If you can’t tell from the whole This Entire Newsletter, I know entirely too many random pop culture tidbits, and I am always bursting at the seams for a chance to share them. You can imagine what it’s like to watch a movie with me. If you can’t, this TikTok from a user named Peterb3.14 sums it up perfectly:
I feel so seen!
This week, I watched the movie Best in Show with my brother. It’s a movie by the inimitable Christopher Guest, whom I adore, so I naturally needed to pipe up with multiple fun facts throughout the movie. When he first appeared as Harlan Pepper, the North Carolinian yokel who works at a bait shop, I had to jump on the tenuous excuse of his accent work to drop some knowledge.
“You know he’s British,” I said smugly and reaped the benefit of my brother pausing the movie and expressing his disbelief. He said that we obviously needed to pull up an interview to hear his real accent, and I sat there in contentment, waiting to see his mind be blown. But it was my mind that was blown, because the interview proved that Christopher Guest had AN AMERICAN ACCENT. How could I have gotten this so wrong? Did I know less about Christopher Guest than I thought? Was I next going to learn that Christopher Guest isn’t actually married to Jamie Lee Curtis?!
An investigation was needed. Why did I think that Christopher Guest was British? Is he British? If so, how British?
I have examined the evidence and present the result of my findings here. We will look at each piece on its own and evaluate just how British — or not — each detail proves him to be.
Parentage and citizenship
We must begin at the beginning. The confusion starts immediately: Christopher Guest is, by birth, both British and American. His father was a British United Nations diplomat, which is incredibly British, and his mother was a CBS executive, which is incredibly American. He has duel citizenship.
How British is it? This is a clear 50-50 split, equally British and American.
Guest was born in New York City. Though he spent parts of his childhood in the U.K., his upbringing seems to have been pretty thoroughly conducted on this side of the pond. He learned to play the clarinet, which could be construed as a British activity, but he later got into bluegrass and rock, both of which are American musical styles, no matter how often and how well the Brits borrow from us. He studied acting at Tisch, which is the absolute most American way to study acting.
How British is it? His upbringing wasn’t very British. The American side wins this one.
Here the story takes a rapid left turn. Or maybe it’s a right turn because they drive on the wrong side of the road over there? It gets very bloody British, is what I’m saying.
By virtue of his birth, the director of Waiting for Guffman is also the 5th Baron Haden-Guest of Great Saling in Essex. His father was the 4th Baron Haden-Guest, but his older brother Anthony Haden-Guest was ineligible to inherit the barony because he was born before their parents married. Anthony, for the record, does have an upper-crust British accent. He seems to be a more full-time Brit. He is also the socialite/ journalist who inspired Tom Wolfe’s satire Bonfire of the Vanities, which suggests to me that Anthony might be almost laughably British.
But we must return to the man born Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest. When his father died and he inherited the barony, Christopher Guest got to wear an ermine-trimmed robe and serve in his father’s seat in the House of Lords until a law passed in 1999 that removed members who inherited their position. When asked how being a baron impacts his daily life, Guest relayed an anecdote in which a waiter in England was shaking so much at the prospect of providing proper service to him that he spilled his tray onto him. Imitating the waiter’s accent, he recounted, “‘Brought you your breakfast, your Lordship. I do hope it’s satisfactory. Oh God, oh God … ’, and then he spilled the breakfast all over me.” That is an experience that does not quite have any American equivalent.
Christopher Guest is married to Jamie Lee Curtis, legitimately granting her the titles Baroness Haden-Guest or, more formally, The Right Honourable The Lady Haden-Guest. She does not use these titles unless she is trying to make reservations in fancy British restaurants, where doing so gets more respect than saying “Jamie Lee Curtis” for some reason. Get it together, fancy British restaurants!
How British is it? This is obviously British as fuck. It’s almost offensively British. It makes me want to run up on him and hurl his tea into the nearest body of water.
Serving on the House of Lords is wildly British, but his career seems pretty American. He’s done some stuff for the BBC, but he got his start at National Lampoon and on SNL, and most of his projects are Hollywood productions.
How British is it? It’s like ordering a regular Big Mac and fries at a McDonald’s in England but getting a McFlurry with Cadbury pieces for dessert. Overall American, with just a dash of Britishness.
Every profile of Christopher Guest starts off by establishing that he is not funny or silly in real life. Interviewers describe his offscreen presence as “resolutely unfunny,” “stern-faced,” “exacting, cerebral” and “bone-dry,” and “serious and almost dour.”
How British is it? Being professionally funny but surly in real life is as British as splashing vinegar on a plate of fish and chips. American comedians can overcompensate by being full-time buffoons, but the British acting class often keeps a stiff upper lip to the point of being complete assholes.
Christopher Guest and Jamie Lee Curtis have two adopted children. These children cannot inherited the familial barony by virtue of their adoption. To quote his Wikipedia page:
Because 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 younger brother, actor Nicholas Guest.
How British is it? Read that explanation. Gaze upon it like a lower-class waiter cowering in the presence of a baron and lord. Does a more British description exist? The answer is none. None more British.
In conclusion, I was right, but the Haden-Guest lineage is a rich tapestry. While Christopher Guest, aka Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest, has had an American career and upbringing, he has some undeniably British traits. Again, the takeaway is that I was not wrong, but the good news for everyone is that I now have an even more insufferable amount of knowledge to inject into the conversation the next time my loved ones are just trying to enjoy a mockumentary.