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Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest was born February 5, 1948 and better known as Christopher Guest, is a British screenwriter, composer, musician, director, actor and comedian. He is most widely known in Hollywood for having written, directed and starred in several "mockumentary" films that feature a repertory-like ensemble cast. In the United Kingdom, he holds a Baronial peerage, and has publicly expressed a desire to see the House of Lords reformed as a democratically-elected chamber. Despite initial activity in the Lords, his career there was cut short by the House of Lords Act 1999.
Guest was born in New York City, the son of Peter Haden-Guest, a British United Nations diplomat who later became 4th Baron Haden-Guest, and his second wife, Jean Pauline Hindes, a former vice president of casting at CBS. Guest's maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, while a paternal great-grandfather was Colonel Albert Goldsmid, a British Jew who founded the Jewish Lads' and Girls' Brigade. Although both of Guest's parents were born Jewish, they became atheists and Guest had no religious upbringing.
Guest spent parts of his childhood in his father's native UK. Guest attended The High School of Music & Art (New York City), studying classical music (clarinet). He later took up the mandolin and became interested in country music. He also played guitar with Arlo Guthrie, who went to the same school. Guest later began performing with bluegrass bands until he took up rock and roll.
Nearly a decade before he was born, his uncle David Guest, a lecturer and Communist Party member, was killed in the Spanish Civil War fighting in the International Brigades.
Guest began his career in theatre during the early 1970s with one his earliest professional performances being the role of Norman in Michael Weller's Moonchildren for the play's American premiere at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. in November 1971. Guest continued with the production when it moved to Broadway in 1972. The following year he began making contributions to The National Lampoon Radio Hour for a variety of National Lampoon audio recordings. He both performed comic characters (Flash Bazbo-Space Explorer, Mr. Rogers, music critic Roger de Swans, and sleazy record company rep Ron Fields) and also wrote, arranged and performed numerous musical parodies (of Bob Dylan, James Taylor and others). He was also featured alongside Chevy Chase and John Belushi in the Off-Broadway revue National Lampoon's Lemmings. One of his earliest films includes a bit part as a uniformed police officer in Death Wish 1974 starring Charles Bronson.
Along with Martin Short, Billy Crystal and Harry Shearer, Guest was hired as a one-year only cast member for the 1984-85 season on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Recurring characters on SNL played by Guest include: Frankie, of Willie and Frankie (two co-workers who recount in detail physically painful situations in which they've found themselves); Herb Minkman, a shady novelty toymaker with a brother named Al (played by Crystal); Rajeev Vindaloo, an eccentric foreign man in the same vein as Andy Kaufman's Latka character from Taxi; and Senor Cosa, a Spanish ventriloquist often seen on the recurring spoof of The Joe Franklin Show. He also experimented behind the camera with pre-filmed sketches, notably directing a documentary-style short starring Shearer and Short as synchronized swimmers. In another short film from SNL, Guest and Crystal appear as retired Negro-League baseball players, "The Rooster and the King."
He has also appeared as Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, Charley Ford in The Long Riders, Lord Cromer in Mrs Henderson Presents and Dr. Stone in A Few Good Men. He had a cameo role as Dylan, a smarmy pedestrian, in the 1986 remake of The Little Shop of Horrors. As a co-writer and director, Guest made the Hollywood satire The Big Picture.
Guest's biggest role of the first two decades of his career, however, is likely that of Nigel Tufnel in the 1984 "rockumentary" film This Is Spinal Tap. Amplifier manufacturers actually began to produce amps with knobs going up to 11 (rather than the traditional scale of 10), as a result of a popular scene where a benighted Tufnel proudly shows off such an amp, believing it to be louder. "This one goes to 11!" has become something of a mantra among musicians ever since. Guest made his first appearance as Tufnel on the 1978 sketch comedy program The TV Show.
The experience of having made Spinal Tap would directly inform the second phase of his career. Starting in 1996, Guest began writing, directing and acting in his own series of heavily improvised films. Many of them would come to be definitive examples of what came to be known as "mockumentaries."
His frequent writing partner is Eugene Levy. Together, Levy, Guest and a small band of other actors have formed a loose repertory group, which appear across the several films. These include Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Harry Shearer, Ed Begley, Jr. and Fred Willard. Guest and Levy write backgrounds for each of the characters and notecards for each specific scene, outlining the plot, and then leave it up to the actors to improvise the dialogue, which is supposed to result in a much more natural conversation than scripted dialogue would. Each of these movies also shares a hallmark plot development, where the movie leads up to some kind of a highly anticipated performance, or the outcome of a performance. This could reflect Guest's background in theater, and simply a kind of meta-commentary, as a real performance is of course what is being improvised for the duration. Notably, everyone who appears in these movies receives the same fee, and the same portion of profits.
Despite making a number of mockumentaries, Guest himself dislikes the term. He maintains that his intention is not to mock anyone, but to explore insular, perhaps obscure communities through his method of filmmaking. When pressed in a 2003 interview by Charlie Rose, however, he could not provide a word to substitute for "mockumentary.
He had a guest voice-over role in the animated comedy series SpongeBob SquarePants as SpongeBob's cousin, Stanley.
Guest will appear in the upcoming 2009 comedy The Invention of Lying.
He is also currently a member of the musical group The Beyman Bros, which he formed with his childhood friend David Nichtern and Spinal Tap's current keyboardist CJ Vanston. Their debut album Memories of Summer as a Child was released on January 20, 2009.