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Chris Morris (satirist)

Christopher Morris (born 5 September 1965 in Bristol) is an English comedian, writer, director, producer, actor and radio DJ.

Morris began his career in radio before moving into television. He found fame in the nineties fronting the spoof current affairs shows The Day Today and Brass Eye and became known for his intelligent yet often highly-controversial brand of comedy. Morris tends to stay out of the public eye and has become one of the more enigmatic figures in British comedy.

Biography

Early life

Morris grew up in Cambridgeshire; his parents were doctors. He was educated at Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit boys' boarding school in Lancashire, and studied zoology at the University of Bristol.

Radio career

On graduating, Morris took up a traineeship with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, where he took advantage of access to editing and recording equipment to create elaborate spoofs and parodies. On leaving Radio Cambridgeshire he worked at BBC Radio Bristol and Greater London Radio (GLR). He was fired by Radio Bristol, with accounts claiming that he had either been excessively abusive to a caller or had talked and possibly eaten over a news broadcast. However, the incident in which he supposedly released helium into a news studio was part of a prepared sketch and did not lead to his suspension or dismissal. Also, despite rumours, he was never fired or suspended from GLR and continued to broadcast with the station sporadically until his television career took off.

In 1991 Morris reduced his work as a mainstream disc jockey and devoted himself to comedy with his radio project On the Hour. Working with Armando Iannucci, Patrick Marber, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Steve Coogan and others, he created a spoof news show on BBC Radio 4. In 1994 Morris began a weekly evening show on BBC Radio 1 alongside Peter Baynham. In the shows Morris perfected the spoof interview style which would became a central component of his Brass Eye programme. The show's pranks left BBC bosses nonplussed, and a profanity-laden mid-afternoon show on Boxing Day would be his last.

In the same year, Morris teamed up with Peter Cook, as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, in a series of improvised conversations for BBC Radio 3, entitled Why Bother?. Morris followed this with Blue Jam, a late-night ambient music and sketch show on Radio 1, which was later reworked for television as Channel 4's Jam.

Move into television

In 1994 a television series based on On the Hour was broadcast under the name The Day Today. The Day Today made a star of Morris, and helped to launch the careers of Patrick Marber and Steve Coogan.

The black humour which had featured in On the Hour and The Day Today became more prominent in Brass Eye, another spoof current affairs television documentary, shown on Channel 4. Brass Eye became known for tricking celebrities and politicians into throwing support behind public awareness campaigns for made-up issues that were often absurd or surreal (such as a drug called 'cake' and an elephant with its trunk stuck up its anus). In 2001 a reprise of Brass Eye on the moral panic that surrounds paedophilia led to a record-breaking number of complaints; it still remains the third highest on UK television after Celebrity Big Brother 2007 and Jerry Springer: The Opera, as well as heated discussion in the press. Many complainants, some of whom later admitted to not having seen the programme (notably Beverley Hughes, a government minister), felt the satire was directed at the victims of paedophilia, which Morris denies. Channel 4 defended the show, insisting the target was the media and its hysterical treatment of paedophilia, and not victims of crime.

Morris also developed and produced Jam, a television reworking of his radio show Blue Jam. Darker and more unsettling than his previous work, the show explored such taboos as infant mortality, incest, anal sex, rape, suicide and sadomasochism through a series of unsettling, dreamlike sketches with a soundtrack of ambient music. This was followed by a 'remix' version, Jaaaaam.

Controversy

Morris has covered other controversial subjects. He once falsely suggested on the radio that Jimmy Savile and Conservative MP Michael Heseltine had died; had a show faded mid-broadcast when he played an iconoclastic cut-up of the Archbishop of Canterbury's funeral oration for Diana, Princess of Wales, although Radio 1 had previously cleared this for broadcast, claiming an error on their part as they mistook it for another censored sketch on a similar theme; and performed a song in the style of Pulp lead singer Jarvis Cocker about child-murderer Myra Hindley with the lyrics: "Every time I see your picture, Myra/I have to phone my latest girlfriend and fire her/And find a prostitute who looks like you and hire her/Oh, me oh Myra."

In 1994 Morris portrayed a fictional rapper, Fur-Q, for a sketch satirising hip hop's glamorisation of guns and violence promoting his song "Uzi Lover" (a parody of Phillip Bailey's song "Easy Lover") featuring lyrics such as "Uzi like a metal dick in my hand, magazine like a big testicle gland, bitch wanna try it, I said keep it quiet.. shove it up your mother[(musical note)] ass and fry it" and "Cop! Bitch! Cop bitch mother[(musical note)]!" (other random words were censored for comedic effect). He would visit similar territory in Brass Eye, with JLB-8 (Jailbait), an Eminem clone (though in appearance and attire he more closely resembled Fred Durst) who openly worked paedophile themes into his music and had a huge following of pre-teen girls.

In 1999 a regular feature appeared in The Observer newspaper documenting the impending suicide of columnist Richard Geefe entitled Second Class Male/Time To Go. After protest, it was revealed that the column was a spoof written by Morris. In 2002 Morris ventured into film, directing the short My Wrongs #8245 - 8249 & 117, adapted from a Blue Jam monologue about a man led astray by a sinister talking dog. It was the first film project of Warp Films, a branch of Warp Records. In 2002 this won the BAFTA for best short film. In 2005 Morris worked on a sitcom entitled Nathan Barley, based on the character created by Charlie Brooker for his website TVGoHome. Co-written by Brooker and Morris, the series was broadcast on Channel 4 in early 2005.

Recent work

Morris was a cast member in The IT Crowd, a Channel 4 sitcom focusing on the office and home lives of two ‘geeks’ who work in the information technology department of the fictional company Reynholm Industries. The series is written and directed by Graham Linehan (writer of Father Ted and Black Books, with whom Morris collaborated on The Day Today, Brass Eye and Jam) and produced by Ash Atalla (The Office). Morris played Denholm Reynholm, the eccentric managing director of the company. This marked the first time Morris has acted in a substantial role in a project which he hasn't developed himself and is more mainstream than his earlier work. Morris’s character appeared to leave the series during episode two of the second season.

The Guardian reported that Morris is working on a film satirising terrorism and suicide bombers for Channel 4. The project, titled Four Lions, was originally pitched as a television series, but was turned down by both the BBC and Channel 4 for its controversial subject matter. Morris told The Sunday Times that, the film will seek to do for Islamic terrorism what Dad's Army, the classic BBC comedy, did for the Nazis by showing them as “scary but also ridiculous”. In November 2007 Morris wrote an article for The Observer in response to Ronan Bennett’s article published six days earlier in The Guardian. Bennett’s article, Shame on us, accused the novelist Martin Amis of racism. Morris’s response, The absurd world of Martin Amis, was also highly critical of Amis; although he didn't accede to Bennett's accusation of racism, Morris likened Amis to the Muslim cleric Abu Hamza (who was jailed for inciting racial hatred in 2006), suggesting that both men employ “mock erudition, vitriol and decontextualised quotes from the Koran” to incite hatred.

Music

Morris often co-writes and performs incidental music for his television shows, notably with Jam and the 'extended remix' version, Jaaaaam. Morris supplied sketches for British band Saint Etienne's 1993 single 'You're In A Bad Way' (the sketch 'Spongbake' appears at the end of the 4th track on the CD single). British band Stereolab's song 'Nothing To Do With Me' from their 2001 album 'Sound Dust' featured various lines from Chris Morris sketches as lyrics.

Recognition

In 2003 he was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. In 2005, Channel 4 aired a show called The Comedian's Comedian in which foremost writers and performers of comedy ranked their 50 favourite acts. Morris was at number eleven, above comedians including Bill Hicks and Peter Sellers.

Personal life

Morris lives in Brixton, with actress Jo Unwin, and has two children. Not much is known about Morris' personal life due to his intense media shyness - he has done very few interviews, and does not take them seriously.

Works

References

External links

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