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The Hot Seat: Christopher Guest

The director and comedian peels away his characters and faces the music.

Illustration: Rob Kelly

When Spinal Tap played Carnegie Hall in 2001, the Folksmen opened. This required hasty costume changes in between because, of course, the musicians in both bands are the same: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, stars of This Is Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind.

That won't be necessary during Unwigged & Unplugged, Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 at the Beacon Theatre. As the name suggests, Guest, McKean and Shearer won't be in character. Also, the concert will be acoustic—but we bet they'll still find a way to turn it up to 11.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews

Is it harder or easier to play as yourself?
It's just different. It was a relief the first time, not to be in the wigs or bald caps or weird shoes. But then we had a press conference recently and Michael McKean asked, "What are you gonna wear?" I said, "Wow, I don't know!" And then there was this weird idea of, apart from that: Who are you?

How does it change the music itself, if you're not mugging the way Nigel would?
You'll have to tell me after the show! I may in fact visually be doing the same thing—which would be desperately sad. "Big Bottom" is the song that will be the most dramatically different, just because we don't have three acoustic basses. It's a surprise. I mean, it's not something you'll be standing waiting to see. Well, you'll be sitting, actually, anyway.

Sitting: Yes, there is something inherently funny about acoustic metal. The tiny Stonehenge would actually be pretty appropriate.
Well, it could be. It might be. We'll see.

So, speaking about your style of humor in general, why choose sincerity over sarcasm?
I'm drawn to reality—and I don't mean reality shows, because I've never actually seen them.

Really? Never?
I've never seen American Idol. Or the one where they kill each other.

You've never seen Kill Island?!?
They go to an island and have to eat a dog or something?

And each other; it's on Spike TV.
Well, I haven't seen any of them. I'm not drawn to something that's supposed to humiliate people. And I think sarcasm has a short life; there has to be emotional content or it's just a series of gags.

You get in very deep with your characters, so I'm wondering, do you ever...
Have to get some help?

You mean therapy?
Yeah—sorry—I thought you were gonna say that. I didn't mean to sabotage your question. Go ahead.

No way! That came to your mind pretty quickly. Have you?
[Laughs] No, you were just saying it in such a gentle way, "You're so committed to your characters..."

I was going to ask you what makes you break, laugh, ruin the shot.
Oh! Fred Willard will make anyone laugh.

He's like a doll: You could pull a string and he'd say something hilarious every time.
It's a very curious thing. There is no one like him on earth—and he may not even be from this planet. Once we were shooting a scene and I said, "Cut!" and he shouted, "I'm not finished!" But Fred never laughs. He doesn't laugh at anyone else, because I don't think he finds anything funny.

Do you ever have trouble being taken seriously?
Well, I have a deadpan thing that gets me in trouble occasionally, so that when I'm talking to you in this way, which is completely serious...

Wait—this hasn't all been a joke?
Apparently not.

Unwigged & Unplugged happens at the Beacon Theatre Tue 26 and Wed 27.

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