_ American

without tears

Still sweaty from that Madonna interview, Jonathan Ross is back in the States, exploring roadside trash culture for a new Channel 4 series Americana. Tom Lappin stOpped off for a Bud and a burger.

It takes a while to appreciate it, but in many respects, the US of A is a hollow country. On its surfaces, on the East and West seaboards. it is the most advanced and decadent culture yet devised, but New York and Los Angeles are like Hollywood sets, impressive two-dimensional painted boards hiding the desert behind.

In between is a relatively empty land of prairies, deserts and dusty highways. There are whole states whose total population is half that of Glasgow. From the MidWest to the Deep South,

‘There’s some zany stutt, some weird stuff, the sort ot thing that’s going to make people say, “only in America.”

America is still substantially made up of small roadside towns, backward and conservative, i one-diner, one-motel stopovers clustered around 5 the old highways.

Let‘s face it, this land, from the Mississippi Delta to the Canadian border, is a quirky documentarist’s land, a Utopia for the likes of Jonathan Ross. He‘s ridden this trail before. most i recently to investigate the phenomenon of Elvis impersonating, previously to try and discover what inspired such wackoid filmmakers as Russ Meyer i or John Waters. He spends every holiday he gets I trawling the roadside culture ofsmall-town USA. l and he returns for a new three-part series for Channel 4, Americana.

‘We go in search of the sort of things you would never see in this country,‘ says Ross. ‘both to Britain’s credit and to my great sorrow. The sort of places and people that, while definitely not your typical tourist attractions or newsmakers. define, in some sick way, some real truths about America: how it became the world power it is, where it is going, and why it is absolutely essential that the rest of the world keep tabs on it via offbeat, I fascinating Channel 4 documentaries.‘ 1

Americana is loosely based on a book by Jack E Barth, Roadside America that explores the nature I

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ofthe small-town backwaters ofthe USA. "l‘he series is about those off-the-beaten-track type attractions.‘ says producer Peter Orton. "l‘here’s some zany stuff. some weird stuff. the sort of thing that‘s going to make people say. “only in America."

Such US excesses uncovered by Ross include a miniature golfcourse located under a funeral

‘It’ll either make you want to rush out and emigrate to America the next day, or convince you never everto go there.’

parlour. the Exotic Dancers Hall Of Fame in the Mojave Desert. and a school for corporate mascots, where you are supplied with a chicken suit and a few tips on good PR. Bizarre stuff in the Ross tradition, but does it actually tell us much about the USA, or is it merely flippant for the sake of a cheap laugh? ‘Yeah it‘s throwaway stuff in a way.‘ admits Orton. ‘Jonathan‘s an entertaining

' presenter.soit’sessentiallylightentertainment. But that doesn‘t mean it‘s not informative about


Jonathan tackles the tour pound challenge

America. lfyou share any ofJonathan‘s celebratory love for it. you'll find it very interesting in that way. you’ll find places to go.‘ Ross himself is more blunt. ‘lt‘ll either make you want to rush out and emigrate to America the next day. or convince you never ever to go there. It‘s a land ofextremes: prodigious amounts offood. mass quantities ofeasy money and walloping dollops of fun. ()r. respectively. very little of any.‘ 'l‘bus the three programmes are divided neatly by subject matter into Far. Dumb and Rich (‘thc next series will be Shil. Dead and Ueg suggests Orton sardonically). The first examines the American obsession with food. Ross attempts to consume four pounds of meat and potatoes in half an hour and escape the bill. cooks a tasty meal on a car engine. and visits a roadside diner staffed by naked college girls. ‘Most people picture American dining as a bunch ofobese individuals gobbling down fast food.‘ says Ross. ‘But that's not entirely true. We found some places where the food wasn‘t really fast at all.‘ Americana starts on ( ‘hamze/ 4 on Saturday 12 December at 9pm.