beat cop

Christopher Guest

Christopher Guest (born February 5, 1948), is an Emmy Award-winning writer, Grammy Award-winning composer/musician, director, and comic actor. He is most widely known for having written, directed and starred in several "mockumentary" films of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, films that feature a repertory-like ensemble cast.

In the United Kingdom he holds a minor peerage and is formally known as Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest. That barony has given him an additional measure of celebrity in the UK. He has publicly expressed a desire to see the House of Lords reformed as a democratically-elected chamber. Despite initial activity in the Lords, his career there was cut short by the House of Lords Act 1999.


Guest was born in New York City, the son of Peter Haden-Guest, a British United Nations diplomat who later became 4th Baron Haden-Guest, and his second wife, Jean Pauline Hindes, a CBS executive. Guest's maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, while a paternal great-grandfather was Colonel Albert Goldsmid, a British Jew who founded the Jewish Lads' and Girls' Brigade. Guest spent parts of his childhood in his father's native UK. Although both of his parents were born Jewish, they became atheists and Guest had no religious upbringing .

Guest attended The High School of Music & Art (New York City), studying classical music (clarinet). He later took up the mandolin and became interested in country music. He also played guitar with Arlo Guthrie, who went to the same school. Guest later began performing with bluegrass bands until he took up rock and roll.

Peerage and heirs

Guest became the 5th Baron Haden-Guest, of Saling in the County of Essex, when his father died in 1996. He succeeded upon the ineligibility of his older half-brother, Anthony Haden-Guest, who was born prior to the marriage of his parents. According to an article in The Guardian, Guest attended the House of Lords regularly until the House of Lords Act 1999 barred most hereditary peers from their seats. In the article Guest remarked:
There's no question that the old system was unfair. I mean, why should you be born to this? But now it's all just sheer cronyism. The Prime Minister can put in whoever he wants and bus them in to vote. The Upper House should be an elected body, it's that simple.

Guest married actress Jamie Lee Curtis in 1984 at the home of their mutual friend Rob Reiner. They have two adopted children: Anne (born 1986) and Thomas (born 1996). As Guest's children are adopted, they cannot inherit the family barony under the terms of the letters patent that created it, though a 2004 Royal Warrant addressing the style of a peer's adopted children states that they can use courtesy titles. The current heir presumptive to the barony is Guest's brother, the actor Nicholas Haden-Guest.



Among Guest's earliest works are contributions to The National Lampoon Radio Hour in the early 1970s as well as various National Lampoon audio recordings. He both performed comic characters (Flash Bazbo-Space Explorer, Mr. Rogers, music critic Roger de Swans, and sleazy record company rep Ron Fields) and also wrote, arranged and performed numerous musical parodies (of Bob Dylan, James Taylor and others). He was also featured alongside Chevy Chase and John Belushi in the Off-Broadway revue National Lampoon's Lemmings. One of his earliest films includes a bit part as a beat cop in Death Wish 1974 starring Charles Bronson.


Guest had a one-season stint, 1980-1985#1984-85 Season, as a cast member on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Recurring characters on SNL played by Guest include: Frankie, of Willie and Frankie (two co-workers who recount in detail physically painful situations in which they've found themselves); Herb Minkman, a shady novelty toymaker with a brother named Al (played by Billy Crystal); Rajeev Vindaloo, an eccentric foreign man in the same vein as Andy Kaufman's Latka character from Taxi; and Senor Cosa, a Spanish ventriloquist often seen on the recurring spoof of The Joe Franklin Show. He also experimented behind the camera with pre-filmed sketches, notably directing a documentary-style short starring Harry Shearer and Martin Short as synchronized swimmers.

He has also appeared as Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, Charlie Ford in The Long Riders, Lord Cromer in Mrs Henderson Presents and Dr. Stone in A Few Good Men. He had a cameo role as Dylan, a smarmy pedestrian, in the 1986 remake of The Little Shop of Horrors. As a co-writer and director, Guest made the Hollywood satire The Big Picture

Guest's biggest role of the first two decades of his career, however, is likely that of Nigel Tufnel in the 1984 "rockumentary" film This Is Spinal Tap. Amplifier manufacturers actually began to produce amps with knobs going up to 11 (rather than the traditional scale of 10), as a result of a popular scene where a benighted Tufnel proudly shows off such an amp, believing it to be louder. "This one goes to 11!" has become something of a meme among musicians ever since. Guest made his first appearance as Tufnel on the 1978 sketch comedy program The TV Show, and appears as Tufnel most recently in a television ad for Volkswagen.


The experience of having made Spinal Tap would directly inform the second phase of his career. Starting in 1996, Guest began writing, directing and acting in his own series of heavily improvised films. Many of them would come to be definitional examples of what came to be known as "mockumentaries"

His frequent writing partner is Eugene Levy. Together, Levy, Guest and a small band of other actors have formed a loose repertory group, which appear across the several films. These include Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Harry Shearer and Fred Willard. Guest and Levy write backgrounds for each of the characters and notecards for each specific scene, outlining the plot, and then leave it up to the actors to improvise the dialogue, which is supposed to result in a much more natural conversation than scripted dialogue would. Each of these movies also shares a hallmark plot development, where the movie leads up to some kind of a highly anticipated performance, or the outcome of a performance. This could reflect Guest's background in theater, and simply a kind of meta-commentary, as a real performance is of course what is being improvised for the duration. Notably, everyone who appears in these movies receives the same fee, and the same portion of profits.

Despite making a number of mockumentaries, Guest himself dislikes the term. He maintains that his intention is not to mock anyone, but to explore insular, perhaps obscure communities through his method of filmmaking. When pressed in a 2003 interview by Charlie Rose, however, he could not provide a word to substitute for "mockumentary" .

He had a guest voice-over role in the popular children's show SpongeBob SquarePants as SpongeBob's cousin, Stanley.

Guest will appear in the upcoming 2009 comedy This Side of the Truth.

Off-stage demeanor

Guest is sometimes off-putting in interviews and promotional appearances, having been described by reviewer Warren Etheredge as "rude, condescending and intolerable. as well as with people who have met him outside of the work environment, because contrary to expectations of him as a comedian he often seems deadpan, even dour. Of this, 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.

Selected Filmography


External links

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