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Creator / Louis Theroux

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Sign courtesy of the Westboro Baptist Church.

"In the past, I've tried to show the human side of people involved in stigmatised or misunderstood lifestyles. I've tried to resist easy judgments and not pander to prejudices."

Louis Theroux (born 1970) is a British-American documentary filmmaker, whose career has mostly been spent working for The BBC, first coming to attention with the series Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends, and continuing that with a series of one-off documentaries produced starting in the 2000s. Theroux's documentaries usually take place in America, and usually feature him getting up-close and personal with members of fringe communities, including prisoners, gamblers in Las Vegas, plastic surgery addicts, Neo-Nazis, and perhaps most famously, the Westboro Baptist Church. He very rarely makes actual judgements on those he is interviewing, but at the same time isn't afraid to ask probing questions.

His works include:

  • Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends — Ran for three seasons, with three or four two-part episodes each.
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  • When Louis Met... — Ran for two seasons, and had Louis looking into the personal lives of celebrities including Jimmy Savile, Paul Daniels, Chris Eubank, Keith Harris, and politicians Neil Hamilton and Ann Widdecombe.
  • Louis and the Brothel
  • Louis, Martin and Michael — Louis actually doesn't get to interview Michael Jackson, although his father, Joe Jackson does get interviewed.
  • Louis and the Nazis — About Neo-Nazis in California, specifically Tom Metzger, and singing duo Lamb & Lynx and their mother.
  • Gambling in Las Vegas
  • The Most Hated Family in America — The first of three documentaries on the Westboro Baptist Church
    • America's Most Hated Family in Crisis — His first follow-up documentary, again featuring the Westboro Baptist Church, and this time with something of a focus on members who have left the group.
    • Surviving America’s Most Hated Family — A further follow-up, again focused on the Westboro Baptist Church, this time looking into the way that Fred Phelps’ death has affected the church’s members and those who have left.
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  • Under the Knife — About the cosmetic surgery industry
  • Behind Bars — The first of several documentaries about prisons, in this case, San Quentin Prison in San Francisco
  • Law and Disorder in Philadelphia, Law and Disorder in Johannesburg and Law and Disorder in Lagos — Mostly about street gangs, with the latter two being rare instances of Louis filming a documentary outside America
  • A Place for Paedophiles — Takes place at the Coalinga Facility, a housing and rehabilitation centre in California
  • The City Addicted to Crystal Meth — About the commonplace usage of Crystal Meth in Fresno, California
  • The Ultra Zionists — Another one that takes place outside America, this time in Israel, and features Jewish ultra-nationalists
  • Miami Mega Jail — A two-parter, which actually features two different jails in the Miami area, along with a military-style rehabilitation program
  • America's Most Dangerous Pets — Mostly about rich people with tastes for exotic pets, particularly large carnivores such as lions and tigers
  • Extreme Love: Autism and Dementia — A two-parter about the people afflicted with those disorders, and the various facilities and organizations that have sprung up to help them
  • Twilight of the Porn Stars — A follow-up to an episode of When Louis Met... focused on the American porn industry and how it has changed with the rise of the internet.
  • Louis Theroux's LA Stories — A trilogy of documentaries, for which Louis and his family actually moved to Los Angeles.
    • City of Dogs — About dog owners in the city, and the lengths they go to in pampering their pets
    • Edge of Life — Covers the stories of several terminally ill individuals and their attempts to prolong their lives
    • Among the Sex Offenders — Documents the lives of paroled sex offenders living throughout L.A.
  • By Reason of Insanity — A two-part look at criminals who successfully used the insanity plea, and are currently housed at a facility in Dayton, Ohio, awaiting potential release.
  • Transgender Kids — About transgender children (mostly pre-teens) living in San Francisco.
  • Drinking to Oblivion — Taking place in his native UK for once, Louis documents severe alcohol addiction in London.
  • A Different Brain — Also takes place in the UK, and focuses on people with brain injuries.
  • Savile — A follow-up to "When Louis Met Jimmy," looking more into the past of Jimmy Savile and how his crimes escaped the public's attention for so long.
  • My Scientology Movie — His first theatrically-released documentary, which looks into the Church of Scientology.
  • Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic — A follow-up to "Most Dangerous Pets", specifically on the founder of the former GW zoo after his 22-year conviction for murder-for-hire against animal rights activist Carole Baskin and the Tiger King media phenomenon.

Louis Theroux's documentaries provide examples of:

  • Ac CENT Upon The Wrong Syl LA Ble: One of the teenagers interviewed in "Extreme Love: Autism", when asked if he minded having autism, agitatedly responds "Au-TISM is my life" when he should have said "AU-tism". His pronunciation and general oddness of the statement turned it into a Memetic Mutation.
  • Activist Fundamentalist Antics: Louis has twice made a documentary on the Westboro Baptist Church, and has accompanied them on their rallies and funeral picketing as a quiet observer. However, he was slightly amused (and bemused) when they declared him, personally, to be one of the chief enemies of the chosen people.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: In one scene in A Different Brain, one of the interviewees - documented to be physially/verbally inappropriate at times due to her head injury - remarks that she doesn't like being inappropriate. When Louis enquires what that is, she leans in close and remarks that she knows exactly what it is, and Louis does too; both visibly laugh after this despite the clear severity of her injury.
  • Affably Evil: Evil is up for debate but the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are quite polite and friendly to Louis. It can be very jarring to watch them smile and cheerfully tell Louis that he's going to hell and use homophobic and anti-Semitic language as though it were completely normal.
  • Analogy Backfire: While on the way to a protest during Louis's first encounter with the Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper rants about how people think they have some special power just because they're members of the military. Louis points out that Shirley herself thinks that she's special because of her church membership, only for Shirley to proudly agree with him, causing Louis to do a Double Take.
  • Angry Black Man: He's made a documentary on black supremacists, varying from Nation of Islam off-shoots to black Jewish fundamentalists. Their whole rhetoric is scarily similar to the drivel that white supremacists in another documentary exhorted to Louis, demonizing the other side as Always Chaotic Evil subhumanoids, supporting racial segregation, and possibly a race war and/or genocide.
  • Anticlimax: The opinion Louis has of a visit by Neo-Nazi leader Tom Metzger to Tijuana in Louis and the Nazis. Prior to the visit (which he gets roped into being the driver for), Louis is worried about the possibility of some sort of ugly, racially-motivated incident taking place. In actuality, 99% of the visit involved Metzger and his agent going around bars, getting drunk, and making jackasses of themselves without doing much of anything out of the ordinary.invoked
  • Armor-Piercing Question: The most cutting question in Savile is when one of Jimmy Savile's victims asks Louis "do you feel like you were groomed?", having watched his original documentary where Louis is clearly charmed and awed by Savile. Louis takes a while to make a reply and says he feels uncomfortable using that word, as he was not physically abused like Savile's victims.
  • Bait the Dog:
    • The prison documentaries have a lot of moments where a prisoner may momentarily act seemingly friendly to Louis, then in the same breath be completely upfront that he'd be their prey if he were on the inside with them.
    • Several of the Christian Fundamentalists are friendly to Louis but still say he's going to hell.
  • Beginner's Luck: In his first-ever game of Baccarat near the end of the Las Vegas special, Louis made a profit of $3,000. He attributes this (and making a few hundred dollars from blackjack the previous night) due to knowing when to quit, unlike a lot of the other customers.
  • Butt-Monkey: During his Las Vegas visit Louis teamed up with two Vegas regulars, John and Tim for a night of blackjack. At the end of it all, Louis was $200 better off than when he started, Tim was about $4,000 worse off, and John ended up losing at least $50,000; possibly even more, since he was still gambling when Louis and Tim went off to get some breakfast. On top of that, his luck was so bad that Louis and Tim went on winning streaks whenever he went to another table, but promptly started losing again when he returned.
  • Cam Whore: Louis visited a camgirl as part of his documentary Twilight of the Porn Stars. The girl in question (Kagney Linn Karter) was also a porn starlet who appeared in conventionally distributed adult films, which is a pretty common form of crossover in the industry.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Louis's earlier documentaries such as Weird Weekends and When Louis Met generally have a much more quirky and lighthearted tone to them in comparison to much of his later work like Dark States, Altered States, and Savile; likely as a result of Louis becoming more mature with age. The trend seems to have started with 2007’s The Most Hated Family In America, which in a way makes the Westboro Baptist Church a Knight of Cerebus.
  • Christmas Episode: "Weird Christmas" that concludes the first series of Weird Weekends. It has someone reappear from each of the four previous episodes ("Fundamentalists", "UFOs", "Porn" and "Survivalists"). The four don't exactly get along, with the fundamentalist being critical of anything he sees as obscuring the message of Christ, the porn star being very arrogant and unwilling to participate in group activities, the ufo-ologist being regarded as insane, with the survivalist being the only one who can get along with everyone.
  • Chronic Villainy: One of the saddest part of the Behind Bars documentary is one of the correctional officers telling Louis that most of the convicts who are paroled tend to go back to prison in the future. There usually isn't an efficient support system to facilitate a succesful reintegration into society and ultimately people are just creatures of habit.
  • Church of Happyology: The subject of My Scientology Movie, which understandably caused a lot of difficulty for Louis due to the organization's secretiveness.
  • Dark Secret:
    • In the autism episode, one of the main teenagers he interviews brings up Louis's page at Wikipedia, and jokingly reveals several aspects of Louis's past that he didn't exactly want to be made public knowledge (or at least, any more than they already were).
    • Subverted in The Most Hated Family in America when Shirley Phelps-Roper brings up the fact that Louis has had a child out of wedlock, which Louis says he feels no shame in.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Louis does this a lot, albeit in a fairly low-key manner, mostly because the people he interviews are actually intelligent to pick up on him doing it and he prefers not to piss them off if he can.
  • Emasculated Cuckold: Louis brings this up while interviewing a female pornstar and her boyfriend. He asks her if she thinks it's hard on her boyfriend that she's being paid to have sex on camera with other men, even gangbangs. She counters that her boyfriend doesn't have a job and often spends all day playing videogames, so he's not in a position to complain. They don't describe their own sex life in any detail, but her behavior suggests she's not very happy with her career and that her boyfriend is basically a Living Emotional Crutch.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: In Shooting Joe Exotic, Louis is allowed to investigate Joe Exotic's former personal belongings by Carole and Howard Baskin, and he discovers a journal entry wherein Joe ruminates on his rough childhood and claims that his oldest brother had molested him. However, when Louis visits said brother and brings this up, he reveals that Joe made this up too, having made the exact same claim against two other people, including their father. While they did have to endure many harsh physical punishments, Joe was simply a manipulative, gaslighting narcissist driven primarily by greed.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: Discussed in Louis and the Nazis, when Lamb & Lynx's mother is having them perform a dance around a swastika marked in tape on their kitchen floor. She argues that the swastika is a good luck symbol and existed for thousands of years before Hitler was born. Louis says that while that's technically true, it's extremely naïve of her to think that people won't be offended by it being used by a Neo-Nazi and self-proclaimed Aryan family.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted. Louis identifies as an atheist but doesn't bring it up very often and is generally respectful to religious people he meets.
  • I Have No Son!: A big part of America's Most Hated Family in Crisis, with Steve Drain's daughter Lauren and Fred Phelps's granddaughter (and daughter of Fred Phelps Jr.) Libby having quit the church since the making of the original documentary. With the former, the sentiment was very much shared, with her having become an agnostic and admitting she wants nothing more to do with her parents or the church. The latter, on the other hand, still deeply cares for her family, though she admits the chances of ever getting back into the church, even if she wanted to do so, are virtually nil.
  • Insane Troll Logic: By Reason of Insanity unsurprisingly features quite a bit of this, though one example that stands out is an inmate who at the time of his arrest thought that his assaulting a police officer on Martin Luther King Day helped Barack Obama win the 2008 election. By the time Louis interviewed him though, he had regained enough of his sanity to realize just how ridiculous that idea actually was.
  • Insanity Defense: By Reason of Insanity focuses on people who have successfully used the insanity defense in court and are now incarcerated at a high-security psychiatric hospital.
  • It Runs in the Family: Louis is the son of Paul Theroux, a travel writer known for his interest in strange cultures, ability to get on with anyone, and soft-spoken manner. The primary difference is that Paul is known and at times criticised for his strong opinions, whereas Louis tries to approach every situation in as balanced a way as possible. Although Louis did not initially want to be an author due to the inevitable comparison, he has gone on to write three books.
  • Large Ham:
    • "Thor Templar" of the Weird Weekends episode on UFOs. During his most famous scene, he claims to be channeling an alien to speak through him, which involves a highly theatrical performance, to the point where Louis and the camera man are finding it hard to keep a straight face. When he appears again in the episode "Weird Christmas", he manages to make even The Stoic JJ Michaels burst out laughing.
    • Sarge from the Weird Weekends episode on Wrestling, who stays in drill sergeant character even when Louis is uncomfortable. Sarge and other trainers also teach some wrestlers to be more hammy themselves when cutting promos (backstage interviews hyping a match).
    • Joey from 'Extreme Love: Autism', who is extremely attention seeking, loud and intrusive, making him a one-kid Spotlight-Stealing Squad, and the highlight of the episode for many.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: In Twilight of the Porn Stars, Louis's intrusiveness during the filming of a porn scene actually causes the male performer to get spooked and needing Cialis to finish the scene. As the cameraman explains to Louis, it's a common thing with new guys.
  • Mail-Order Bride: Louis examined the phenomenon in Thai Brides, even going through part of the process himself (though stopping before actually going on a date, since he already had a girlfriend). Surprisingly, not all of them were of the Ugly Guy, Hot Wife variety.
  • Meaningful Background Event: An unintended one happens near the end of The Most Hated Family in America when one of the younger members of the Phelps family drives Louis and the director/cameraman to a protest. As she pulls up, she admits she's genuinely baffled as to why people react so negatively to the family's protests... and as she speaks, other members of the church unload some signs containing particularly homophobic slogans from a truck in the background.
  • Medal of Dishonor:
    • On his return visit to the Westboro Baptist Church, Louis finds out that not only have they made a "Louis Theroux in Hell" sign for their protests, Fred Phelps has even called him "one of the biggest workers of inequity in the history of mankind" and likened him to Pontius Pilate, both of which Louis admits being weirdly proud of.
    • When asked about her opinion on The Most Hated Family in America, Shirley Phelps-Roper said that her only complaint was that it wasn't called The Most Hated Family in the World.
  • Medium Awareness: In "Extreme Love: Autism", Joey would say "say cheese" every time he could see a cameraman, even if it was not the main camera filming. He also at one point attempts to wrestle the camera away from one of them.
  • Might Makes Right: In his prison documentaries, convicts are always very open that it's kill or be killed in a maximum-security prison. Louis has trouble even getting one inmate to understand the weirdness (to an outsider) of immediately jumping on someone the moment they look at you funny. Another one expresses this sentiment with the word GABOS: Game Ain't Based On Sympathy.
  • Mood Whiplash: Fred Phelps's sermon in The Most Hated Family in America starts out as a fairly standard-issue screed decrying same-sex marriage but then goes off in some truly bizarre directions, culminating in Phelps's infamous proclamation that "You're gonna eat your babies!"
  • Ms. Fanservice:
    • One of the plastic surgeons' secretaries in Under the Knife had received quite a bit of discounted treatments from her boss, and wasn't shy about showing it off.
    • Deconstructed in Twilight of the Porn Stars. The nudity is very understated, and especially in the case of one webcam performer that Louie interviewed, the documentary highlights the contrast between her "plain jane" downtime appearance and how long it takes for her to get dolled up to fulfill other people's fantasies.
  • My Greatest Failure: Judging by Savile and several other interviews around the time of its first broadcast, it's pretty clear that Louis regards his failure to see Jimmy Savile for who he really was to be this. The fact that he met two of Savile's victims (albeit ones who described Jimmy in glowing terms as a boyfriend), and worked out that Savile started a relationship with one of them when they were 15 but dismissed that as a relic of that era, weighs particularly heavy on him.
  • Nice Guy: Louis is a very polite and good-natured person who always gives people a chance to speak about their views and tries to avoid judging or dismissing people.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: American subjects of the documentaries often mispronounce Louis's name, not realising it is French. The most common pronunciation is saying his first name as 'Lou-is' instead of 'Lou-ie', and more hilariously, pronouncing "Theroux" as "Thee-rux" or "Theh-row" instead of "Ther-roo". Though off-camera, Louis tells them the correct way to say his name, their original attempts are often left in for Rule of Funny.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: In Twilight of the Porn Stars, there are a lot of shots of camera and lighting crew in the middle of filming a porn scene just standing around looking bored or flipping through their smartphones. If you're around that stuff every working day of the week, it becomes tedious.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: In The Most Hated Family in America and its sequel, Louis notes that he actually has a lot in common with Steve Drain, the Westboro Baptist Church's in-house filmmakernote . On top of that, he notes that the vast majority of the church members actually seem very normal when not involved in protests.
  • Once an Episode: During Series 1 of Weird Weekends, Louis took his acoustic guitar everywhere and if one of his subjects expressed an interest in music, he would play along with them at some point in the episode. A couple of examples are him playing Space Oddity with a UF Oologist, and playing Christian rock with a group of Fundamentalists. This was often a great bonding experience for him, but was dropped from later series, presumably for time reasons.
  • Professional Gambler: In the Las Vegas episode, Louis hung around several people who gambled in the casinos for a living. The most successful ones were given the VIP treatment for the publicity.
  • Reformed Criminal: Several of the prison staffers in Behind Bars and Miami Mega Jail were in fact former jailbirds themselves, who decided to turn their lives around by helping other criminals in the same situation.
  • Running Gag: During the Las Vegas episode, Louis repeatedly asked random strangers in the hotel's elevators whether or not they were winning... and needless to say, most of them weren't.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Joe Jackson stormed out of his interview with Louis, after the latter questioned whether Michael Jackson might be in the closet. Also counts as a rant-inducing slight, since Louis had previously asked him several far more probing questions about his violent behavior toward his children in their youth.
  • Sex Equals Love: One of the questions that Louis asks in his porn documentaries is how the performers are able to separate the two given their chosen careers. As he eventually concludes, it's not as simple as it looks, with one middle-aged performer (Tommy Gunn), for example, explaining to Louis that somewhere he yearns for a long-term relationship and wonders if any of the multitudes of girls he has sex with on a regular basis feel something for him emotionally.
  • Situational Sexuality: Louis Theroux encountered this when he interviewed several transgender inmates in his prison documentary "Behind Bars". They have to constantly be careful that another prisoner doesn't kidnap them and keep them in their own cell for some length of time. They're just that starved of having a female presence at "home". He also came across a few male couples, including one man who was straight on the outside.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Louis's opinion of Tom Metzger in the Nazis special, especially during the Tijuana visit when Metzger wandered off for a while, showed up again ten minutes later and then berated his agent, claiming that his status as a "political leader" meant he could be a kidnapping and ransom target, despite Louis noting that it was obvious that none of the locals had the faintest idea who Metzger was, and clearly didn't give a damn about him.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The subject of Louis and the Nazis, specifically Neo-Nazi groups in California. Obviously, it's shown to be a fringe group with very few members outside of some mass gatherings. He also met a few 'celebrities' within the white supremacy movement.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Zigzagged in Louis's documentary about a licensed brothel in Nevada. Some of the girls appear pretty happy to be working girls, some seem to be forced by circumstance more than anything. It really depends on the person and their own situation.