Joe, Adam and the Ant-man

In search of witty banter and inexhaustible innovation? Then you should check out the duo who brought ‘Song Wars’ to the world, says Rob Sharp
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The Independent Online

We are at the Summer Sundae festival in rainy Leicester, and two DJs are packed within the walls of a tiny mobile studio resembling a cross between a caravan and a space ship to talk their way through three hours of broadcast time. They sound remarkably similar, finish each others’s sentences, and are the most criminally-underrated talent on British radio.

Their names are Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, whose cult appearances on Channel 4 in the 1990s won them a loyal, if select fan base. Now, thanks to an award-winning radio show on BBC 6 Music, live gigs on the festival circuit and a pervasive online presence, they are enjoying the attentions of a whole new audience who appreciate their witty banter and inexhaustible innovation.

One of the highlights of the pair’s show is an item called “Song Wars”, in which Adam and Joe each compose a spoof song based on a different topic – a new Bond theme, say, or a pastiche of Kate Nash – and the listeners vote on their favourite. One of these, Adam’s “The Festival Song” – in which some middle class friends discuss a trip to a festival – has enjoyed one of the highest profiles. “It’s a wonder Cornbury, the Big Chill and the rest haven’t cancelled out of sheer embarrassment,” wrote James Delingpole in The Sunday Times in June.

Adam performed a stand-up set at the Big Chill festival earlier this month. “I saw the Big Chill had put in their programme that the festival song was deadly accurate, but they took it in good spirit,” he says. “It was written about people like us and our friends who are over the idea of going to a festival and getting filthy. The idea of going in relative comfort to a nice boutique festival – where no one gets too dirty, and your tent doesn’t get stolen, and no one gets beaten up – gets more attractive the older you get.”

Adam and Joe met at Westminster School in the 1980s, united by a love of Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. After brief periods at university, they answered an ad in the New Musical Express inviting members of the public to submit video sketches for a comedy talent show.

Dr Buckles performing 'Middle Class Festival Song' in the Hub Tent at the Summer Sundae Festival in Leicester

The result was Takeover TV, which led to The Adam and Joe Show on Channel 4, a mixture of jaunty sketches and talking-puppet-versions of Hollywood movies. They signed to 6 Music last August, and won this year’s Broadcasting Press Guild radio programme of the year.

Now, fans of the show include James Bond composer David Arnold – who recently telephoned Joe to compliment him on his “Song Wars” theme for the forthcoming Bond film, Quantum of Solace – the Pixies’ ex-frontman Frank Black, and the Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. The latter said that one of Joe’s songs was so entrenched in his head that it made him lose his place during a gig.

As well as the show, they also pursue their own projects. Adam’s pilot for MeeBOX, a fast-paced series of skits loosely based around the look of YouTube, was sadly not commissioned by the BBC. “Apart from not actually getting commissioned, I was very happy about all of it,” Adam says. “I’d sort of been doing the contents of the show for a couple of years and putting them on the internet. So I was pretty happy that it all sort of worked. But from BBC 3’s point of view, it wasn’t the kind of show that they are making there anymore and it just didn’t feel right for them.”

Joe is splitting his time between London and Los Angeles, collaborating with Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright as co-writer on a feature film adaptation of the Marvel Comics character Ant-Man. “It’s fantastic, though I haven’t quite worked out what my position is to being over there,” he explains. “Ricky Gervais always goes on about how brilliant it is. I bumped into Russell Brand this week at Heathrow, and when he went to buy something the place was buzzing. Kids looked like they’d met Father Christmas. It was like he’d sprinkled celebrity dust in his wake.”

They feel more relaxed about things than they did when they were younger. “If you are like, ‘Jesus Christ, you know we’ve got a chance here; you can’t drop the ball. Don’t mess up, know what I mean? This is your big break now,’ it’s no good,” says Adam. “And we’ve had so many big breaks that have come and gone – now we’ve relaxed in a much more enjoyable way.

“You really see it with a stand-up comedian. I always remember watching Stewart Lee when he was young and very vain and he had his hair teased over his head. And I enjoyed it much less than I do now where he clearly doesn’t care less. If a stand-up comedian is nervous and uptight it infects the whole crowd immediately and you can hear that on the radio as well.”

Given that television’s commissioning editors seem unfairly lacking in interest in their talent, what now? “I’m not sure there’s much further we could go really than doing this,” Joe says. “Possibly go to a bigger radio station with a bigger audience. We’re never going to be like Jo Wiley and Zane Lowe. We’d just say something terrible. It’s hard enough doing it just once a week. It’s a full-time job to just do that one thing and really nail it.

“I think, to be a really successful presenter, you have to know how to lie well, or to do what your bosses tell you to do to promote the other shows on the station. It is dangerous not to do that, and stupid, and bad for your career. We go out of our way not to. So you try and be honest about stuff, and then you open up a huge yawning chasm of doom.”

T o see the lyrics of Adam Buxton’s “Festival Song” go to