributors" that were some of the most powerful parts of the show.
A women named Laurie featured in his doco about assisted dying in the U.S. - a topic political issue for New Zealand as the issue heads to a referendum vote in this year's general election. We saw Theroux do what he does best: sensitively deal with tough issues and put people at the heart of his story.
Then there were the subjects hard to empathise with: Nazis and Westboro Baptist Church members. Theroux pointed out he doesn't make films about these people for shock value, or to make a spectacle of them. Even his doco about Scientology titled My Scientology Movie, which Theroux called "the holy grail of stories" sought to understand more than to make fun of the people.
"...but it is ridiculous," he admitted.
The second act featured the dreaded audience questions - but surprisingly thanks to some Twitter vetting these got some great answers out of Theroux. A woman asked him whether he sees himself as influencing public opinion with his work and social media stances. In his answer, he explained he hopes people see 2D characters and real, multi-faceted human beings by the end of his films.
He said: "I suffer from the disease of seeing both sides, which can be incapacitating."
The highlight of the show, and a drawcard for several audience members was Theroux interviewing one of his most famous contributors live on stage. Megan Phelps-Roper was until 2012 a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. She's incredibly articulate, and her story is heartbreaking. Through running the church's Twitter account and engaging in discussions with outsiders, Phelps-Roper found holes in the church's argument and eventually had the courage to leave with her sister.
The question everyone wanted the answer to was, did Louis's documentaries have any impact of her decision to leave?
The short answer was no. At the time of filming, she had such strongly held beliefs that she could not make sense of Theroux's questioning of the church. It was the only world she knew. However, when she was thinking of leaving, his words helped justify her decision.
Phelps-Roper can't have any contact with her mother, and one of the show's saddest moments was when a clip was played of Theroux interviewing her mother recently. She admitted she was angry at Theroux just being able to go into her former home and see her mother, something she has come to accept she cannot do.
As the show drew to a close, the two-time BAFTA award winner summarised what Theroux hopes to achieve with his career - and it was a lovely explanation about humanity. The biggest impression I got from the night is that Theroux cares, a lot.
"There's almost nothing with whom you can't find something in common.
"We are warped by our very nature. There's no sign of humanity becoming normal any time soon."
Theroux may tell stories about people who make us angry or sad, but his live show proved his work's biggest strength is helping the world understand.