MY WEEK WITH PROUD BOYS FOUNDER, GAVIN MCINNES
In 2016, Amanda and I moved to the cricketless, and therefore Godless, city of Los Angeles. The US version of Wilfred, starring Elijah Wood, had finished its four-season run on FX and there was interest in a US format of Lowdown, the show Amanda Brotchie and I created for the ABC.
Before I left, I sent my new US manager, Zack, a script I’d written called Mr Black, a dark comedy about a dying father whose final wish was to break up the relationship between his daughter and her wimpy boyfriend. Amanda was already in LA and I was moving the last of our stuff into storage when I got a call from Zack, saying that Kelsey Grammer had read the script and wanted to play the role of Mr Black. It was just the kind of soft landing I needed to make it in a new country. Then, while I was in a taxi to the airport, Zack called again to say Kelsey was out because he wanted to produce the show and Zack’s management company, which was also a production house, wanted to hold onto production rights.
‘OK,’ I said, disappointed, but confident Zack knew what he was doing. Zack said he was about to hand the script to a client of his called Charlie Sheen. Alright, I had slight reservations about Charlie Sheen on the grounds that he was Charlie Sheen, but he had impeccable comic timing, and I looked forward to the financial benefits that came with being involved in one of his projects.
I arrived at LAX in late January 2016. The first person to call on my new US cell was Zack. ‘Charlie’s passed,’ he said. ‘But it’s fine. We’ve attached a guy called Gavin McInnes. He’s hilarious. He’s a real-life Mr Black!’ Zack sent me a link to a feature film Gavin had starred in. The first scene showed him working diligently at a computer, then getting up to reveal he was completely without pants – his naked penis dangling lifelessly in front of the screen.
It’s an old joke, but the way he handled it made me laugh. Maybe he was the guy. Then I googled him and found he’d pivoted from being the co-founder of Vice Media to becoming an actor, comedian and then a Fox and Friends pundit. I didn’t really love the sound of that … but maybe Zack was right. He was the real life Mr Black.
New York-based Gavin flew out to LA and we spent a week trying to sell the show to networks. Our first pitch was on a Monday morning at 10 and I asked Gavin to meet me at my place in West Hollywood at 9. He arrived at 7.30 am. I was still in my pyjamas. ‘Is this your house?’ he said, frowning in the doorway.I said it was. He walked in, looked around, and made the two-thumbs-down signal before blowing a big raspberry. I thought that was extreme, but figured he must be so rich after selling his share of Vice that he wasn’t used to a regular house.
Then he saw our cats and told me he hated cats. I told him there was a café down the road, to get himself a coffee, and that I didn’t want to see him for at least an hour. Off he went. After the shaky start, Gavin and I got on fine. He came across as a smart and funny anarchist. I didn’t think he believed most of the crap that came out of his mouth. I thought he was just a shock comic.
Then the racism started to creep in. One afternoon between pitches, we were having a coffee when he saw the back of an attractive woman wearing a dress and stockings. ‘Look at that ass,’ he said. Then the woman turned around. ‘Oh, she’s black. Doesn’t count.’
Gavin told me he’d started an organisation called the Proud Boys. He talked about it a lot, but all I retained was that it was verboten for its members to wank.
The pitching went badly. I was used to pitching in LA and had sold shows and come close with others. Normally it’s a pleasant experience. Not this time. In every pitch, Gavin would say something inappropriate and I’d try to tap dance out of it. When we were traveling from one pitch to another, it was clear Zack had fallen in love with Gavin. They’d sit in the front of Zack’s BMW, and Gavin would talk about how ‘obsessed’ Jews were with the Holocaust: ‘I know it was bad – don’t get me wrong, I’m not pro-Holocaust.’ And Zack, who was Jewish, would laugh heartily. And I’d be in the back seat wondering what world I was in.
Our final pitch ended in a wall of ashen faces when Gavin got into a debate with an executive who’d disagreed with Gavin’s contention that ‘no means no’ was ‘puritanism’. Afterwards, Zack tried to set up a time with Gavin to ‘hang’ with him in New York and Gavin stared at him with a confused look on his face before getting into his cab. He then wound down the passenger window, called me over and asked if I’d join the Proud Boys. I said ‘no’.
The next time I would see Gavin McInnes, he would be on television, leading what had become Donald Trump’s favourite right-wing hate group.