Hi Reddit, I'm Christopher Guest, co-creator/co-writer/director of HBO's new series, FAMILY TREE starring Chris O'Dowd, which airs Sundays at 10:30pm est. I've also directed Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. I was Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap and Count Rugen in The Princess Bride. I'll be answering your questions for the next hour and a half, so feel free to Ask Me Anything.

Official site: http://www.hbo.com/family-tree

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FamilyTreeHBO

Verification: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=329076443889482&set=a.305312766265850.1073741828.302193496577777&type=1

UPDATE: Thanks so much for your questions everyone! Signing off.

Comments: 315 • Responses: 62  • Date: 


Did Jane Lynch improvise any of her scenes in Best In Show? How much of your dialog is scripted?

ChristopherGuest100 karma

Jane Lynch improvised all of her scenes in Best In Show. The actors are given an outline and a character breakdown which tells them the back history of who they're playing.

JacoVainglorious37 karma

How do you respond to people who quote your own work at you?

ChristopherGuest55 karma

A lot of times I don't actually remember the quotes, unfortunately. But when I'm reminded I guess it's a compliment, isn't it?

davenported35 karma

My favorite moment in Family Tree thus far is when Chris O'Down puts the old olympic shirt up to him and pretends to receive a bronze medal, and then quickly chastises himself for not receiving gold in his own fantasy. Is a line like that improvised with an understanding of the character's own insecurities? Just so brilliant in any case.

ChristopherGuest41 karma

Yes, Chris improvised that line, and I thought it was one of the funniest things he said in the series so far. Appreciate that you liked the line as well.

Enforcer8434 karma

No questions, Just thank you for your years of making me giggle.

ChristopherGuest28 karma

Thank you very much! That's nice to hear. I appreciate it.

grant027 karma

Hey Christopher! Big fan. I'm sure you know that Spinal Tap has a still-rabid fan base. Can you think of some tidbit of Spinal Tap trivia to share with us that has never before been revealed or are you sick of talking about the damn thing?

ChristopherGuest32 karma

I wish I could.

ChristopherGuest83 karma

Thought of one. Some of the scenes in Spinal Tap came from an actual tour that I did with Michael McKean in 1979 with Lenny and the Squigtones. We had a lot of mishaps and later on we were able to use those experiences when we were writing Spinal Tap with Harry Shearer and Rob Reiner.

magmar1724 karma

How many types of nuts can you name?

ChristopherGuest47 karma

I can name 27,154 kinds of nuts.

Ruddiver22 karma

I hate you and I hate your assface.

Where is Corky St. Clair today?

ChristopherGuest39 karma

Corky is actually a member of Obama's cabinet right now, and doing very, very well. He's not working in the theater, but has top clearance as a nuclear physicist.

davenported21 karma

Will long-time Christopher Guest film veterans Katherine O'Hara or Eugene Levy be making an appearance in Family Tree? The show is absolutely brilliant by the way, thanks again for making amazing art.

ChristopherGuest25 karma

I don't know if Katherine or Eugene will be appearing. We'll have to see if we do more episodes.

grant020 karma

Do you still have that six-fingered glove from The Princess Bride?

ChristopherGuest48 karma

I do have the glove as well as the sword and dagger from the film.

ChristopherGuest43 karma

but I rarely wear it.

jmdxsvhs1542 karma

Define rarely. Like only a few hours a day?

ChristopherGuest30 karma

Once every five years.

SheffieldAbella20 karma

Hi Christopher,

My favorite character of yours from SNL is Rajeev Vindaloo, a private investigator from Kanoga Park, California on Jackie Rogers Jr.'s $100,000 Jackpot Wad.

How did you come up with him? Or did someone else come up with him?

Chocolate babies!

ChristopherGuest22 karma

I came up with the character based on someone I saw out in the real world, believe it or not. I thought it was amusing at the time and so I did it. Years later, I still run into people that remember that character and comment on it. Thanks for remembering.

ekidwell19 karma

I seriously just created a Reddit account for the sole purpose of asking you a question! I adore your body of work! That being said, what was it like to work with the animals on Best in Show? Did the scenes require many takes to get "just right" or did you sort of go with the flow and let it happen organically? Thank you for doing an AMA!

ChristopherGuest35 karma

All the dogs in BEST IN SHOW were professional show dogs, and performed beautifully. They didn't bark and no re-takes were required. Everyone was shocked how well-behaved they were and how well they did in the film. That's why my dogs weren't in the film.

joeahchay17 karma

Mr. Guest, thank you so much for taking the time to do this AMA!

You and your movies have been an inspiration to comics and filmmakers throughout the industry - are there any "up-and-coming" or popular comedians/filmmakers who you particularly enjoy watching nowadays?

ChristopherGuest31 karma

I think Ricky Gervais is a brilliant comedian. And I like everything that he's done so far.

callmelaul15 karma

Hey Christopher! Huge fan of your work!

How did you come up with that dance number Corky does in Waiting for Guffman? I lose my shit every time i see that dance.

ChristopherGuest31 karma

That moment was completely improvised at the time. I had never rehearsed it and I believe I only did one take of that. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

BoydWrites14 karma

Hi Christopher, I have very much enjoyed Family Tree, especially Monk. Such a great character and scene stealer. Where did the idea come from?

ChristopherGuest19 karma

Thank you. I've known Nina Conti for many years and admired her talent. When Jim Piddock and I were writing the show, I knew I wanted her to be part of it.

I_smell_awesome13 karma

What did you have for breakfast today?

ChristopherGuest31 karma

This is the truth; I had 11 eggs, 1 piece of bacon, 4 pieces of toast, a kiwi fruit, a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and a bowl of Skittles. A cup of coffee, a cup of tea, half an orange, and Bit-o-Honey.

Dr_G_Ent11 karma

Was Corky St. Clair based off of anyone in particular?

ChristopherGuest48 karma

Yes, he was based on our first President George Washington. I found some documentary footage from the first inauguration, and Washington acted exactly the way Corky did. I thought this was a great idea since no one else was doing it.

PapaSmurphy11 karma

I'm a huge fan, thank you for all of the laughter you've given me over the years!

Question: How great is Fred Willard to work with on a scale of 1 to Amazing?

ChristopherGuest19 karma

Fred is amazing to work with. He's always funny and does a great job.

Scribshanks11 karma

Let me just say that you're my all time favorite person in the world. My question is: what role is your favorite? I hope it's Corky St. Clair.

ChristopherGuest14 karma

Thank you very much, that's very nice of you to say. I don't really have one role in particular that's my favorite but Corky was fun to play.

88LandCruiser10 karma

Huge fan Mr. Guest! I was wondering where you get your inspiration for your movies. I think Best in Show is absolutely brillant. thanks!

ChristopherGuest16 karma

I get my ideas from watching people. One of my favorite things to do is to observe how people interact with each other. And there's plenty to see out there.

morrise1810 karma

Love your movies! Any funny stories about the making of Almost Heroes? Must have been a blast working with Farley and company on that criminally underrated movie.

ChristopherGuest19 karma

Chris Farley was great to work with, one of the funniest actors and a very sweet guy as well. We were shooting on rivers and on mountains and it wasn't the easiest shoot but I think in the end we all had fun and it was a good adventure.

rodthedrigo10 karma

What's your favorite Spinal Tap song and/or lyric? My personal fave is "Plowin' through your beanfield" in "Sex Farm"...gets me every time

ChristopherGuest26 karma

My favorite is probably Stonehenge. It's also one of the most fun to play when we're on tour.

droo469 karma

How many fingers do you have on your right hand?

ChristopherGuest23 karma

In my real life, I have five fingers. With the help of a special glove that was made for me, I have six.

ADHD_orc9 karma

How did you actually get into writing?

ChristopherGuest15 karma

I started as a musician and actor and then was given a chance to write something for the National Lampoon and after that began doing all of them at the same time.

virginiascot8 karma

Hello Christopher! I love the new show, and your entire body of work! As a complete anglophile, and given your own heritage holding a British peerage, I am curious, if beyond this series, you have any plans for another film that might tie-in to British culture and especially entertainment... there seems to be a huge amount to mine from! Second, what "guilty pleasure" type of TV do you watch if you actually have time to breathe and channel surf (on British telly)?

ChristopherGuest25 karma

I don't have any plans in the near future to do any film. But the subject you mention would be a good one. I don't have any guilty pleasures watching television because I rarely watch it at all apart from sports. Maybe that is a guilty pleasure. Having said that, I do like the British Sherlock Holmes series.

cthulhuandyou8 karma

Have you read the actual book of The Princess Bride, whether on your own or as part of preparing to play Rugen? If so, what is your opinion of the film on a book-to-movie basis, and how do you think it holds up today with all of the movies coming out based on books?

Also, what is your opinion on the possibility of a TPB remake?

ChristopherGuest25 karma

Yes, I have read the book and it's one of my favorite books of all time. I think William Goldman is a great writer, maybe one of the best screenwriters ever. It was an honor to be in the film. I don't know anything about a remake of the film but I thought Rob Reiner did a beautiful job on the original.

probably_has_herpes7 karma


ChristopherGuest37 karma

Hmm... I would have to say Benjamin Franklin. Because he's been dead for 200 years, and he couldn't improvise, and again, he's been dead for 200 years.

ukelyptus7 karma

1) Do you feel a generational difference in your comedic sensibility versus Chris O'Dowd's/his peers'? 2) Would you consider directing a feature you didn't write? If so, what would be the criteria beyond it being, you know, good?

ChristopherGuest12 karma

When I work on a project, I'm looking for talented people and the generational part of it isn't so important. I don't think I would take on a project that I haven't written.

Shoedust6 karma

What tips could you give to any aspiring comedy writers? Did you experience a lot of rejection for any scripts that eventually got made?

Love your work.

ChristopherGuest17 karma

I would say that persistence is the most important thing - if you want to be a writer, or anything else for that matter, you have to keep at it, even when you experience difficult times or failure. In my case, there was none of that however.

ktmiller05166 karma

i'm fascinated that you chose greensboro maryland as the birthplace of tom's great-great grandfather. why? i'm actually from there and it's a small, small town with 1 stoplight!

ChristopherGuest24 karma

We picked Greensboro because you're from there. And it's my favorite place in the world, other than Paris, France; London, England; or Amsterdam, Holland, which I haven't been to yet.

p.s. How about those Mets?

npotash6 karma

Was Nigel Tufnel based on or inspired by Jeff Beck? You seemed to have captured his mannerism pretty perfectly.

ChristopherGuest15 karma

The character of Nigel Tufnel was not based on Jeff Beck although he's one of my favorite guitar players in the world. I think it was a coincidence. Jeff Beck is actually smart unlike Nigel Tufnel.

Livinginaclassroom6 karma

How much of your dialogue in your movies are improvised?

ChristopherGuest18 karma

All of the dialogue is improvised, but it's based on an outline that I write with my writing partners, in this case, Jim Piddock (for FAMILY TREE). We create the characters and their back histories, but the actors improvise on-camera.

p.s. what's with this whole Kentucky Derby thing?

BoydWrites5 karma

Also, Where did you get the idea for Family Tree? What inspired you to do it? Family Tree has so many wonderfully awkward moments between people, is this something you notice in life and put them in your shows? Are the awkward moments between humans something you enjoy in life?

ChristopherGuest9 karma

I enjoy observing human behavior and awkwardness is something that I see out there in the world among many other things. I'm not trying to specifically concentrate on awkwardness but it is out there.

afikomen14 karma

Are you a Newsies fan? I love the Marty Belafsky cameo in A Mighty Wind.

ChristopherGuest10 karma

Newsies is a great film and I have enjoyed watching that with my family.

33rpm4 karma

LOVE the show! my favorite surprise was definitely seeing the spurs shirts/scarves etc, and then the conversation about getting chased down by gooners was great!

my question is - who is the spurs fan behind the scenes? because i like him/her.

looking forward to watching last night's episode when i get home!

ChristopherGuest14 karma

We decided to make them fans of Spurs because of where they lived in London. The 2 people that created the show actually support different teams (ironically) but I probably shouldn't mention those names because then I would offend the questioner. Thanks for watching the show! There will be a lot more references to your favorite team, I am sure. You are the best and the smartest I am sure.

Grytpype-Thynne4 karma

Hi Chris. How did your own family influence your taste in humour?

ChristopherGuest12 karma

My father was a very funny person and I think I probably got a lot of my sense of humor from him.

thekev11304 karma

How is Fred Willard doing? Any plans to work together in the near future?

ChristopherGuest13 karma

Fred and I just worked together on Family Tree. I don't have any plans now for any other projects but always enjoy working with Fred whenever possible.

Frajer4 karma

How did you come up with those fake tv shows for Family Tree?

ChristopherGuest17 karma

My co-writer Jim Piddock and I thought it would be funny to create the shows that the characters were watching. It gave us another excuse to write bad television shows.

jpigott3 karma

Of the musical instruments in your collection, which one is your favorite?

ChristopherGuest15 karma

I'll pick three. My 1924 Gibson mandola, my Monteleone mandolin and my Collings OM guitar.

SwagSnail3 karma

What was it like to see the commercial you directed playing during coverage of SuperBowl XLIV?

ChristopherGuest12 karma

I've done several commercials that have been on different SuperBowls. It's a weird idea to know that so many people will have seen them.

poprockspaceboi3 karma

That's Not Funny, That's Sick! is my very favorite comedy album of all time. Do you have a favorite selection from this amazing album?

ChristopherGuest4 karma

Thank you. It is a funny album. What's your favorite track? It's hard for me to decide which mine is.

poprockspaceboi4 karma

I agree 100%! Since I love the whole thing, that's tough for me too. Admittedly, the Mr. Roberts segments are cherries on top, so to speak. Confession is also near-perfect insanity.

ChristopherGuest4 karma

cool. you have good taste.

ChatLag3 karma


ChristopherGuest8 karma

I enjoy everything about it from the writing to the shooting, music and editing.

BoydWrites3 karma

Hi Christopher, what has drawn you to your mockumentary style of storytelling? Did your first experience with that style come from This Is Spinal Tap? If so, how did it influence you?

ChristopherGuest20 karma

I don't use the term "mockumentary," I use the term "documentary style" and it was first done when I worked on SPINAL TAP. It occurred to us (meaning Rob Reiner, Harry and myself) that this was a fun way to work. And at the time, no one else had done this. It's a style that I still use today, and it appears to be the way that I can best do the ideas that I come up with such as BEST IN SHOW, A MIGHT WIND, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, and TRANSFORMERS.

Mitchell_Hundred3 karma

How can you tell if a performer is well-suited to the mockumentary format? I mean, your films use many of the same actors, so presumably they're used to improvising and riffing off of each other. But does introducing someone who hasn't worked with you into that environment ever make things awkward or difficult to inhabit their characters naturally?

ChristopherGuest10 karma

When I interview actors for my projects I talk with them for about 20 minutes to half an hour and based on that conversation I have to decide whether they should be in the film or in the case of Family Tree, TV show. Because there is no script there is nothing for an actor to read to me. I have to use my intuition and decide whether they can do the work. Chris O'Dowd was new to me but does a brilliant job as an actor and improviser.

duddersj3 karma

Hi Christopher, thanks for doing this AMA.

Apparently for your more improv-based movies, you film hundreds of hours, before carefully editing it down to a coherent hour and a half product.

Is this true also for Family Tree, or have you had to work differently, since this is a TV show? Is much of the show improvised, or is it more tightly-scripted?

Also, why should I watch Family Tree?

ChristopherGuest8 karma

Typically, there are outlines for the films, and this includes Family Tree, that are written, that describes what is happening in every scene. There are character breakdowns which give the actors their family histories. But the dialogue is not written at all. When I do a film we usually shoot about 60 hours which is edited down to roughly 85 minutes. On Family Tree we worked the same way. I suppose you should watch Family Tree because it might be funny. It's hard to say since I don't know your sense of humor.

wilkinswontkins3 karma

How do you assign roles to the actors in your "repertory company"? Do you create the characters with specific actors in mind, or is it decided at a later stage that, for example, Ed Begley, Jr. would be better suited to a role than Fred Willard (or vice versa)?

ChristopherGuest10 karma

Generally, the roles are created for specific actors. Occasionally, that changes as the project develops. But for the most part, the parts are written for specific people.

i_like_em_pleated3 karma

i've always been curious as to what kind of music you listen to.

top 3 bands. name 'em. go.

ChristopherGuest13 karma

Not necessarily in order, Elvis Costello and the Attractions (or whatever current line-up he has), Squeeze and the house band at Hooters.

ElMangosto3 karma

Thanks so much for doing this!

When you first met Fred Willard did you fully understand what an amazing discovery that was? Or did it take you a while to realize what you were sitting on? Its like he was MADE to work with you.

Who would you like to work with but haven't had the chance to yet?


ChristopherGuest11 karma

I first met Fred Willard in 1969 and I knew right away how funny and talented he was. It's been great having Fred work with me on the films I've done including the new series Family Tree. He's one of the best improvisers ever. I would like to work with Lionel Messi, Ray Allen and Michael Schumacher.

ADIDASects3 karma

How's your English accent these days?

ChristopherGuest6 karma

My English accent is fine, thank you. How's yours? I work on it every day for at least half an hour. But I also work on other accents as well. Right now, I'm trying to master pig latin but it seems a little bit difficult for my brain.

Beatrixie3 karma

Hi Mr. Guest. I am a huge fan of your films and I look forward to Family Tree. How much of your films are ad-libbed? Is it difficult to make it through scenes, in which your character and others are supposed to be so dry, without laughing?

ChristopherGuest6 karma

My films and Family Tree are improvised projects which means that the actors have an outline and know what happens in every scene and know their character's back history. Strangely enough, it is not too difficult to make it through scenes because we have done this so often. Occasionally, it happens but quite rarely.

kritchproductions2 karma

Thank you so much for recognizing the gem that is Chris O'Dowd. He was truly the perfect choice for your show. (No I am not related to him.) Also, thank you for all of the hilarious entertainment that you have created over the years.

ChristopherGuest3 karma

Thank you very much. I think Chris is one of the most fantastic actors I've ever worked with, and I appreciate your watching the show. I hope you have fun if you ever go to a World's Fair.

pcangelnow2 karma

Do you have plans for any new movies that you will write/direct?

ChristopherGuest6 karma

I don't have any plans at the moment. I've been working on Family Tree for two years and will have to see if that continues before I make any plans for a film.

rhombuskb2 karma

I have always been a big fan, but my favorite ability of yours was to take on such great characters. You are unrecognizable from the doctor in A Few Good Men to the dog owner in Best in Show. Do you have any more great performances in store for us?

ChristopherGuest2 karma

I play a character on Family Tree but I have nothing in mind for the future at this point.

corridorecieco2 karma

Was it a lot of work mapping out the Family Tree? The missing button in the soldier's photo etc? Seems a bit like designing a maze for somebody else to wander. Does this per-meditated plot structure ever clash against your improv instincts?

ChristopherGuest6 karma

Yes, Jim Piddock and I spent a great deal of time laying out the Family Tree for the show. Finding the right names and dates was very important. Because we write a very strict outline and character histories, the example of the button that you mention is not a problem at all. The improvisers have to work within an outline and it can't go in a different direction from the story that we have laid out.

jger152 karma

any crazy characters in your family tree?

ChristopherGuest4 karma

I wouldn't say "crazy," but 200 years ago, I had a relative that was a ventriloquist as a child and performed a puppet show for the King of England.

gogojack2 karma

Greetings! You've starred in/directed some very quotable movies and shows. Are there works other than your own that you find yourself quoting?

ChristopherGuest2 karma

Unfortunately, I can't remember quotes very well, including things that I've written. So I remember moments in films and television shows instead. I do, however, remember batting averages if that is of any interest to you.

Janetvan1 karma

I love your work. :) Favourite role you played was the six-fingered man in The Princess Bride and adored Best in Show. How do you keep writing so prolifically as well as keep the standard up?

ChristopherGuest7 karma

I think the object is to be as prolific as possible, but not keep the standard up. I think if I can keep getting worse and worse, that will be my ultimate dream. Wish me luck!

Blandango1 karma

First, big fan of the new show on HBO (and everything else) and love the song you wrote sung by Ron Sexsmith for the end credits. As a director, how much time do you spend choosing songs and music to accompany the show?

ChristopherGuest5 karma

I spent a lot of time thinking about the music in every project I do. Because i write music, I will typically use some of the songs or themes in the projects that I do. In this case, I wrote the end song with Harlan Collins and Ron did a great job singing it.

iveriver1 karma

What is it like working with Nina Conti? Does she really speak through her puppets?

ChristopherGuest5 karma

Nina Conti is a great ventriloquist and a great actress as well. The role was created for her specifically, and yes, she is doing that all live.