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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 12:47 GMT
Weird, or just wanting?

His visits with eccentric celebrities have made Louis Theroux an authority on weirdness. But here, writing for the Magazine, he says his time off from TV has made him ask whether weird is just in the eye of the beholder.

I was recently put to work making a programme that would compile some of my favourite moments from old shows of mine, with my ruminations on what had attracted me to these strange stories about off-beat subcultures and intriguing celebrities - and what I'd learned over the years.

If you've seen any of my shows you'll know the kind of thing to expect: Jimmy Savile showing me the clothes of his dead mother - "The Duchess" - which he gets dry-cleaned once a year; a visit to the "group room" at a swinging party; a pair of neo-Nazi twin girls who sing acoustic versions of skinhead songs.

Clockwise from top: the Hamiltons, Jimmy Savile, Chris Eubank
Louis with some of his celebrity "victims"
It was, in other words, a real hodgepodge of oddities - unified only by all the stories featuring behaviour that is in some way outside the normal course of life; and also, I suppose, by the fact of my having formed relationships with all the people in these worlds.

At the end of the show, I concluded with this remark: "The weirdest thing about weird people may be how normal they are."

What did I mean by this? First, I suppose I was trying to undermine the idea of "weirdness" as a self-evident category of behaviour.

The truth is, like beauty, weirdness is in the eye of the beholder. Often, something is weird not for any intrinsic reason but simply because not many people are doing it. A practice that is considered eccentric or taboo in one time and place is quite normal in another.

Once normal behaviour

"Madness is a rare thing in individuals," wrote the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, "but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages it is the rule."

People sometimes ask who the weirdest person I've ever interviewed is - I'm not sure how you measure weirdness...on an odd-o-meter?
Louis Theroux

And I think this is what he was referring to - we may find, say, ancestor worship quite odd and racism deeply repellent, but in days gone by, these were both part of "normal" belief.

Taking a real example, people sometimes ask me who the weirdest person I've ever interviewed is. It's sort of a nonsensical question - I'm not sure how you measure weirdness (on an odd-o-meter?). But just so I've got something to say, I mention Reverend Robert Short, a "space channel".

I met him while doing a story on UFO believers in the American South West. Most of the people in that subculture had had sightings of UFOs, or even glimpsed ETs, but Reverend Short went several better by claiming to have actual space beings who spoke through him using his vocal chords.

Being in another dimension, the space being, "Korton", had the ability to see the future. I saw this for myself, more than once, when Reverend Short went into a trance and channelled Korton's prognostications in a loud, booming voice punctuated with lots of "ums".

Brain games

In fact, though, as weird as this experience was - it certainly seemed weird to me at the time - later I wondered how different Reverend Short's channelling was from the oracles of Ancient Greece or shamanic practises that are still quite normal in communities all over the world.

Rev Short
The Rev Short (left) channeled a voice from space
Though it's been helpful as a kind of short-hand for the sort of stories I do, the term "weirdness" actually does a disservice to the people I cover. Looking closer at what seemed - at first hand - the oddest of behaviour and I've always found a kind of logic.

I was recently reading a book of neurological essays called Phantoms in the Brain, which had an introduction by neurologist Oliver Sacks. He discussed brain disorders with symptoms that to me seemed very weird indeed - patients who don't recognise their own limbs as belonging to them, for example, or who sometimes think one side of their body belongs to someone else.

But these are, he says, "quite normal defence mechanisms" which the unconscious uses to make sense of the world. "Such an understanding removes such patients from the realm of the mad or the freakish," he continues, "and restores them to the realm of discourse and reason - albeit the discourse and reason of the unconscious."

A couple of years ago, I went back to America to track down 10 of the most intriguing people I'd ever interviewed for a book I was writing, The Call of the Weird.

Search for meaning

One of my ideas had been that perhaps, after years of pursuing their off-beat avocations and being buffeted and knocked back by a world that saw them as strange, some of my old friends - the porn performers, the cult members, the gangsta rappers - might have thought better of their old beliefs. They might have "seen reason".

In fact, this was almost never the case. For the most part, they were still clinging to their old faiths - they were as "weird" as ever. But what I did come to realize was this: that the strangest behaviours are always answering some very normal human need - for love, for religious meaning, for a place in the world.

And that the "weird beliefs" themselves never stood in the way of me making a human connection, be it however briefly, with them.

The Weird World of Louis Theroux featuring his most memorable encounters is on BBC Two on Sunday 28 January at 2100GMT.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I think Louis Theroux is the most ingenious investigative reporter of our time. Clearly Sacha Baron Cohen has at some point taken serious notes. His humourous, honest, seemingly naive and unjudgemental portrail of his subjects allows us to examine some of the lesser known parts of our culture and in their reflection we glimpse a shadowy side of our own nature. When can we see some new Weird Weekends?
George Cole, Cambridge

A world without weirdness would be a very dull place indeed. Imagine if absolutely everyone wore suits, did 9 -5 jobs, drove sensible cars and lived in executive housing estates - Stepford Wives! Surely it is the weirdness of people with megaphones on Tottenham Court Road who heckle the commuters which actually makes life more interesting. Weirdness adds spice to life.
Paul, Coggeshall, UK

Everybody is weird Louis. I really enjoy the fact you seek out these obscure people and engage with them, its an insight to how bad this world can make people. I've got a friend who is quite wierd, his name is Steve. You should definately meet.
Rochey, Cwmbran, Wales

I think it is weird that so many people conform to the norms and values of society without questioning those beliefs.
davideo kidd, solihull england

Ah, but will it be coming to BBC Prime or World for us living in the edge of the EU.
Phil Clarke, Vienna, Austria

I think Louis is great and agree that weirdness is entirely subjective. For example, as an atheist, I find mass worship of unknown supernatural being(s) to be off the scale of weirdness. But many people would think me weird for having such an opinion.
Gary J Byrnes, Dublin, Ireland

I absolutely love this guy! What is 'weird'? One person's weird is another person's normal. I do wonder though, if there was anything Louis felt despite all of his logic, he personally felt very uncomfortable. Can't wait until Sunday!

You often see these "who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party" type of questions in celebrity interviews. I've often thought Louis would be an excellent guest - just to ask him what these people he has met and interviewed are really like and what he is really thinking when he interviews them. So Louis, if you're reading this get in touch and I'll sort out some snacks!
Andrew Dewson, London

We want more Louis on our screens. Well, at least I do, and the wife!
Alan, Tring

I often found Louis Theroux's programmes rather distasteful: here was a man who had enjoyed an Oxbridge education meeting those who hadn't been afforded the same privilege, making snide comments and raising his eyebrow knowingly at the camera. OK, subjects such as Neo-Nazis were getting their just deserts, but more often than not they were people who merely had different interests and ways of life to the majority.
Martin, Newbury, UK

When are the BBC going to commission another series of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends. And not one with 'famous' people in, it was much more interesting when he visited none celebrity people. Who can forget the time he spent with the hermit or the South African family with their unrealistic views on race.
Claire, Tyne and Wear

If there is any justice in the world, can we please have Louis meets George W Bush!?
Mark Quested, Maidstone

I thought the speed seduction chap who gave his life over to the persuit of causal sex and his cat was weird. But then, I'm sure lots of people would disagree.
Tom, Bristol, United Kingdom

There are millions of people who go to special buildings every Sunday to worship to a powerful being they have never heard or seen, and by their own admission they only have faith in, not evidence of. These gatherings are led by men in frocks who believe they can turn wine and bread into the blood and body of a man who died 2000 years ago. Is this any more rational than the man who believes he's in touch with aliens? What makes one belief system acceptable and the other weird? Merely how mainstream the practice is: it's all a question of consensus.
Bob Bellotti, Edinburgh UK

I agree with Louis Theroux. About 10 years ago anyone would have thought you were weird if you claimed that you have married someone of the same sex and were thinking of adopting a child and bringing him or her up as a catholic as a same-sex married couple.
James Suddrey, Luton

How is this news? Isn't it just an advertisement for the BBC? Is that what we pay our extravagant licence fee for, to pay for the BBC's advertisements?
Jack J., London

Excellent article - look forward to the programme, being a bit weird myself, I would agree with Louis understanding of what constitutes the experience of 'being weird'. The word weird comes from an old english or Pagan word Wyrd - which means Fate; to become; the turning - like the Buddhist term Karma - actions and their effects. The wisdon of the wyrd - is the wisdom of the 'unknown'. So to all those weirdos out there live long and prosper...
Lee Titterrell, Bristol, UK

I liked a lot of the people in Louis Theroux's shows who were just doing things they enjoyed. Without making a fuss. The weirdest person in my opinion was Louis Theroux. Has anybody investigated his private life.
Paul Booth, Colne, England

Any chance of getting the rest of the Weird Weekends series on DVD?! I've got 1 and 2 but there's some classics not on there! The world needs Theroux!
Phil Adams, Wirral, UK

I think you make a good point. The society you live in typically imposes what is considered 'normal' or 'weird', but these things may be percieved very differently by other societies. I reckon everybody has the potential to be thought of as 'weird' by someone else in the world. That the world is made up of so many different characters surely makes life interesting? I think it would be very 'weird' if we were all the same. Having said that, I laughed immensely when I read 'The Call of the Weird'! Louis - 'it's the way you tell 'em'.
Alexis, Cambridge, UK

In the immortal words of Mark E. Smith (in 'Totally Wired'): 'You don't have to weird To be weird'
Billy, Stroud Green, London, UK

I myself claim to be the true Christ and looking at it from my point of view the world cannot accept that the majority can be wrong. The evidence is easy to understand and it will stop terrprism, because it will alter fundamental views; on how we see religion. But people are not willing to say to the establised majority you all are wrong. they just say you are weired or nuts. but who is nuts, someone who hears voices, or a religion that of the majority, that accepts God speaks to us and then, ignores all the evidence.
Francis Gerald, worcester

I have also considered Louis as very perceptive of people's real character, and the sould searching that they do- this article helps to understand the logic behind the man who sets out to show us that none of us are normal, and to accept people, however weird we think they are. Well written.
Pam Harris, Cardiff

Mike Warnke (an american christian comedian) once said something like: If weird stuff happens where weird stuff is supposed to happen, it's not really weird stuff. Because if weird stuff happens where weird stuff is supposed to happen that would be normal, right? Only normal stuff is really weird when it happens where weird stuff is suppose to happen because normal stuff can only be normal when it happens where normal stuff is supposed to happen. Whereas weird stuff really becomes weird only when it happens where normal stuff is supposed to happen.
Steven Wilson, Cambridge, UK

Everyone is weird. Thats why people are interesting.
Simon D, Bristol

Every one else says I'm weird, but my mum says I'm special.
David Alex Burnett, Nottingham, UK

As an aetheist, I consider the belief in and worship of all-powerful spirtual beings to be 'weird'. One suspects that in the (hopefully not to distant) future, when such beings have been scientifically disproven, people will look back at those who used to worship them and think that their beliefs were very weird. As Louis says, weirdness is in the eye of the beholder.
Steven, London, UK

So good to see you back Louis, love love love your stuff. So funny Thanks, cant wait till Sunday.
James Alderman, Cardiff

Weirdness can happen without you realising it. Certainly, the microscopic creatures who live on the full stop at the end of this sentence agree with me on that.
Nigel Macarthur, London, England

Excellent observations made by Louis Theroux, that these people are looking for a way of making contact with the "outside world" by means of adding value to what they perceive makes them interesting to others. It is quite possible, and even likely, that most of these people Louis describes as "Weird" are unaware of what they are doing and believe every word of what they are saying. Perfect exemple of the unconscious taking over the conscious to acheive a better result in what all of us long for. A successful integration into Society and a regognition of or abilities and strengths. People need to feel special and this is their way of making it so.
Alex, Montreal, Canada

Everybody is somebody's wierdo
Christopher Drake, Ulverston, England

Where has Louis been hiding? We need more documentaries from Louis to help the UK understand and laugh at itself again. More please!
Butternut_squash, Coventry

I couldn't agree more with Nietzsche's comment that weirdness in groups is the rule. Belief in a man up in the sky who watches everything you do and who can grant you favours seems outrageously weird to me, but acceptable to huge numbers of people throughout the world.
Tom, Reading, Berkshire

Wierd comes from the Old English "wyrd" meaning "destiny". "Wierd and wonderful" still retains the original meaning, that fate is in the hands of a supernatural power. I like Louis Theroux's programmes because he has time for this other-worldly dimension in the lives of people he meets, paradoxically making them more accessible to all of us.
Z Rizvi, London

Weirdness is cultural: collaborative societies ostracise the abnormal, but in doing so they also attack the pathfinders who stop it atrophying. From the witchhunts of the seventeenth century, to the pogroms of the nineteenth, to the demonisation of Muslims in the twenty-first, it's cheap capital politicians.
Jel, Swansea

Louis's programmes are always very entertaining and it is interesting to read his views here. We may laugh at weirdness but it must resonate with everyone that the "weird" people are making sense of their world, just as we are of ours...
Bethan, Birmingham

I thought aetheists didn't believe in God but it seems they hate all people who disagree with them and are intent on littering these articles with their hatred. There's a 3 and 4 to the DVDs, I believe. More of the licence fee should be spent on Louis!
Paul, Ashton

Louis should seek more closer to home UK weirdness. I think its perfectly normal to roll in the mud with several friends, wearing sports kit and leggings - others may find this disturbing.
Kirby, Stamford

Roll on Louis! and thank goodness we're not all 'normal' and conforming to societies' expectations. Look forward to Sunday and a new show soon hopefully!
Jan, London

Why oh why can't everyone see that all the weirdness is the fault of Tony Blair. Labour policies are making more people weirder every day. Wake up Tony your (obligatory grammar error - ed) taxes, sleaze, spin, home office, illegal war are to blame. - first HYS I've read for sometime without the government being blamed, so I thought I ought to contribute.
Ken, beziers france

BRING BACK LOUIS !! The people he meets make the Big Brother housemates look normal ....
Lindsey , Tonbridge, Kent

Accepting each others faults and tolerating wrong are completely different concepts. If someone cannot help themselves from openly sleeping with the partner from another relationship and not realise how damaging this is to their own relationship and no one does anything to understand what is wrong with the person, then this is wrong tolerance. Right tolerance is accepting their faults, but doing something to council the person.
Lionel Newcombe, London

Brilliant, intriguing, provocking, polite and gorgeous. What more do you want?
Claire Bradbury, Rochefort France

Louis is the modern day Alan Whicker. Weird Weekends was an inspired series as was the "Louis meets" series. He has an amazingly natural way of getting people to open up and reveal their true selves. More please BBC. More Louis doing what Louis does best.
Dave Price, Leeds UK

I adore Louis! He needs to be back on NY TV. Where in the world is Louis Theroux? His selected topics and friendly style of delivery make for fascinating, informative, totally watchable entertainment.
Susan, Greenwich Village

Fine point! Most people think they see the world as it is. Whereas in fact they see it through a filter. The word is paradigm. We each need to look more at our own paradigms instead of judging others. It's funny as by default everybody automatically thinks their beliefs are right and everybody else is wrong. We just assume there must be something up with them. It takes a more self aware person to notice the lens through which they see the world. As said in some of the comments - it helps a lot examining views from the past and how most of us at the time "just assumed" certain truths we picked up from those around us. Yet majority viewpoints are often far from the truth. Yet despite this the minority are assumed to have something wrong with them. We should apply this understanding more to understanding people from different cultures too. I think most of us have by default a poor view of people from the Middle East and how they live and what they value. Jade for one seems to be a person who is not aware that her filters may not be the truth and assume the other (different)people must have something wrong with them - must be weird. I'd like to see this more on this. Maybe a documentary?
Andrew Norris, Warrington

Being non-judgemental,tolerant,having an open mind for other possible viewpoints if nongressive or invasive enriches ones life.
Bob Johannesen, Fish Hoek Rep of S. Africa

I think it is so weird that so many of those who have commented below make so many spelling mistakes. Maybe Louis should meet some of you!
Tom, London

Glad to see Louis, the thinking womans crumpet, has surfaced again. Big fan of his programme, but wish he'd take on a "meatier" subject matter. The horse of weirdness has been flogged senseless in televisual and written word form. The carcass is still oozing Louis' lovely charm and wit but he needs to move on. Be brave Louis, you're good enough.
Neil, Dublin, Ireland

I have been a weird person myself for the past 6 years as an obsessive and ardent admirer of Mr Theroux. He is rather gorgeous but I am afraid I have missed the golden opportunity as he has now settled down with a girlfriend and baby. Much maligned for my 'poor taste' in men, it was suggested by my friends that I should move on to other stalking grounds such as Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt - but I persisted in hanging around Harlesden and Kensal Rise in the hopes of glimpsing my hero. I have nothing but empathy for Louis subjects!
anna , barnet

A little bit sly of Theroux to claim that he tried to "undermine the idea of "weirdness" as a self-evident category of behaviour" since his TV show was named "Weird Weekends" and his book "The Call of the Weird" which obviously reinforce such categorisation. Indeed, he has made a living from sniggering slightly at those who do not fit into his middle-class idea of 'normality'.
Mark, Teesside, UK

One of the best definition of weirdness of religion has to be the crowd scene in "The Life of Brian" where Brian preaches to the masses, "You are all indviduals" with the mass response said as one was "Yes! We are all individuals" except for the loane voice at the back saying "I'm not, I'm just like all the rest" Perfect example of the weirdness of religion!
Andy Ash-Vie, Lymington

In reply to the atheistic commenters sneering at religious types in this thread: I consider atheism to be deeply weird, as has most of the human race in recorded history.
James Goodman,

One mans wierd is another mans xenophopic giraffe!
brian, Hong Kong

If you have 5 pencils and one pen, it's the pen that's the odd one out. Now if you have 5 pens and once pencil, it's the pencil that's the odd one out. Being different, abnormal or weird is relative to being normal, but how do you know what's normal and what's not?
David, Guildford

It was only Louis who claimed these people were weird. I would have thought that tiring to live his life through the people he meets - without having to dirty himself with a personality, points to him being the weirdo!
Oli, Deeside

To my understanding of motivations people who break social taboos and behave bizarrely are far less weird than the animal like individuals who behave without thinking or by pure selfishness. Unfortunately the anti-social and ignorant outnumber the eccentrics by some way.
Patrick O'Brien, Maidenhead, UK

Louis's work proves my belief that there is in fact NO SUCH THING as 'normal'. Even the most respectable looking of people have a bit weirdness somewhere within their soul! Keep up the geat work Louis us abnormal and wonderfully made poeple love it!
Joe Davis, Worthing

Louis needs to make a come back in 2007, get back to N.America and a part 2.
Bryan, Swindon, UK

Great television. I hope Louis Theroux will do something on Iraq, perhaps some 'embedded' reportage with the US army. I'm sure that would be interesting!
Rod Fountain, London UK

So there's some guy called Louis that travels the world trying to find 'weird' people? - What a weirdo eh?
Mark, London

"Often, something is weird not for any intrinsic reason but simply because not many people are doing it." I totally agree. Or as others have observed: "It only seems kinky the first time."
Sophie, Coventry

I find it weird that 'Stephen, London' thinks that it is possible to scientifically disprove the existence of God(s).
Marc Yates, Swindon

Robert Crumb conjured up a rather good fantasy weirdo -> http://www.12move.de/home/crumb/w25.htm Viva the weirdo is waht I say. Without the wierdo Louis would be financially worse off, and TV would be full of even more boring stereotypical pap, a la BB.
Steve, London

Spelling 'weird' is weird, as you always 'put' the 'i' before the 'e' ,except after the 'c' : Ohh : that 'is ' right : "ei" : Ohh well : I think I'm "O.K.", .. or mmm. Weirdness is in the 'eye' of the beholder : it's like 'opinion'[from 'where' 'we' - stand].
Graham Gough, Dunedin, New Zealand.

More of Louise please. Don't get to see enough of good stuff.
Ranjeeta Johnson, Mayfield

Louis Theroux; faux naive, disingenuous, devious, calculating utterly predictable, patronising one dimensional bore. Please spare us from another series of the same old dross. If you want weirdness take a trip on public transport! You don't need to be spoon fed by this arch manipulator.
Jon, Bedford

I like Louis's programs, but isn't editing old clips just another word for repeats? I'm sure Louis's getting another payday out of it, but I'd prefer my license fee to go on new programs (including more weird weekends) not edited repeats & celebrity cashfest (karaoke, skating, dancing...)which look cheap, sound cheap & are cheap but make lots of cash! But then I'm sure that opinion could be seen as being weird! Also is it me or did 1 too many people get the God Delusion for Christmas? Atheists have never been so vocal - I just think you're all weird, religious or not!
Andy, Ipswich

Part of Louis's charm lies in his attractedness to his subjects. I always thought he looked more than comfortable at times with them, which just makes it compelling to watch. I love Louis!
jean, birmingham

Weird discribes the millions of brain dead who spend hours watching government sponsored drivel on tv,BBC.Opiate for the masses ? Get alive !Turn that electronic box off, go out get alife and do something different, then they'll call you wierd too.
Oddley Enhoef, home

I find Louis Theroux's programs extraordinary. I love the compassionate way he approaches these people...so non judgmental. He was always prepared to look silly if the need arose...(as in singing Christian songs with the born again group or when he took up wrestling).I would ove to see more of his programs BBC, cut some of Chris Moyles pay and pay for something decent..a new series by Louis.
robyne, brighton

When my cheesecake died people thought I was weird for having a funeral, but I loved him! So what's weird about that??
King Lardy,

I hope Louis can stay on our screen's.As he brings a different perspective about peoples lives.His programmes are so entertaining.I haven't seen anyone come close to him yet.We need more,more,more,of Louis.It would be a pity to waste his talents.
Perry, llanelli

It's "vocal cords", not "vocal chords" (paragraph 10).
David, London

When we call something or someone "weird" we're really making a statement about ourselves.
Gavin Boyter, London, UK

I love Theroux's show, but his weird are really a collection of exhibitionists, non-conformists, and (sometimes) delusional and stupid. Often, they just want to look weird to millons on television but that is because they crave fame and attention. It is a more charming English version of Jerry Springer Since he quoted Nietzsche's description of madness, I wonder if Theroux thinks weirdness is the same as madness? Perhaps Theroux should explore Nietzche's thinking next rather than make another program of side-show freaks. For instance, he could examine religion and war, which have shaped societies throughout the ages. Today Christianity is considered normal, but scientology is generally considered weird. But they are both based on rather fanciful notions, and require a high degree of faith rather than reason to justify. Once, Christianity was considered weird. War is considered normal, but it could seem irrational, mad, or weird to commit mass killing and destruction rather than come to an agreement and compromise. We all have the skills to negotiate but choose bombs instead. Is war and relgion weird, Louis? How weird are your own beliefs and practices, Louis?
paddy, dumfries

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