Thursday, March 08, 2007

Upon meeting your heroes

It's that once in a lifetime chance. Make something of it, or let the opportunity slip. On Tuesday the 6th of March, 2007, (the day a key figure in my dissertation, Jean Baudrillard, died), I met one of my heroes, and the ACTUAL central figure to my dissertation. Christopher Morris.

I hadn't realised, until I was standing in a circle of likewise starstruck students listening to Chris Morris offer his sandwiches to a girl before the open interview he gave, how high a regard I hold the man in.

The thing is, he isn't your 'celebrity you'd love to meet', he isn't handsome, he isn't fashionable, he isn't even famous. His work is infamous. He himself is infamous, notorious but mysterious, a genius to some, a cunt to others.

He certainly is a genius to me. Taking it upon myself to pore over his most well known television material - The Day Today, Brass Eye, Jam - for my dissertation, instead of becoming sick and tired of going over the same ground constantly, as was the danger with writing a dissertation on a book, I was warned, I have instead become embroiled in the world of Chris Morris. The multitude of disguises, the phenomenal attention to detail, the brutally scathing but oh-so accurate parody and pastiche, the finest satirical material in contemporary television work, the man is regarded - in the right circles - to be perhaps the best comic satirist of our time. He was number 11 in Channel 4's 50 greatest comedians ever - a show voted for by other comedians and writers. That's some feat (if you ask me) when you consider his work isn't funny because it is comic, it's funny because it's true.

But to last Tuesday. Basically, if you don't know much about Morris: his last proper interview in a newspaper was in the Guardian in 2003. He thrives on not appearing in public to defend, explain or occasionally take credit for his work. He used to refuse to appear in public unless he was under the guise of a character from his television shows. All this I knew.

So for THE Chris Morris, the man who I am writing my dissertation on, the man who never appears in public, the man who has built his reputation on refusing to confirm or deny anything about himself, to be appearing, in public, at my University, IN MY MEDIA SCHOOL, FOR FREE, was about the biggest and most exciting coincidence of my life so far. In fact, so amazing to me was this coincidence, that until he appeared in Weymouth House at 6:05pm or so, bushy haired and with a spangly scarf, I was quietly prepared for him not to turn up at all.

When he appeared, he chatted leisurely with a few students about stuff, ate some sandwiches put on by the Media School and posed for one photo. I managed at this point to stand somewhat near to him, but my nerve failed me to step forward and ask him to sign my copy of Jam, as I was, actually, shaking. We all then trooped to the Barnes Lecture theatre for the main event. The interview itself, which we were specifically asked not to record audio or visual, was a fairly informal affair, conducted by Paul Lashmar, a freelancer who seemed to me to be fairly unsure what to make of Chris Morris. Things got a lot better when he opened up 'the floor' to the audience a chance to ask questions, which went on for about 45 minutes.

It is hard to describe how surreal, how "once-in-a-lifetime" that moment truly was. Chris Morris, a man who cloaks his every move and covers his every track, sitting, stripped of any mask or disguise, in a grubby lecture theatre in front of perhaps 200 or so students (mainly) , the very people who want to surround the him with the attention and hype he so deliberately avoids, though of course we all knew that and tried not to act so breathless and in awe. When the opportunity arose to ask a question, engage in conversation their media hero, everyone tried to outdo each other with interesting questions. I thought of three myself, but by the time I had the guts to put my hand in the air, I was overlooked for what turned out to be the last question and for the second time that night, I missed my opportunity.

After that, there was a generous 15 minutes before he had to be escorted to a train, in which some IDIOT animation students took up almost all his time trying to sell Chris Morris their ideas and productions. At this point, I could see the flicker of annoyance begin to appear in his face, a face which seemed to gently say 'Ah yes, this is why I don't do public appearances'. With that 15 minutes up, and still no one on one conversation held with him, I had no option but to join a couple of others in apologetically thrusting something into his hand to sign.

On taking my Jam DVD cover, which is purple, and my blue Biro, he said "this will just be some sort of colourless indentation", and looked at me slightly quizically, before writing "colourless indentation" above his signature. He briefly considered the futility of it, it seemed to me, and probably considered what sort of person I am not to care that you can only read what he's written in a good light. Maybe, just maybe, it appealed to him, this satisfying a fan with a colourless indentation.

It was over in 2 hours. I had two chances, but I DIDN'T MENTION THAT I AM WRITING MY DISSERTATION ON HIS WORK. Fuck fuck fuck fuck, why why why? I can at least count myself very, very lucky that this once in a lifetime opportunity occurred, and I think I almost managed to make the most of it. It isn't every day you get a chance to meet your heroes, and with Chris Morris, it's unlikely I will have such a clear opportunity to do so again. But I did, I met one of my heroes, and that, as I still seem to be unable to quite comprehend that it happened, was enough for me.

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