He holds a hereditary British peerage as the 5th Baron Haden-Guest, and has publicly expressed a desire to see the House of Lords reformed as a democratically elected chamber. Though he was initially active in the Lords, his career there was cut short by the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed the right of most hereditary peers to a seat in the parliament. When using his title, he is normally styled as Lord Haden-Guest. Guest is married to the actress and author Jamie Lee Curtis.
Guest was born in New York City, the son of Peter Haden-Guest, a British United Nations diplomat who later became the 4th Baron Haden-Guest, and his second wife, Jean Pauline Hindes, an American former vice president of casting at CBS. Guest's paternal grandfather, Leslie, Baron Haden-Guest, was a Labour Party politician, who was a convert to Judaism. Guest's paternal grandmother, a descendant of the Dutch Jewish Goldsmid family, was the daughter of Colonel Albert Goldsmid, a British officer who founded the Jewish Lads' and Girls' Brigade and the Maccabaeans. Guest's maternal grandparents were Jewish emigrants from Russia. Both of Guest's parents had become atheists, and Guest had no religious upbringing. 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 spent parts of his childhood in his father's native United Kingdom. He attended The High School of Music & Art (New York City), studying classical music (clarinet) at the Stockbridge School in Interlaken, Massachusetts. He later took up the mandolin, became interested in country music, and played guitar with Arlo Guthrie, a fellow student at Stockbridge School. Guest later began performing with bluegrass bands until he took up rock and roll.
Guest studied acting at New York University's Graduate Acting Program at the Tisch School of the Arts, graduating in 1971.
Guest began his career in theatre during the early 1970s with one of 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 wrote, arranged and performed numerous musical parodies (of Bob Dylan, James Taylor and others). He was featured alongside Chevy Chase and John Belushi in the Off-Broadway revue National Lampoon's Lemmings. Two of his earliest film roles were small parts as uniformed police officers in the 1972 film The Hot Rock and 1974's Death Wish.
Guest played a small role in the 1977 All In the Family episode "Mike and Gloria Meet", where in a flashback sequence Mike and Gloria recall their first blind date, set up by Michael's college buddy Jim (Guest), who dated Gloria's girlfriend Debbie (Priscilla Lopez).
Guest's biggest role of the first two decades of his career is likely that of Nigel Tufnel in the 1984 Rob Reiner film This Is Spinal Tap. Guest made his first appearance as Tufnel on the 1978 sketch comedy program The TV Show.
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 (coworkers who recount in detail physically painful situations in which they have found themselves, remarking laconically "I hate when that happens"); 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 Señor 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 appeared as Count Rugen in The Princess Bride. He had a cameo role as the first customer, a pedestrian, in the 1986 musical remake of The Little Shop of Horrors, that also featured Steve Martin. As a co-writer and director, Guest made the Hollywood satire The Big Picture.
Upon his father succeeding to the family peerage in 1987, he was known as The Hon. Christopher Haden-Guest. This was his official style and name until he inherited the barony in 1996.
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 substantially improvised films. Many of them would come to be definitive examples of what came to be known as "mockumentaries"-- not a term Guest appreciates in describing his unusual approach to exploring the passions that make the characters in his films so interesting. He maintains that his intention is not to mock anyone, but to explore insular, perhaps obscure communities through his method of filmmaking.
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 several films. These include Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Harry Shearer, Jennifer Coolidge, 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. Typically, everyone who appears in these movies receives the same fee and the same portion of profits.
Guest had a guest voice-over role in the animated comedy series SpongeBob SquarePants as SpongeBob's cousin, Stanley.
Guest appeared as Dr. Stone in A Few Good Men (1992), as Lord Cromer in Mrs Henderson Presents (2005) and in the 2009 comedy The Invention of Lying.
He is also currently a member of the musical group The Beyman Bros, which he formed with childhood friend David Nichtern and Spinal Tap's current keyboardist C. J. Vanston. Their debut album Memories of Summer as a Child was released on January 20, 2009.
In 2010, the United States Census Bureau paid $2.5 million to have a television commercial directed by Guest shown during television coverage of Super Bowl XLIV.
Guest holds an honorary doctorate from and is a member of the board of trustees for Berklee College of Music in Boston.
He was most recently the writer and producer of the HBO series, Family Tree, a lighthearted story in the style he made famous in Spinal Tap, in which the main character, Tom Chadwick, inherits a box of curios from his great aunt, spurring interest in his ancestry.
On August 11, 2015, Netflix announced that Mascots, a film about the competition for the World Mascot Association championships's Gold Fluffy Award, would debut in 2016.
Guest became the 5th Baron Haden-Guest, of Great Saling, in the County of Essex, when his father died in 1996. He succeeded upon the ineligibility of his older half-brother, Anthony Haden-Guest, who was born prior to the marriage of his parents. According to an article in The Guardian, Guest attended the House of Lords regularly until the House of Lords Act 1999 barred most hereditary peers from their seats. In the article Guest remarked:
There's no question that the old system was unfair. I mean, why should you be born to this? But now it's all just sheer cronyism. The Prime Minister can put in whoever he wants and bus them in to vote. The Upper House should be an elected body, it's that simple.
Guest married actress Jamie Lee Curtis in 1984 at the home of their mutual friend, Rob Reiner. They have two adopted children: Anne (born 1986) and Thomas (born 1996). Because Guest's children are adopted, they cannot inherit the family barony under the terms of the letters patent that created it, though a 2004 Royal Warrant addressing the style of a peer's adopted children states that they can use courtesy titles. The current heir presumptive to the barony is Guest's younger brother, actor Nicholas Guest.
As reported by Louis B. Hobson, "On film, Guest is a hilariously droll comedian. In person he is serious and almost dour." He quotes Guest as saying "People want me to be funny all the time. They think I'm being funny no matter what I say or do and that's not the case. I rarely joke unless I'm in front of a camera. It's not what I am in real life. It's what I do for a living."February 5, 1948 – May 26, 1987: Mister Christopher Haden-Guest
May 26, 1987 – April 8, 1996: The Honourable Christopher Haden-Guest
April 8, 1996 – present: The Right Honourable The Lord Haden-Guest