Tag Archives: Christopher Guest

The Paradox of Cranky Comedians

I adore Christopher Guest—or should I say his work. I’ve watched his movies (Spinal Tap, Best in Show, etc.) over and over, and they’re among favorites to have on in the background while working.

I’ve read that Guest can be irascible in real life, and this trait is revealed a bit on Unwigged and Unplugged, a live concert tape released last year where he and his partners Michael McKean and Harry Shearer perform various songs (beautifully) from their movies. Guest doesn’t say much, doesn’t smile, and seems almost annoyed to be there, and though it doesn’t show in his performance, it does in his attitude.

His coolness has been noted by both interviewers and fans. He is aloof during promotional appearances, and was once described by reviewer Warren Etheredge as “rude, condescending and intolerable,” which is exactly contrary to what we expect from  comedians.  Guest has said, “People want me to be funny all the time. They think I’m being funny no matter what I say or do and that’s not the case. I rarely joke unless I’m in front of a camera. It’s not what I am in real life. It’s what I do for a living.”

Wow. Who knew it was just a job? I have to say this knocks him down a couple of rungs on my ladder of respect. Nobody’s asking him to be funny all the time, but there’s no need to make everybody recoil in humiliation.

A small bit of research led me to discover that this is in no way a unique phenomenon among comedians. Actor Mark Wahlberg said in a recent interview…“comedic actors are often the polar opposite of how they appear on screen. They’re dark and moody…”

Which is why I hate talk shows, it smashes the myth–and I don’t want to know how bland or difficult the people who make me laugh are in real life because they’re too precious. Maybe a bit of misanthropy goes with the territory—the darker and funnier the comedian, the more withdrawn in real life. Maybe they are so absorbed in composing their perverse reflections on life that they don’t need people to like them personally, because all that really matters is the performance. Instead of challenging them, perhaps we should just think up a different job title for them, acrimonians or ornerians or negativians or soreheads. We’ll still watch their shows and buy their DVDs, but maybe they’re better admired impersonally, from afar.