Brighton Magazine

The Brighton Magazine

Selected Brighton Magazine Article

Sunday 15 October 2017

Interview: The Men Who Stare At Goats Writer Jon Ronson Brings Psychopath Night To Brighton

Writer, broadcaster and one-time keyboard player for Frank Sidebottom, Jon Ronson has spent a substantial chunk of the last decade thinking about psychopaths and, following an earlier tour, he's taking the results of that work back on the road this Autumn. 
Jon Ronson by Emli Bendixen

His 2011 book, The Psychopath Test, followed on from other published successes such as Them: Adventures With Extremists, in which he met the likes of David Icke, Ian Paisley and Alex Jones (a right-wing conspiracy theorist who now, apparently, has an "in" to the White House). 

Then there was The Men Who Stare At Goats, an investigation into psychological warfare tactics in the US army post-9/11 which became a movie starring George Clooney. 

And Lost At Sea, a collected volume of his writings for The Guardian covering serious stuff such as the credit industry and a self-help guru who once stood trial for murder alongside less serious stuff such as the Alaskan town where it's Christmas every day and awkward conversations with his next-door neighbour.

The Wales-born, New York-based journalist and humourist also has a packed broadcasting CV which includes co-writing the new Netflix original movie Okja and directing Channel 4 documentaries like Stanley Kubrick's Boxes and The Secret Rulers of the World. 

And now he's on the latest leg of The Psychopath Test tour, which has a secretive element he would like to maintain hush-hush for the benefit of his audiences. 

He will be welcoming on stage two guests who have been at the sharp end of psychopathic behaviour in one case and, in the other, the clinicians who define serious mental illness.

"My two guests' experiences are amazing and certainly among the most jaw-dropping stories I've ever written about in 30 years of being a journalist, but they rely on the audience not knowing what happens. It should be like an M Night Shyamalan film. 

"Of course, people can Google them and spoil it for themselves, but I would definitely recommend them not to. 

"When we've done this show before I have never heard gasps so loud from an audience at some of the moments in their stories."


The original book featured a series of vivid individuals and larger-than-life stories. There was Al Dunlap, an American businessman who made his fortune thanks to an unusually high ruthless streak. 

Then there was Tony, a man who faked madness to escape a prison sentence for serious assault, only to spend the next 15 years in Broadmoor.

Jon learned that the study of psychopathy revolved largely around the work of Canadian psychologist Robert D Hare. 

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist features 20 personality traits, which can help build up a picture of how someone can be defined as a psychopath. 

As research, Jon attended a course of Hare's checklist, which sought to give people an insight into what constitutes a psychopath and, rather usefully, passes on the skills for them to be able to spot one from a relatively safe distance.

Jon though has problems with the sweeping diagnoses within this research. 

"One of the items on the checklist is impulsivity and another is being cunning and manipulative: but how can you be both? 

"Yet, if you put those to one side, the nuances of psychopathic behaviour have been anatomised by Hare in a brilliant way, but it is a very powerful weapon that gets misused constantly."

On the night, Jon will have a lot to pack in, including monologues inspired by stories in the book, chatting with his guests, showing some film footage and at the end hosting an audience Q&A. 

"The reason I'm pleased with this particular tour is that it"s really good for anyone who hasn't read the book and it's also totally good for people who have read it as there"s enough new stuff for them, so it works for both audiences. 

"In the Q&A section, people can ask absolutely anything and then I'll sign books for as long as people want me to do that."

It was around 2009 when Jon Ronson started thinking about psychopaths and how both psychologists and clinicians define them. 

While it might not seem like the most obvious subject for a fun night out, he views it as exactly that, especially when compared to the live shows related to his last book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, about the mob mentality within social media which seems capable of tearing individuals apart for one regrettable error or off-colour remark.

"My selfish motivation for doing this tour is that when I brought out my book on public shaming, the stories in that book were so bleak that giving talks wasn't as much fun. 

"Some people in the audience would really disagree with me and get annoyed, and so after doing that for about a year, I thought, I really want to do something on stage, which is a bit more fun. 

"And even though the subject matter of The Psychopath Test is dark and complicated, it can also be very funny. What my guests went through was so terrible, yet we make it funny on stage."

One perhaps unexpected by-product of Jon's writing and experiences has been the subsequent film versions. 

In The Men Who Stare At Goats, Ewan McGregor played the "Jon" character while Domhnall Gleeson was "Jon" in Frank, a film co-written by Ronson and loosely based on the life and work of the late Chris Sievey aka Frank Sidebottom, the Manchester indie music and comedy star with the papier-mâché head. And now, The Psychopath Test continues to be the subject of Hollywood's rumour mill.

"The last I heard, it was still progressing in the right direction, but in Hollywood there"s many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip, although it feels like it"s heading the right way, though, with Scarlett Johansson attached to play a version of me. 

"Can I say that, in the movies, I have had Ewan McGregor, Domhnall Gleeson and now hopefully Scarlett Johansson playing versions of me, and all of them have played superheroes with extraordinary powers. I just wanted to point that out." 

If Jon Ronson has a superpower, it's being able to continually sniff out extraordinary true stories and bring them entertainingly and insightfully to a whole new audience.

Jon Ronson's Psychopath Night is at Brighton Dome on Monday 13th November 2018. For tickets visit brightondome.org or call 01273 709709.

by: Brian Donaldson



Related links

Brighton Dome

Share    

Pic by Ian Kelsey

It's not often a group of young men pool their creative resources to benefit the health and wellbeing of others. It's even rarer when those young men are musicians. But that's exactly what the Brighton-based collective, 40 Shillings On the Drum, have done with the release of their new single. The English Coast.

REM frontman Michael Stipe has reflected that the band's seminal album, Automatic For The People, concerns topics of “mortality and dying,” but he further notes, “mortality is a theme that writers have chosen to work with throughout time." 

Travis Pastrana and his Nitro Circus are already eyeing up their 2018 You Got ThisEuropean Tour – kicking off in November. And this time around, the stunts will be bigger, the ramps will be larger, and the stakes will be much, much higher.

As a member of one of the UK's leading acting dynasties, Laurence Fox is best known for playing DS James Hathaway in Lewis
Pic by Toby Smedley

Veteran Brighton-based actor Ian Kelsey will explode back on to our small screens this week, reigniting his acquaintance with Coronation Street bad boy Pat Phelan, in a storyline Kelsey refers to as ‘quite dramatic’.
Jon Richardson (c) Andy Hollingworth

The stand-up Jon Richardson is chatting from a rather unusual location. He reveals that,“I'm currently in the Aldi car park in Clevedon.” Who said that the life of a comedian isn't non-stop glamour?

Years before Justin Currie was writing top ten albums with Del Amitri, he was enjoying a musical awakening courtesy of some of the biggest bands in history. And in his typical self-depreciating style, Currie admits there were one or two less fashionable favourites along the way too.

Photoworks led Into the Outside: is a Heritage Lottery Fund learning project with young people, examining Brighton & Hove's LGBTQ+ past and creating a new archive of queer youth experience for the city and beyond.

Direct from an extended season in London's West End, Bill  Kenwright's production of Alan Ayckbourn's farcical tale of matrimonial mishaps, How the Other Half Loves comes to Theatre Royal Brighton, next month.

A group of Hanover residents are making a bid to save their award-winning pub, The Greys, from closing down and are appealing to the people of Brighton & Hove to raise £400,000 by the end of December to keep the doors open.

Greg Davies has a comedic face. No disrespect, but he only has to glance at a camera and people wet themselves. He's also an imposing figure, standing at 6 ft 8 in tall in his size 13 shoes. But can he cut it live? Stephanie Keane was at The Brighton Centre to find out ..

While flowing from the same, molten core of melody, songwriting style and self-belief, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' new album, Who Built The Moon? alters the singer-songwriter’s course following a two-year creative collaboration with renowned producer, DJ & composer, David Holmes. 

Paloma Faith – one of only two British female artists this decade to have their last three albums go double platinum in the UK – will release her fourth album, The Architect, this autumn.
Image by Sam Stephenson

A topical new youth opera exploring the experiences of young people forced by war to flee their homes has its world premiere at Glyndebourne, later this autumn.

Archive search

Search our archives for what's on and gone for the best of this city's theatre music comedy news and much more...







Organising a conference or event in Brighton?
See our Brighton Conference section.
Brighton web design by ...ntd