Adam Buxton: Chancer of a lifetime

After years of acting the fool with his old classmate Joe, Adam Buxton has struck out on his own in a new drama. Is this the start of a solo career? Not likely, he tells Ed Caesar
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Adam Buxton is moving on. After years as one half of the comedy duo Adam & Joe, renowned for their schizoid assaults on popular culture and peerless stuffed-toy film parodies, the 35-year-old comedian and broadcaster thinks that it's time to spread his wings. The result? His first dramatic role, in The Last Chancers, which is broadcast tonight on E4.

Adam Buxton is moving on. After years as one half of the comedy duo Adam & Joe, renowned for their schizoid assaults on popular culture and peerless stuffed-toy film parodies, the 35-year-old comedian and broadcaster thinks that it's time to spread his wings. The result? His first dramatic role, in The Last Chancers, which is broadcast tonight on E4.

The show is a sitcom about the lives of a Brighton-based band. Buxton plays its thick-skinned lead singer, Johnny, whose petty-minded managerial skills earn him a reputation as a bit of a loser. " The Last Chancers is a really funny show, but it's not a laugh riot," says Buxton. "There aren't lots of characters or a high concept, Green Wing-style. In that way, I suppose it's very old fashioned. It almost reminds me of some sort of children's drama, like Press Gang."

He readily concedes that making the show was an educational experience. "The show was my first crack at proper acting," he says, "and the director was always telling me to tone it down, because I'd be pulling silly faces. He was definitely right."

While the comedy-drama scene seems a natural environment for an instinctively funny performer such as Buxton, it's not something he aspired to until recently. His television career was more of an organic development from the endless parodic sketches he used to enact with his best friend from school, Joe Cornish. Adam and Joe's school-year colleagues at Westminster were a disproportionately talented crop, and the pair are still great friends with their south London neighbour and former classmate Louis Theroux. Adam's recollection of some soon-to-be media glitterati beggars belief.

"One of my first memories of Joe is being very impressed and envious when our English teacher read out a short story he'd written," he says. "The awed silence that followed was broken by the young Giles Coren [restaurant critic], who accused Joe of having plagiarised a TV play by Ian McEwan. The teacher said it didn't matter because it was so beautifully plagiarised. How's that for a poncy English class?"

Cornish and Buxton's television career grew from here but, after four series of Adam & Joe, and similarly niche projects, both men are exploring other areas. "Some of the frustrations that Joe and I had have come out of the fact that we feel like we're pissing in the wind a lot of the time," he says. "We never did anything with Adam & Joe that really crossed over. We always aspired to reach a wider audience and we never really did that." So now, while the pair still host a weekly radio show for Xfm, they are both working on writing new material, which, they hope, will reach that wider audience. And, as Joe concentrates on film projects, Adam has focused on what he calls a silly comedy script involving a Klaus Kinski-esque East European poet, drunkard and manic depressive.

But is the "artistic differences" spiel covering a more general parting of the ways for Adam and Joe? "Absolutely not," says Adam. "We've definitely had our falling-outs, but we haven't stopped being friends. We still laugh at the same things. I'm sure Ant and Dec get sick of each other too, although their partnership has the advantage of being really successful. That always helps."

While all this self-deprecation is very charming, it would be hard to agree with the implication that Buxton has been unsuccessful in his career so far. It may be, though, that this foray into narrative comedy is exactly the move he needs. Nevertheless, he doesn't seem to be a wildly ambitious person. Away from work, he's happily married and the father of two young sons, and his current obsession is not in developing script ideas, but to grow a beard.

"I'm very hirsute, so it shouldn't really be a challenge for me," he says. "It's going to be more of a challenge for my wife. No one likes beards, except mad people. Facial hair, whatever anyone tells you, is just someone trying to cover up. Or vagrants, who have no access to shaving equipment."

Otherwise, Adam's interests remain much the same as those that dominated his early television skits with Joe: other television shows. While he still is fond about the American import shows that dominated his life a few years ago, he admits that his comedic interests have moved on.

" Adam & Joe used to fairly unquestionably adore American pop culture," he explains, "and then, the more you consume of it, the more you see its flaws. Then you see it's just a business, and as soon as something starts to become successful, that formula is trotted out over and over again. There's very little of interest being made in American film right now. The music's pretty good, though. I'm pretty obsessed with an American band called Spoon at the moment. People who dismiss America out of hand just annoy me. It's just that it's such a big place - it's bound to have more twats."

Despite Buxton's logically challenged attempt to balance the books on the US, you sense that a little of the boundless enthusiasm he displayed on Adam & Joe has made way for some worldly-wise cynicism. But when I level this accusation against him, Buxton is having none of it.

"There's no point in me and Joe doing stuff where we're pretending to be sat in a bedsit, because that's not what our lives are like now", he counters, "but there is still loads of stuff I absolutely love. In sitcom terms, I've always loved Father Ted. It's just so pure. It didn't alienate people - just welcomed everyone - and there was no subversive agenda."

If Father Ted seems like an odd choice for a comedian who definitely sits in the "quirky" bracket, it's a choice that speaks much about his priorities. For Buxton, the best comedy has always come from an uncomplicated and compassionate approach to the genre. And he often doesn't have to go further than his sitting room to appreciate it. "My sons, Frank and Nat, are so guileless," he says. "It only takes a very grown-up look or some low-grade physical schtick and they're instant comedy geniuses. It's hard to beat a two-year-old on a roll."

Adam relished the chance to "play it straight" in his latest role, but he has not ruled out a return to working with Cornish on Adam & Joe. "I'd love to do it," he sighs, "but it's not the sort of thing that people are commissioning at the moment." What they are commissioning, it seems, are "old-fashioned" comedy series, such as The Last Chancers. And, while it's still early days to measure the ultimate success of the show, Buxton will continue to bring his unique brand of faux-naif to the nation, regardless of its reception.

As he explains in the way only he can: "Over the years, I've developed quite an ingenious system for dealing with hurtful criticism. I smoke, drink excessively and listen to a lot of indie music."

'The Last Chancers', tonight, 10.30pm on E4