Ian Burrell: Buxton – the 'honest amateur' who has broken into the mainstream

Monday 14 May 2012 09:55

Is the mainstream finally ready for Adam Buxton? Tonight he's nominated for two Sony awards with his long-time radio partner, Joe Cornish, and his touring showBug has finally been given its own television slot by Sky.

If you want to know what the fuss is about, take a look on YouTube. Buxton has his own channel where you can find clips of him apparently discussing politics with Bono over the phone or dressing in lycra and a mask to ridicule the crudity of American pop star Gwen Stefani with a pastiche video about her bowel movements. The channel also hosts a 20-year-old film of Adam, Joe and Louis Theroux, who were all friends at London's elite Westminster School, dancing insanely to the Deee-Lite hit "Groove Is in the Heart" in a London bedroom.

Buxton doesn't see Cornish so much these days, now that the latter has had film success as director of Attack the Block. So the BBC Radio 6 Music show on Saturdays is an opportunity to catch up. "We are sort of filling each other in on what we have been up to," says Buxton.

Because the pair are such old friends they have an instinctive humour which delights critics. They are shortlisted in both the comedy and entertainment categories at the Sonys. But it's still a niche listen for an audience charmed by their quirky features and humorous songs, which evoke the traditions of music hall but include cultural references to contemporary Britain. Buxton, who has become a guest presenter on BBC2's Never Mind The Buzzcocks, finds making such ditties "all-consuming". "I'm not a good singer and not a good musician by any standards but singing and making music, even in my own retarded way, is amazing. It's like being on heroin and makes you feel incredible."

They tease each other about personal idiosyncrasies that "we used to tiptoe around in the old days". Buxton – who mocks Cornish for being "fastidious and uptight" – is characterised by his partner as being "a grubby, tramp-like weirdo". But after five years on air, the show (which won a Sony Gold for Best Comedy two years ago), is increasingly dependent on the interaction of its audience. "It's very much a collaboration between us and the listeners now," says Buxton. "There's a set of features and catchphrases that have developed that they will get involved with, and they know the kind of stuff that we find funny. At first we wouldn't read out that many emails but now it's the backbone of the show."

In an email from America, Cornish says the show's evolution has been minimal and it has remained "its wonky self, like a cart with square wheels driven by a couple of confused tramps". Buxton, who will no doubt note the tramp reference, is similarly self-deprecatory about the show's production values. "If there's anything good about our show it's a sort of messy, honest amateurism and that has characterised a lot of what me and Joe have done in the past," he says. Joe agrees. "Radio is more spontaneous and random and the relationship you have with the audience is much more immediate. It's kind of the direct opposite to making a film."

Bug, which Buxton has presented as a live show since 2007, is based on his fascination with the genre of music video. For the first series on Sky he has made some of his own visual clips, such as "The Amazing Music Video Song", which is a compendium of music video clichés such as people moving backwards or singing on rooftops. Another Buxton video clip, "The Counting Song", was inspired by the experience of introducing his three-year-old daughter to numbers. "It starts off teaching children how to count and ends up being a litany of all the things that make life s***," he comments dryly. The clip is being illustrated by the acclaimed animator Cyriak Harris.

Buxton peppers Bug with comments on videos that he reads from YouTube in voices he matches to the usernames. He admits to a "thin skin" and has been hurt by responses to some of his own films. "But generally I have an easy time on YouTube because my videos don't go viral very often." One exception was "The Festival Song", which sent up middle-class festival-goers like himself and helped Bug get a live slot at Latitude this year.

The Sky programme and the success of the 6 Music show will bring greater exposure but Buxton would be wary of the big time of Radio 2. "The nice thing about our radio show is that we get to be twattish and childish and I don't think it would work in the mainstream. A wider audience would say 'They haven't learned a craft of any kind, why are they allowed on the radio?'"

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