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- Documentary maker Louis Theroux gave us his theory on why he has become a viral internet meme.
- He said it’s because his onscreen persona is funnier and more awkward than the real Louis Theroux.
- Even if he doesn’t fully understand the phenomenon, Theroux said he likes being a meme.
Louis Theroux is known for delving into strange and difficult places. His last documentary series, “Dark States,” examined heroin use, sex trafficking, and murder in America. But one realm he hasn’t quite figured out yet is the world of internet memes, where he is undeniably a star.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Louis Theroux memes started to take off, but several social media accounts have popped up celebrating the documentary maker, who himself has nearly 2 million followers on Twitter.
The No Context Louis Twitter account commands 134,000 followers, while the Louis Theroux Bot twitter account has over 40,000. Over on Facebook, Louis Theroux Reactions has more than 310,000 likes, while No Context Louis Theroux boasts a modest 32,000.
You can even buy Theroux merchandise. Fancy sampling the “Sleeping Theroux the Night” pillow, or a “Dashing Theroux the Snow” Christmas jumper? It’s all on Amazon and other good online retailers.
So what is it about the documentary maker that makes him so memeable?
Business Insider asked the man himself. At first he seemed stumped by the question. “I don’t know…” he whispered in response, “do you know?”
We posited the idea that his documentaries lend themselves to highly localized meme humour. Many of the memes on “Louis Theroux Reactions” use British language or describe quintessentially British experiences.
“You mean I’m a tiny little phenomenon in a tiny country, is that what you’re saying? It’s an in-joke, I hadn’t thought about that… so I’m actually a meme because I’m so irrelevant…” mused Theroux.
He then put forward his own theory. “I’d like to imagine that they recognise that the me that they see onscreen is to some extent a construction. That it’s a curated version of who I am, created by myself, my editor, my director,” Theroux said.
He thinks the Theroux people see in his documentaries is in some ways an exaggerated version of himself. “The me you see on screen is a bit funnier than I actually am, maybe a little bit more awkward than I am, is certainly doing more interesting things than I normally do,” he said.
Awkwardness is certainly a key element of Louis Theroux memes. Especially in the case of his “Weird Weekends” series, bizarre situations result in Theroux keeping a straight face while strange things happen around him, and sometimes to him.
— No Context Louis (@NoContextLouis) May 16, 2018
— No Context Louis (@NoContextLouis) May 14, 2018
Theroux says heightened awkwardness is an inevitable consequence of making his documentaries.
“I think because of the challenges of having to negotiate an environment where I’m not completely at ease, the programmes almost by definition take me out of my comfort zone,” he said.
We asked some Business Insider employees why they think Theroux memes are so popular. “Memes as a general rule need to have a certain level of relatability,” said one. “I guess a lot of us are used to feeling awkward in situations and he just kind of takes that to extremes.”
“It’s the perfect combination of being overly-British and bumbling, making awkward situations even more awkward,” said another.
For his part, Theroux said he likes being a meme. In the past he has engaged with memes on social media, once reading out a line generated by the Louis Theroux Bot.
— Louis Theroux (@louistheroux) October 26, 2017
Theroux has a new documentary called “Altered States” will air on the BBC in November, and it’s already providing fresh material for the internet’s meme artists.
And here’s me on a scooter. https://t.co/i3adGf9vET
— Louis Theroux (@louistheroux) September 28, 2018
“I like it,” Theroux concluded.