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Chris Morris (satirist)

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Chris Morris (satirist)

Christopher J "Chris" Morris (born 15 June 1962) is an English comedian, writer, director, actor, voice actor, and producer. He is known for his black humour, surrealism, and controversial subject matter, and has been hailed for his "uncompromising, moralistic drive" by the British Film Institute.[1] His tendency to avoid the media spotlight has seen him become one of the more enigmatic figures in British comedy.

In the early 1990s, Morris teamed up with his radio producer, Armando Iannucci, to create On The Hour, a satire of news programmes. This was expanded into a television spin off, The Day Today, which launched the career of Steve Coogan, and has since been hailed as one of the most important satirical shows of the 1990s.[2] Morris further developed the satirical news format with Brass Eye, which lampooned celebrities whilst focusing on themes such as crime and drugs. For many, the apotheosis of Morris's career was a Brass Eye special, which dealt with the moral panic surrounding paedophilia. It quickly became one of the most complained about programmes in British television history, leading the Daily Mail to describe him as "the most loathed man on TV".[3]

Meanwhile, Morris's postmodern sketch and ambient music radio show Blue Jam helped him to gain a cult following. He went on to win a BAFTA for Best Short Film after expanding a Blue Jam sketch into My Wrongs 8245–8249 & 117, which starred Paddy Considine. This was followed by Nathan Barley, a sitcom written in collaboration with a then little-known Charlie Brooker that satirised hipsters, which had low ratings but found success upon its DVD release. Morris followed this by joining the cast of the Graham Linehan sitcom The IT Crowd, his first project in which he did not have writing or producing input.

In 2010, Morris directed his first feature-length film, Four Lions, which satirised Islamic terrorism through a group of inept British Pakistanis. Reception of the film was largely positive, earning Morris his second BAFTA, for "Outstanding Debut". Since 2012, he has directed four episodes of Iannucci's political comedy Veep and appeared onscreen in The Double and Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle.

Biography

Early life

Morris was born in Colchester, Essex,[4] to father Paul Michael Morris, a GP,[5] and mother Rosemary Parrington[6] and grew up in a Victorian farmhouse in the village Buckden, Huntingdonshire, which he describes as "very dull".[7]

He has two younger brothers, including theatre director Tom Morris.[8] From an early age he was a prankster, and also had a passion for radio. From the age of 10 he was educated at Stonyhurst College, an independent Jesuit boarding school in Lancashire.[9] He went to study zoology at the University of Bristol, where he gained a 2:1.[10]

Radio career

On graduating, Morris pursued a career as a musician in various bands, for which he played the bass guitar. He then went to work for Radio West, a local radio station in Bristol. He then took up a news traineeship with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, where he took advantage of access to editing and recording equipment to create elaborate spoofs and parodies.[11] He also spent time in early 1987 hosting a 2–4pm afternoon show and finally ended up presenting Saturday morning show I.T.

In July 1987, he moved on to BBC Radio Bristol to present his own show "No Known Cure", broadcast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The show was surreal and satirical, with odd interviews conducted with unsuspecting members of the public. He was fired from Bristol in 1990 after "talking over the news bulletins and making silly noises".[12] In 1988 he also joined, from its launch, Greater London Radio (GLR). He presented The Chris Morris Show on GLR until 1993, when one show got suspended after a sketch was broadcast involving a child "outing" celebrities.[13]

In 1991, Morris joined Armando Iannucci's spoof news project On the Hour. Broadcast on BBC Radio 4, it saw him work alongside Iannucci, Steve Coogan, Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Rebecca Front. In 1992, Morris hosted Danny Baker's Radio 5 Morning Edition show for a week whilst Baker was on holiday. In 1994, Morris began a weekly evening show, the Chris Morris Music Show, on BBC Radio 1 alongside Peter Baynham and 'man with a mobile phone' Paul Garner. In the shows, Morris perfected the spoof interview style that would become a central component of his Brass Eye programme. In the same year, Morris teamed up with Peter Cook, as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, in a series of improvised conversations for BBC Radio 3, entitled Why Bother?.

Move into television and film

If you make a joke in an area which is for some reason, normally random, out of bounds, then you might find something out, you might put your finger on something.

Chris Morris[14]

In 1994, a BBC 2 television series based on On the Hour was broadcast under the name The Day Today. The Day Today made a star of Morris, and marked the television debut of Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge character. The programme ended on a high after just one series, with Morris winning the 1994 British Comedy Award for Best Newcomer for his lead role as the Paxmanesque news anchor.[15]

In 1997, the black humour which had featured in On the Hour and The Day Today became more prominent in Brass Eye, another spoof current affairs television documentary, shown on Channel 4. Brass Eye became known for tricking celebrities and politicians into throwing support behind public awareness campaigns for made-up issues that were often absurd or surreal (such as a drug called cake and an elephant with its trunk stuck up its anus).

From 1997 to 1999 Morris created Blue Jam for BBC Radio 1, a surreal taboo-breaking radio show set to an ambient soundtrack.[1] In 2000 this was followed by Jam, a television reworking.[1] Morris released a 'remix' version of this, entitled Jaaaaam.[1]

In 2001, a special episode of Brass Eye on the moral panic that surrounds paedophilia led to a record-breaking number of complaints – it still remains the third highest on UK television after Celebrity Big Brother 2007 and Jerry Springer: The Opera – as well as heated discussion in the press. Many complainants, some of whom later admitted to not having seen the programme (notably Beverley Hughes, a government minister),[16] felt the satire was directed at the victims of paedophilia, which Morris denies. Channel 4 defended the show, insisting the target was the media and its hysterical treatment of paedophilia, and not victims of crime.

In 2002, Morris ventured into film, directing the short My Wrongs#8245–8249 & 117, adapted from a Blue Jam monologue about a man led astray by a sinister talking dog. It was the first film project of Warp Films, a branch of Warp Records. In 2002 this won the BAFTA for best short film.[17] In 2005 Morris worked on a sitcom entitled Nathan Barley, based on the character created by Charlie Brooker for his website TVGoHome (Morris had contributed to TVGoHome on occasion, under the pseudonym 'Sid Peach'[18]). Co-written by Brooker and Morris, the series was broadcast on Channel 4 in early 2005.

Post 2005

Morris was a cast member in The IT Crowd, a Channel 4 sitcom which focused on the information technology department of the fictional company Reynholm Industries. The series was written and directed by Graham Linehan (writer of Father Ted and Black Books, with whom Morris collaborated on The Day Today, Brass Eye and Jam) and produced by Ash Atalla (The Office). Morris played Denholm Reynholm, the eccentric managing director of the company. This marked the first time Morris has acted in a substantial role in a project which he has not developed himself. Morris's character appeared to leave the series during episode two of the second series. His character made a brief return in the first episode of the third series.

In November 2007, Morris wrote an article for The Observer in response to Ronan Bennett's article published six days earlier in The Guardian. Bennett's article, "Shame on us", accused the novelist Martin Amis of racism. Morris's response, "The absurd world of Martin Amis", was also highly critical of Amis; although he did not accede to Bennett's accusation of racism, Morris likened Amis to the Muslim cleric Abu Hamza (who was jailed for inciting racial hatred in 2006), suggesting that both men employ "mock erudition, vitriol and decontextualised quotes from the Qu'ran" to incite hatred.[19]

Morris served as script editor for the 2009 series Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, working with former colleagues Stewart Lee, Kevin Eldon and Armando Iannucci. He maintained this role for the second (2011) and third series (2014).

Morris completed his debut feature film Four Lions in late 2009, a satire based on a group of Islamist terrorists in Sheffield.[20] It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010 and was short-listed for the festival's World Cinema Narrative prize.[21] The film (working title Boilerhouse) was picked up by Film Four.[22] Morris told The Sunday Times that the film sought to do for Islamic terrorism what Dad's Army, the classic BBC comedy, did for the Nazis by showing them as "scary but also ridiculous".[23]

In 2012, Morris directed the seventh and penultimate episode of the first season of Veep, an Armando Iannucci-devised American version of The Thick of It.[24] In 2013, he returned to direct two episodes for the second season of Veep, and a further episode for season three in 2014.

In 2013, Morris appeared briefly in Richard Ayoade's The Double, a black comedy film based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novella of the same name. Morris had previously worked with Ayoade on Nathan Barley and The IT Crowd.

In February 2014, Morris made a surprise appearance at the beginning of a Stewart Lee live show, introducing the comedian with fictional anecdotes about their work together.[25] The following month, Morris appeared in the third series of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle as a "hostile interrogator",[26] a role previously occupied by Armando Iannucci.

In December 2014, it was announced that a short radio collaboration with Noel Fielding and Richard Ayoade would be broadcast on BBC Radio 6.[27] According to an interview with Fielding in 2011, the work had already been in progress for five years by that point.[28] However, it was decided, 'in consultation with [Morris]', that the project was not yet complete enough, and so the intended broadcast did not go ahead.[29]

Music

Morris often co-writes and performs incidental music for his television shows, notably with Jam and the 'extended remix' version, Jaaaaam. In the early 1990s Morris contributed a Pixies parody track entitled "Motherbanger" to a flexi-disc given away with an edition of Select music magazine.[30] Morris supplied sketches for British band Saint Etienne's 1993 single "You're in a Bad Way" (the sketch 'Spongbake' appears at the end of the 4th track on the CD single). In 2000, he collaborated by mail with Amon Tobin to create the track "Bad Sex", which was released as a B-side on the Tobin single "Slowly".[31] British band Stereolab's song "Nothing to Do with Me" from their 2001 album Sound-Dust featured various lines from Chris Morris sketches as lyrics.[32]

Recognition

In 2003, Morris was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.[33] In 2005, Channel 4 aired a show called The Comedian's Comedian in which foremost writers and performers of comedy ranked their 50 favourite acts. Morris was at number eleven.[34] Morris won the BAFTA for outstanding debut with his film Four Lions. Adeel Akhtar and Nigel Lindsay collected the award in his absence.[35] Lindsay stated that Morris had sent him a text message before they collected the award reading, 'Doused in petrol, Zippo at the ready'.[36] In June 2012 Morris was placed at number 16 in the Top 100 People in UK Comedy.[37]

In 2010, a biography, Disgusting Bliss: The Brass Eye of Chris Morris, was published. Written by Lucian Randall, the book depicted Morris as "brilliant but uncompromising", and a "frantic-minded perfectionist".[38]

In November 2014, a three-hour retrospective of Morris' radio career was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra under the title 'Raw Meat Radio', presented by Mary Anne Hobbs and featuring interviews with Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham, Paul Garner, and others.[39]

Awards

Morris won the Best TV Comedy Newcomer award from the British Comedy Awards in 1998 for his performance in The Day Today.[40] He has won two BAFTA awards: the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film in 2002 for My Wrongs#8245–8249 & 117,[17] and the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British director, writer or producer in 2011 for Four Lions.[41]

Personal life

Morris lives in Brixton, with his wife, actress turned literary agent Jo Unwin.[42] The pair met in 1984 at the Edinburgh Festival, when he was playing bass guitar for the Cambridge Footlights Revue and she was in a comedy troupe called the Millies.[42] They have two sons, Charles and Frederick, both of whom were born in Lambeth.[42] Until the release of Four Lions he gave very few interviews and little had been published about Morris's personal life. Since 2009 he has made numerous media appearances to promote and support the film, both in the UK and USA, at one point appearing as a guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Morris can be heard as himself in a 2008 podcast for CERN.[43]

Works

References

  1. ^ a b c d
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  3. ^ The Guardian (London) 21 February 2003 Review: CHRIS MORRIS: THE MOVIE: The last time he was in the news, it was for the 'paedophile special' of his TV series Brass Eye. Now he's made a film – just 15 minutes long – which is tipped to win a Bafta on Sunday. In a rare interview, Britain's greatest contemporary satirist talks to Xan Brooks about making the film, celebrities and why he won't be tackling the war on terror BYLINE: Xan Brooks
  4. ^
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  7. ^ If It Bleeds It Leads 6 June 1994 – By Simon Price – From The Melody Maker
  8. ^ Profile: Chris Morris, BBC Radio 4
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  12. ^ Morris, the man with a mission to cause offence. – Daily Mail (London)
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  42. ^ a b c
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