Day 1 - Los Angeles
Chris Morris was late. Or more specifically, his plane was late. The writer/director of Four Lions, the first release from Drafthouse Films and the movie I was about to embark on a cross country tour to flog, was delayed coming in from London. Tim League, my boss and the owner of the Alamo Drafthouse and all that implies, was waiting for Chris at the airport; I was dispatched to run ahead to the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood in case they couldn’t make the intro for the first screening of our tour.
Yeah, that’s how tight the tour is; if everything had gone on schedule, Chris would have quickly stopped at his hotel, freshened up and then just as quickly headed out to TWO screenings that night. But everything wasn’t on time, so Chris and Tim fought traffic as they tried to get across town from LAX. They didn’t count on also fighting zombies - AMC’s The Walking Dead was having its premiere at the Arclight’s Cinerama Dome, and the area was festooned with the pay-by-the-hour undead.
That first screening was being hosted by radio station KCRW, in conjunction with Matt’s Movies, the program hosted by Matt Holzman. Matt’s an incredibly nice guy - one of those people you meet and immediately find yourself able to comfortably chat with. It was looking for a minute like Matt and I would intro the film without Chris, but at the last minute Chris and Tim came bursting through the door, along with two of the biggest duffle bags I have ever seen. Inside the bags were t-shirts - lots and lots of t-shirts, with three different (frankly) brilliant Four Lions designs (I’ll have pictures tomorrow). Tim hadn’t packed any shirts of his own for the tour - he would be wearing only promo shirts.
Chris did the intro and then we slipped downstairs for a bite and a drink. After the screening Chris did his first Q&A of the tour, and then it was a rush to West Hollywood for the next screening. This one was at the Cinefamily, who operate out of The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax. The two crowds couldn’t be more different. The KCRW crowd was polite, laughed nicely and at the right times and asked good, intelligent questions in the Q&A. They’re a public radio crowd - a little affluent, a little uptown. The Cinefamily crowd is young and hip; the movie was almost over by the time we arrived and we could hear laughter thundering out of the theater. We were on home turf.
I took the stage with Chris and did my first Q&A of the tour with him. I think it went pretty well, but no thanks to me - the reality is that the questions from the audience were almost amazing. There’s a tendency when you do a number of Q&As that you hear the same questions, but the Cinefamily crowd was throwing stuff that felt very unique. After the Q&A everybody retired to the theater’s back patio, where there was food and beer, and Chris - who was suffering an 8 hour time difference and serious jet lag - hung out for hours, chatting with people and asking questions. I had been worried that Chris would be exhausted when he got to LA, but at the end of the night it was obvious he was having a great time.
People who frequent bars are called barflies, so what do you call people who frequent certain movie theaters? How about cinemoths? If we accept that term, then here’s Cinefamily cinemoth Max Landis talking to me about Four Lions at the afterparty. Please note that Max has already acquired and put on a Four Lions shirt. Also please note that this is very shitty quality.
Day 2 - Los Angeles Again
Day two began with press. I met Tim and Chris at the swanky Standard Hotel on the Sunset Strip and hung around while Chris did all sorts of radio, print and TV interviews. It’s possible that you don’t know what a huge deal this is; Chris has rarely ever done press in the UK, despite being one of the biggest figures in modern comedy.
My role was a little vague. I was kind of there to help, which had very little actual meaning. The most important thing I did that day, I believe, was Google research on whale nipples; it turns out that whales have nipples inside watertight slits on their abdomens, and whale calves have noses perfectly matched to getting in there. Some Creationists use this as a case for intelligent design.
At lunch I ventured across Sunset to the Saddle Ranch Chop House, a heinous and ridiculous tourist trap with surprisingly decent burgers. This is the kind of place that has a mechanical bull, which means it’s the kind of place that piques Tim League’s interest. I noticed that the bar had an electronic punching bag game, and I filed that information away for later use.
That later use came when the press day ended. Chris made his way to the Standard pool deck, where his friend and South Park creator Matt Stone was waiting. While the two of them caught up, Tim and I ran across the street for a beer and punching. We had to wait for the punching, though, because two tough looking guys were at the table next to the machine, and we were feeling kind of intimidated.
Once those dudes left, though, it was all us. The exact function of The Wheel of Boxing is unclear -what even is a wheel of boxing? - but what we understood was that when you hit the punching bag it gave you some kind of numerical rating. The meaning of the rating was unknown on any level, but obviously a higher number was better. Tim ended up outpunching me on the machine, but that isn’t exactly a triumph.
We soon joined Chris and Matt and more or less just listened to them talk. If you put two satirists at a table, funny things will happen. What was most interesting was the steady stream of book recommendations coming from the two of them - these guys just devour non-fiction books, as I guess you must when your job involves poking fun at current events. They also tend to meet really interesting people; they spent a lot of time discussing mutual friend Jane Bussman, who had gone from being a celebrity journalist to covering African genocide (I guess there’s hope for me yet). Her book Worst Date Ever: War Crimes, Hollywood Heart-Throbs And Other Abominations now sits in my Amazon cart (Amazon.uk only, though).
As the sun set on the Sunset Strip we had to hustle Chris away to the next screening, our third in two days. This one was taking place at the Director’s Guild of America, and it was for BAFTA members. That was another very different crowd; on the way to dinner after, Chris remarked that it was like being back in London. Mostly ex-pats with a few Americans thrown in, the crowd was respectful and restrained - but still seemed to really like the movie. In fact three screenings in I was beginning to suspect that we weren’t going to find and film some angry person who thought the film was over the line or offensive. It seemed (and continues to seem) as though everybody just really likes the film and that no matter where they stand on the political spectrum they understand what Chris is trying to do.
After the screening we piled into the rental car and headed to the hip restaurant Animal. Animal is one of those places that are so LA; it’s a town obsessed with image and body health and it’s filled with eateries that could kill you. There’s a place called The Griddle that serves pancakes the size of a medium dog and it’s always packed with model thin women. Animal is a major spot, and every single dish they serve has meat in it. Everything.
Animal is a small spot, and we barreled in 30 minutes late and with three extra people in our party. The staff was incredible, though, and they really accommodated our unwieldy presence. Things only got more unwieldy, though; Tim handled the ordering for the table and opted to get eight dishes, two of each. Over the course of two hours sixteen dishes of meat flowed to our table, as well as a number of bottles of wine. At some point Edgar Wright showed up to catch up with Chris, but he steadfastly refused to help us with our deluge of dead beast.
A truly shitty picture from dinner at Animal. That’s Chris on the left, LA Weekly writer Karina Longworth in the middle and Tim League on the right.
I can’t remember everything we had; there was bone marrow and sweetbreads, there was a pepperoni-infused petite basque, we scarfed down pork belly burgers and trout salad. By the end of the night I could just feel the animal fat dripping from my pores, but it was worth it - the food was incredible. I had never had marrow or sweetbreads, and I ventured for both. The marrow was astonishing, but the texture - that of particularly oily snot - was troubling. The sweetbreads tasted delightful, but I couldn’t get past its origin as organs. I would take a bite, really enjoy the flavor and then begin subtly gagging.
The night went on too long for me; I bailed out before midnight. We had an early flight to catch, and I needed sleep desperately. Chris, though, was game to stay and as I left he was launching into a long conversation with Edgar. My understanding is that the group stayed there for another hour, ignoring the chairs atop tables and other signs that the wait staff wanted to go home.
Next: San Francisco, The World Series and Chris Morris’ favorite stand up comedian.