Interview Adam & Joe: Pop Vultures
In their homegrown TV show, which returns in April, Adam and Joe ransack celebrities' record collections, Adam's septuagenarian father reviews youth culture, and soft toys star in films such as the new seven- minute epic, Toytanic.
Sunday 28 March 1999
One of the conceits of the entirely brilliant Adam & Joe Show, which sets out to highlight the absurdity of many aspects of popular culture, is that it is broadcast entirely from within the walls of a bedsit. This is festooned with pictures and paraphernalia reflecting some of their formative influences. Above the bed hangs a pop art interpretation of Jeremy Paxman's face; it jostles for attention with posters of David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Cleopatra, Ronan from Boyzone, a boy member of Steps - nothing and no one is deemed too frivolous or irrelevant to escape the attention of Adam and Joe, who are on constant critical standby.
Adam puts it differently. "We sap other people's creativity," he says airily. But beneath the programme's slap-dash DIY appearance (they conceived, write and film it on their own, as well as designing and creating the sets), and the puerile-yet-sophisticated humour, serious points are being made. Take for example the spoof recreations of successful films or television programmes, for which they employ their Star Wars figurines or stuffed animals as the actors (Toytanic, Ally McSqueal and Saving Private Lion being three of their latest ventures). These parodies, although very funny, have a purpose, as Joe points out: "All these modern movies like Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, they're fictionalised history, they're fucking with, um, fact and it makes me quite uncomfortable while I watch it. One minute you're going, Woah, look at those effects, while the guy's bouncing off the propeller, and the next you're thinking, Well, perhaps that actually happened. And were the people in the water going [he puts on a fruity English accent and claps heartily] `Well done Geoffrey! That was marvellous!'?" Adam chimes in: "`Well fallen!'"
In their rip-off of Saving Private Ryan, hordes of tiny soft toys are slaughtered mercilessly in scenes of carnage involving Heinz spaghetti as guts. At one poignant moment, a teddy bear soldier holds up a small furry limb and asks, "Has anyone lost a right leg?" His own is missing. Joe pre-empts any namby-pamby accusations of tastelessness: "We're not talking about the war but about the movie, and it's kind of sick and stupid for it to pretend it's anything to do with the real event. Look at the book of the film - it's really weird, this big glossy coffee-table book full of reconstructions of people dying. If it was a piece of art, people would call it sick, but because it's a movie that's sold as being fantastically morally upright, they don't. Anything that puts itself in the pop culture arena is up for grabs."
Behind Joe is a yellowing foam pyramid which was the iceberg used in Toytanic, "the seven-minute epic". Joe: "Filming Toytanic took ages. It was kind of topical when we made it last summer, but now everyone's fuckin' done it." Adam says, "Nopical. But it's transcended topicality really, hasn't it? It's become this..." Joe: "...tedious..." Adam: "...huge..." Joe: "...lump of crap". They often speak like this, in tandem, effing and blinding with ease.
In person, Adam and Joe are as quick, entertaining and high-density (their description: it comes at the start of the programme with an advisory to start videoing) as their show. Their exchanges move along at lightning speed, and their knowledge of Eighties and Nineties pop culture, including the most obscure details, is exhaustive. The names of treasured Eighties musical outfits (the Thompson Twins, Thomas Dolby, XTC, Prefab Sprout) are bandied about, along with those of Seventies children's TV presenters (the fate of Rod Hull, who fell off his roof and died on the day of the interview, weighs heavily on their minds. Joe observes sadly, "Emu didn't run out to catch him," to which Adam ripostes, "Emu probably pushed him off, because he was mischievous like that"). Brat Pack films (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, St Elmo's Fire), weird Eighties comedy sci-fi (Short Circuit), big action blockbusters (Starship Troopers); all bob to the surface of Adam and Joe's cultural minestrone during the hour-long interview.
Do they ever find it depressing that there must be so much "crap" - to appropriate one of their key words - lodged in their psyches? Adam: "Not really. There's always going to be more, isn't there?" Joe: "It just piles up. I don't know that we want to get rid of it really - the memories. People say that pop music is really powerful at bringing back memories, and I think a lot of ephemeral pop culture's like that, even if it's just the smell of an action figure."
Adam and Joe have a love-hate relationship with much of their subject matter ("Sometimes you want to kick the TV in, but you still watch it," as Joe puts it succinctly), and not only because it provides them with material. Joe says, for instance, "This Morning is such a fat student cliche, but it's so compelling. I wake up at 11 and the first thing I do is put it on. It acclimatises us to the world every morning. You've got to watch it, although it can be absolute shit, because you just know Richard's going to say something idiotic at some stage. He comes out with the most fantastic stuff: `What are babies's dreams like? Imagine being able to see your baby's dreams - wouldn't that be magical?'" They have recently yielded to temptation and created "This Morning with Han and Chewy", which has the Star Wars Han Solo figurine as a vain, preening Richard, who, in a thought-bubble, imagines himself seated on one side of a fireplace, interviewing a small plastic statesman on the other: "So President Calrissian, which is your favourite Spice Girl?" Another of their parodies will be "Chew Wants To Be A Millionaire" - "Hosted by the Emperor, Chris Tyrant, Chewbacca being the contestant," Joe elucidates.
The ultimate stroke of genius when they were creating the show was to persuade Adam's septuagenarian father, Nigel Buxton, dubbed BaaadDad, to be their critic for youth culture. In the new series, he goes to LA for a rap lesson from Coolio ("Coolio, I'm not in the market for buffoonery," he says crisply, as a woolly hat from the rapper's own brand of clothing is arranged on his head); and is taken to Ibiza to assess club culture. "So much is encapsulated there - every social strata - that we spent a week and shot 20 hours of film," says Joe. BaaadDad was also required to spend time with the Chapman brothers, denizens of the Brit Art scene. What was that about? Joe: "He really hates contemporary art - he thinks it's debased and stupid - and was scandalised by the Sensation exhibition. So he spent a day with the Chapman brothers and they taught him to paint. He did a still-life of their sculpture `Two-faced C**t', and then went away and did six quite interesting paintings from his own imagination, and held a private view in the Chapmans' gallery, inviting lots of critics and artists. He got quite smashed and was very nervous - because although it's kind of a joke, he knows he's got to take it seriously for it to work." (An insight which more or less sums up the philosophy behind The Adam & Joe Show.) Adam nods. "The thing he was most impressed by was their brazen opportunism and their good humour about it, because the Chapmans especially are well aware of the ludicrous aspects of the modern art scene and a lot of their work is about that directly. But it didn't give him any more respect for the art scene."
We are in Borough in south London, in the room where Adam and Joe's television life is conducted. This is an actual bedsit converted into a studio, although in reality both live north of the river, in Clerkenwell - Adam alone, Joe with his girlfriend. Filming the series has taken nine months, so they have spent so much time here that they all but moved in ("We need a break, because we're going a bit mad," says Adam). Joe explains the clutter: "Our bedrooms were like this until ... basically until three or four years ago, when we started having girlfriends." Adam: "Now we have minimalist houses that we go back to and meditate in. So we've constructed our bedroom of, like, when we were 16." The Star Wars duvet cover on the bed is noteworthy: George Lucas's work underpins much of Adam and Joe's, partly because he is one film maker whose attention to detail meets their own exacting standards.
Asked whether they have any intention of ceasing to "sap other people's creativity" (this third series, they have said, will be the last), Adam answers, "Probably not - it would be bad to suddenly come up with original ideas so late in the day. Probably a lot of what we would do anyway would be referring to pop culture, because that's what we're interested in. There's so much stuff, it just seems a waste of time to come up with something new." He pauses and glances towards the window. "You know, there's such a lot of crap out there that you might as well react to before you start adding yet more."
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