Louis Theroux

Interview podcasts in which famous people engage in cosy chats with their famous friends are frequently disappointing — guys, if you want to catch up, why not just pick up the phone? Nonetheless, networks can’t get enough of them. Lena Dunham, David Tennant, Russell Brand, Jonathan Van Ness, Chelsea Peretti, George Ezra and Gwyneth Paltrow all host their own series. Let’s just say not all of them are worth your time. 

All hail Louis Theroux, then, whose new BBC Sounds/Radio 4 series Grounded with Louis Theroux — so-called since it has been pulled together during lockdown — is characterised by depth, curiosity and, on occasion, some proper punches to the gut. Of course, Theroux made his name as a journalist and documentary maker: over the years he has immersed himself in the lives of porn stars, prison inmates and crystal meth addicts, and has spent time with controversial celebrities including the late Jimmy Savile. It’s safe to say he is interested in other people and what drives them. He’s also unafraid of asking questions that others would find difficult to ask. 

So far, there have been candid conversations with Boy George, Helena Bonham Carter and Jon Ronson, all recorded over Zoom. Theroux’s interview with Ronson, an author and documentary maker, brings with it a special tension as the pair acknowledge their professional rivalry. Ronson, who now lives in the US, says he no longer feels they are in competition but Theroux admits, “I think I feel it more now . . . As much as I like you and as much as I admire you, there’s a little part of me that continues to feel a bit of rivalry, and there’s some nastiness mixed in with it, which I don’t endorse.” 

The latest episode features the comedian and actor Lenny Henry who talks about the violence of his childhood, his attempts to fit in with his white peers, and how, in his early years as a stand-up comic, he would mock his own blackness as self-protection. “You were expected to do all the dodgy jokes about yourself before the audience did, and the trip home would be sad,” he recalls. “I went on stage once and the whole front row were blacked up.” The conversation is wide-ranging and emotional, and the listener emerges with a greater understanding of who Henry is. This is how the celebrity interview is done. 

WTF with Marc Maron is a long-running series in which the American comedian and actor interviews people in his garage. He regularly gets the biggest names in the business — past subjects have included Robin Williams and Barack Obama. Last week Maron’s partner, the film-maker Lynn Shelton, died suddenly from a blood disorder, and in a special episode, he describes her last moments and her impact on his life, before rerunning an interview he did with her in 2015, which was the first time they met. It’s one hell of a listen.

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