The Man of Many Face

Christopher Guest takes his comedy very, very seriously

"I couldn't be more serious about what I do, but having said that, I hope that it's not pompous or pretentious," he says. "This is what I do: I take seriously this craft, and to break that down into an improvisational craft, which I have equated over and over with music. I was asked to talk to the AFI [American Film Institute] a few years ago, and I knew it was a mistake, because I didn't go to film school. I was from a different place. I began to say, 'Here's what happens--there's no rehearsal,' and I could see the shutters coming down in front of their eyes, like in a Chuck Jones cartoon. And I thought, 'Well, OK, now I'm fucked.' To me, it couldn't be more inspirational than to sit down with Eugene and know we don't know what we're going to say when the cameras are rolling. It's the same sitting with McKean playing music, which we've done for 30 years. Sometimes it makes you laugh when you play something: 'Whoa, I didn't know you were going there.' I find this profoundly exciting and interesting, and, yes, I do take it seriously.

"There's an amazing thing in a Truffaut movie--I think it's Bed & Board--and it's one of my favorite images I've ever seen in movies, where this family is looking out the window and they see this man in a coat during winter, and he has his collar up. He's walking, and this family sees him, and there's this unbelievable pissed-off, sour-looking expression on his face. Later in the movie, the family's sitting around eating, and they see him on TV, and he's a comedian doing the broadest thing you've ever seen, and it's an absolutely incredible moment. I just thought, 'Oh, what a great observation,' because there are people like that."

And one of them is named Christopher Guest.

This man goes to 11: Christopher Guest was, and remains, Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel.
This man goes to 11: Christopher Guest was, and remains, Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel.
This man goes to one: Christopher Guest as the serious director of Best in Show.
This man goes to one: Christopher Guest as the serious director of Best in Show.

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