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50 Interviews: I’m not Jewish

TV presenter Louis Theroux finds himself in a tense situation while interviewing ‘Skip’, a hostile American neo-Nazi, as part of the 2003 BBC documentary ‘Louis and the Nazis’, writes Sam McInerney.

Interviewer:  Louis Theroux

Interview subject: ‘Skip’

Program:  Video interview as part of a BBC documentary, ‘Louis and the Nazis’

Broadcast date:  21st of December, 2003

Interviewing is nerve-wracking. Especially interviewing an aggressive neo-Nazi who’s demanding you reveal your Jewish heritage. This is the situation Louis Theroux finds himself in as part of his BBC documentary ‘Louis and the Nazis’.

Theroux has made a career out of exploring ‘gangsta rappers’, porn-stars, paedophiles, and others who are socially ostracised. While these marginal groups are typically on the receiving end of accountability type interviews, on programs like 60 Minutes, Theroux’s interviews don’t fit this category.

His interview with neo-Nazi ‘Skip’ typically demonstrates his ability to interview subjects in a delicately balanced way. Theroux is accommodating and relatable to his subjects, but avoids condoning their behaviour and alienating his audience.

He is polite, conversational, and respectful of Skip and his family. Theroux never interrupts, and apologises after offending a family member. When asking harder questions, Theroux manages to do so in a gentle way. This approach allows Skip and his family to feel comfortable, knowing they can speak freely without having their views thrown back in their face.

When Skip demands to know whether Louis is Jewish, explaining that he’d normally use violence if a Jew were to enter his property, Theroux refuses to say. Instead, he stays calm and provides rational explanations as to why he doesn’t feel comfortable answering the question.

Though declining to answer Skip’s question abruptly ends the interview, Theroux’s refusal to take the easy option and simply say, ‘I’m not Jewish’, allows the audience to gain a final sense of the most interesting aspect of Skip – his underlying raw, aggressive nature.

Sam McInerney is currently completing a Graduate Diploma in Journalism at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @SamuelMcInerney

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