Jon Ronson on his former rivalry with fellow documentary-maker Louis Theroux

The broadcaster explores stories about people on the fringes of society.

Documentary-maker Jon Ronson has revealed that he used to reference his former rivalry with Louis Theroux in his work as he did not want to sound like he was “beyond reproach”.

The 55-year-old writer and broadcaster has produced podcasts, programmes and books which tell stories about people on the fringes of society, similar to Theroux’s work.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he confirmed he is now friends with Theroux, but at times he stills like to let people know that he feels he was exploring these topics before his fellow filmmaker.

Louis Theroux comments
Louis Theroux (Matt Crossick/PA)

He said: “I’ve never wanted to be high up in some kind of hierarchy. I’ve never wanted to be the representative of righteous society, going into the world of the crazy people and being the right person.

“Like I’m right, they’re wrong. I’ve never wanted to be that. Hence, the fact that I’ve quite often put in my own absurdities into stories.

“In the 1990s, me and Louis though had a bit of a rivalry. And even though it was kind of embarrassing that we had this rivalry I would talk about it because it was so absurd.

“I used to have this joke on stage that me and Louis were like conjoined twins and for one of us to grow stronger, the other one had to die.

“But I would deliberately put those things in for that reason, like I didn’t want to be the sensible one who’s beyond reproach.”

Ronson has produced a number of works which investigate controversial figures and groups including his books Them: Adventures With Extremists and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Theroux has also had a 25-year career exploring topics from the world of neo-Nazi cults to the Church of Scientology.

Broadcasting Press Guild Awards – London
Jon Ronson (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Broadcaster Ronson said that he now thinks the world of Theroux following the years of rivalry.

He said: “I luckily matured my way out of that destructive thought spiral.

“And it’s so nice to sit and watch one of Louis’ documentaries and not feel anything other than just joy watching it.”

However, he admitted that at times he has reminded people that he believes he was exploring these topics before Theroux, including one time to a British Embassy member.

He recalled having to call the embassy once when he was being followed by the Bilderberg Group and when they did not understand what he meant by calling himself a humanist journalist, he had to say “I’m a bit like Louis Theroux”.

Ronson noted that when that provided the embassy with clarity, he told them: “But actually, I was doing it first.”

He joked: “I thought this could be the last conversation I have, I could die, I was going to use my last breaths on earth (for this)”.

– The full interview with Jon Ronson on Desert Island Discs will air on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds on Sunday at 11am.

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