Adam Buxton

Who are you?

‘I’m Adam Buxton.’

What do you do?

‘I am a ludicrous ponce professionally, and I spend a great deal of time wandering around confused, and occasionally I make my own little stupid videos, and I host a radio show, and it has been said that I conduct my career in reverse, ie. started by making a TV show and am now becoming progressively more obscure by choice. And it’s nice.’

Who do you do?

‘Who do I do? I do quite a good Robert De Niro, but it’s a visual thing… That’s about it really. Apart from my lovely wife, that’s all I do.’

Faves?

‘Music videos, my lovely children, my lovely wife, being alive… I mean, what a wonderful time to be alive, in some ways, and what a tragic time to be alive in other ways. That’s a very profound thing I just said.’

Worsties?

‘Crap, cynical blockbuster films, all too numerous to mention. 90% of films, really… This is a controversial thing to say, because Joe [Cornish], my best friend and partner is involved in the world of superhero movies by proxy, but I’m pretty sick of superhero movies. I could really live without another superhero movie for quite a long time.’

Jedward?

‘They’re fantastic.’

As lines of questioning go, this isn’t quite David Frost. In fact, it’s not even Larry King, let alone Piers Morgan. But these questions – along with the answers – come courtesy of Adam Buxton, the shorter, hairier half of the comic duo Adam and Joe. He has offered this challenging sextet of questions to all of his guests on his short-lived ‘Big Mixtape’ show on BBC 6 Music, and they have all reacted surprisingly well. Then again, his is a recognisable face, having first gurned its way through four series of The Adam and Joe Show to great, if cult, acclaim, before appearing in other TV projects and even several films, including Hot Fuzz and Stardust.

When we meet, he has just bounded offstage from an energetic evening at the BFI Southbank presenting BUG, a bimonthly show that exhibits the best of new music videos. His performance was witty and confident, and it ensures that the 2 hour show never drags, yet his energy is clearly a little depleted as we shake hands. His wry and occasionally bombastic demeanour has changed to one that, while extremely friendly, appears rather more shy. He suggests that we ascend to the roof for a breath of fresh air, and it is only as we sit in the London evening light, staring out over the Thames, that he begins to relax. In fairness, he has a lot to be relaxed about. Since 2007, he and Joe have presented a weekly radio show for BBC 6 Music, and in the face of Mark Thompson’s bid this year to see the station closed, Adam has campaigned tirelessly to save it, even appearing on Channel 4 News to confront the Director General directly. On that particular occasion, he jokingly challenged Thompson to a fist-fight, and now proclaims that his boss ‘was frightened of getting a good stuffing from Dr Buckles. Quite right.’ Ironically, it seems that the station’s imminent closure gave it the boost of publicity it needed, and in July Thompson’s suggestions were overturned by the BBC Trust. It’s not known whether Adam’s physical threats had any bearing on the decision, but nonetheless the station’s unexpected survival is the first subject that comes up as we sit down to talk, and he doesn’t try to conceal his joy.

‘I was personally delighted, obviously, because doing this show on 6 Music with Joe has been my favourite thing that we’ve ever done together, and I was gutted when they said they were going to close it, as was everyone else at 6 Music. But you know, I’m more of a part-timer than a lot of people there, so I had less invested I suppose. There’s always other bits and pieces I can be getting on with if I’m not doing the radio. But I thought it was a fait accompli when they announced that they were going to close it, and I couldn’t imagine that they were going to change their minds. Because it would make them look weak, and that’s the last thing they want to do.’

It’s clear that this is a subject close to his heart, and it is immediately striking how unexpectedly serious his manner becomes. I am about to suggest this to him when he completes his diatribe with an enormous belch, loud enough to turn the head of a passer-by.

‘Excuse me. A little bit of punctuation there for you.’

Moments such as this are typical of Buxton. Much of the time, he behaves as the bizarre combination of an irritable old curmudgeon raging at the small injustices of the world and an excitable and infectiously immature boy. When we approach the topic of films, this schizophrenic tendency towards simultaneous pessimism and optimism becomes fully exposed. He grumpily exasperates over cinema’s current obsession with superhero films, yet when I mention Avatar, the childlike half of him eagerly takes over.

‘I loved it, I thought it was wicked,’ he proclaims, without a hint of shame or irony. He laughs at my incredulous expression, before defending his reaction. ‘It was really good, I was in exactly the right frame of mind and it pressed all the right buttons. I love Jim Cameron, he’s amazing. Jim. I call him Jim. We’re buddies.’

I ask his position on 3D, and the wide-eyed enthusiasm disappears as quickly as it emerged, replaced once more by his comically grumpy tone.

‘That’s just a completely bogus piece of technology as far as I’m concerned. Everyone else disagrees with me. It’s stupid.’ Yet his eyes widen once again when he recalls one aspect of the experience he enjoyed: ‘The best thing about 3D movies is when subtitles come up, like in Avatar when the subtitles come up, because of the Eewar people, or whatever they were called. I thought, ‘Wow! Look at that! They’re sticking out of the screen!’ And then I carried on watching the screen.’

Although these two modes of thought seem rather incongruous, he accompanies them both with his often unflinching honesty. As a result, his simultaneously grumpy and eager persona seems less odd than charming, although Adam is quick to deny that it is a persona at all.

‘It’s unfortunately real,’ he sighs, before chuckling to himself. ‘I’m not very good at mediating myself and my wife sometimes gets a little upset when I say too much, and reveal too many cringe-worthy aspects of our domestic life. It’s all very much real… It’s when I get in an unfamiliar situation and I feel as if I ought to behave a certain way and I forget to be myself – that’s when things go wrong.’

On the topic of things going wrong, I feel obliged, though a little reluctant, to bring up the topic of The Persuasionists, a BBC 2 sitcom in which Adam played Greg, a naïve employee of an advertising agency. It first appeared in January to almost universally derisive reviews, and the BBC itself swiftly moved the show to the graveyard slot of 11.20pm. At its very mention, Adam can’t help laughing out loud, but he is also keen to absolve himself of guilt.

‘I auditioned for it three or four years ago, when not much was happening in my life, and it was maybe the second or third audition I’ve ever done in my life where I’ve actually got the part. So I was really excited. And we made two pilots for it, both of which were very enjoyable to make, but they weren’t very good… And [the BBC] said, ‘We’re not going to go ahead with this.’ I wasn’t entirely surprised. But then suddenly it came back and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ve commissioned a series,’ and I thought, ‘Jesus Christ!’ And it was really fun, I had such a good time, it was one of the most enjoyable jobs that I’ve done.’

I ask if there’s a ‘but’ coming, yet he laughs this off.

‘No, it was a laugh, man, having a regular job, it’s not something I generally have. I’m generally making things up as I go along, and career-wise living hand-to-mouth. But it was fun, it was really fun.’

He pauses for a moment, then suddenly the sincerity disappears. ‘I mean, obviously I had no clue that it was going to turn out to be so successful. If I had, I don’t know, maybe I would have made more out of it. Who would have known that it would have led to such amazing success and propelled me into the stratosphere in the way it has?’

I decide to play along, and ask if the fame has got to him in any way. He nods sagely.

‘A little bit. I went through a phase of just being very arrogant, and being carried round on a gold sedan that was carried by four eunuchs.’ I divulge that I’d heard James Cameron had started doing the same thing after the success of Avatar. ‘Yeah, Jim was the one that tipped me off actually, and gave me a good gold sedan company.’ And a eunuch rental firm? ‘Yeah. Lady Gaga used to follow me around and sing to me while I was being carried around. Yeah, it was brilliant. Changed my life out of all recognition, and I love it.’

Persuasionists aside, I’m intrigued to find out exactly how famous Adam feels he is. While popular, he and Joe have never exactly seemed particularly mainstream in their success; their fans even have a secret call sign designed to identify other fans, wherein one shouts ‘Steven!’, to which the other replies, ‘Just coming!’ Does he get recognised, or ‘Steven-ed’, a lot?

‘You know, my fame scale depends on where I am. Like when I was at the Latitude Festival I was really famous. I was wandering around there with my son and people were coming up and high-fiving me and just saying hi, and my son thought I was the coolest guy in the whole world. He was like, ‘Dad, are you famous? Are you like a rock star?’ I said, ‘Yes son, in a way I am. I’m like a rock star.’ But then obviously most of the time I’m unbothered, so I’ve got the best of both worlds, really.’

I ask if there are any downsides to being approached by enthusiastic fans, but he smiles and shakes his head. I’m about to move on when he suddenly remembers an occasion when being recognised wasn’t ideal.

‘There was one time, when we were taking the Eurostar back from EuroDisney, and there was a vicious scrum really late at night and I had my family with me, and everyone was tired and we were trying to get on board the train. It was horrific, it was like that scene in Steven Spielberg’s remake of The War of the Worlds, when everyone’s trying to get on the ferry. And then someone started shouting out ‘Steven!’ and I replied, ‘Yeah, just coming.’ And the guy was like, ‘Come on, give me a more enthusiastic one than that!’ I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, man, I’m trying to fucking save my family, get them on the Eurostar.’ But that was the only time I’ve ever been disgruntled. Usually I love it.’

For a celebrity lashing out in public, it’s not exactly Russell Crowe, or for that matter Russell Brand. However, Adam seems quite content to avoid the trappings of celebrity. He smiles at the idea, and admits, laughing, ‘I’m living, it has to be said, at an acceptable level of fame botherment.’ In all honesty, it seems unlikely Adam would want to ascend to the level of fame of someone like Simon Pegg or Dylan Moran. Indeed, he has intentionally sworn off one of the crucial platforms necessary for most comedians to reach the big leagues: panel shows.

‘They’re on my ‘never again’ list… I don’t really respond very well to them. I’m not one of those guys who can go onto Mock the Week and just go into the bearpit and put my jokes out there. I don’t really have any jokes, so in those situations I tend to shut down and revert to my quiet polite middle-class mode. Which isn’t very good when you’re on a panel show. I went on Have I Got News For You and that was fucking humiliating. I didn’t say anything because I was totally overwhelmed and intimidated. You know, you’ve got Paul Merton and Armando Iannucci on the other team, and Bill Bailey as the host.’

I have to agree that that’s a particularly intimidating line-up.

‘Yeah, I mean for fuck’s sake. I just thought, ‘Oh shit.’ In the end they were generous to me in the edit. I said about six things, maybe in the show. My dad phoned me up afterwards and said, ‘Well didn’t hear much from you. That was a bit humiliating, wasn’t it?’’

More recently, it was revealed that Joe hadn’t cast Adam in his upcoming film, Attack the Block, despite Adam’s extensive experience on the big screen. He laughs, ‘Well, exactly, exactly. You should tell him that… But there wasn’t an obvious part for me, and I think Joe just wanted to go and do his own thing, and see how it went for his debut feature and not have to worry about incorporating me into that part of the world. And I can only hope that when his career takes off – as it inevitably will – he will write some amazing parts for me, and that’ll be sorted out.’

In some ways, this experience isn’t especially surprising. Adam’s career constantly changes direction, going from comedian to actor to presenter and back again, and as a result, he’s rather difficult to define. Even his stand-up shows aren’t always what the audience expects.

‘People have got in touch before and said, ‘I came to you show and I felt a bit ripped off, I thought it was pretty lame that you were just showing videos and stuff. What’s that? Anyone can do that.’ I appreciate that what I do is a little bit different to what a straight-ahead stand-up does – they hone their art. I don’t do that many live shows, so it’s by no means my art.’

So what is his art?

‘Well, it seems a little tedious just to focus on one thing. Plus I really don’t feel – and this isn’t false modesty – but I really don’t feel I’m necessarily a genius at any one thing, or sufficiently good at any one thing so that that’s what I should do.’ Bearing in mind that he’s a regular composer of jingles and songs for his radio show, I suggest that perhaps music could be a new career, but this is met with a wistful sigh. ‘I love music and I wish I was a rock star, like a lot of comedians… People like Thom Yorke, they’re unbothered by the naysayers and the people who are going to pick apart his lyrics and call him miserable. He doesn’t worry about things like that, he goes ahead and writes whatever is in his heart. And that’s something I would love to be able to do and envy, but would never be able to do it, certainly. I’ve tried, as well, I’ve sat down and tried to write a sincere song that isn’t funny, just a good song, but it’s not in me.’

The sun has long since set when we prepare to part ways, and as gradually we descend from the roof, I can’t conceive what his next project might be. Apart from the radio show with Joe – which, he assures me, is ‘coming back in November. I think…’ – I ask him whether he has any upcoming projects, but it seems that his career is too unplanned for him to know what’s next.

‘I’ve done so many things that have come to nothing that I’m not going to hold my breath. I mean, there’s always irons in the fire, but you’re lucky if 5% of the things you’re working on actually come to anything. And then of that 5%, maybe a tiny fraction will actually be any good.’ His older, pessimistically world-weary side has reared its head, I note, but he simply shrugs. ‘In my experience, it’s a punishing ratio of quality to bollocks.’

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