The Times: Adam’s Big Adventure (25 July 2005)
July 25, 2005
Adam’s big adventure
Our new comedy critic finds one half of Adam and Joe is looking beyond television to the single life of the Fringe
NEXT WEEK, scores of young comedians will make their annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe. All of them will be out to sell tickets and get laughs; some will even nurture fantasies of making their money back. And most will deem their wildest dreams to have come true if they come home with a deal to make their own Friday night Channel 4 show.
So, you have to wonder: why is Adam Buxton going to Edinburgh to make his debut as a live character comic, when he’s already the veteran of four seasons of Channel 4’s cult Friday night hit The Adam and Joe Show? “I’m doing my career in reverse,” he beams, his mouth a short bus ride behind the outrageous beard he’s been growing for the show since December. “Next year, I’m hoping to get a job in a bar. Year after that, maybe wash some tables.”
The truth, shame to say, is a little more prosaic. It’s four years since he and his schoolfriend Joe Cornish made their final Adam and Joe Show. After four seasons of digicam digs at pop-cultural staples — the film spoofs acted out by toys; the rubbishing of celebrities’ record collections — Channel 4 pulled the plug. More recently, Buxton’s TV sitcom, the excellent if downbeat The Last Chancers, was left on the shelf for a year before leaking on to the box just before Christmas. It has not been recommissioned. So to get his homemade parodies and wild personas to an audience, he’s decided that he has to go live. “Edinburgh is something I’ve been wanting to do for ages,” he says. “I used to watch that show Edinburgh or Bust!, which followed comics taking their shows to the Fringe, and think, That’s not very good, I can do better than that!
“And seeing that I’m not doing any TV stuff — cos I called a moratorium on presenting work two years ago, in the hope I would do more acting, but actually the acting failed to materialise, though obviously it’s about to go BALLISTIC! — I thought I’d go to Edinburgh, see if this character had legs, and also get to show all the video stuff I’ve been doing.”
The character in question is Pavel, a very hairy, very pretentious East European animator. Pavel makes alarmingly avant-garde cartoons full of abstract shapes and jarring sounds — the sort of thing that used to play in two-minute bursts on BBC Two. And as the outlandish animator tells his ludicrous life story — from troubled beginnings as the only child of a clown and a strongwoman, to troubled endings as a lubricious lecturer at a London art school — character comedy blends with Buxton’s lovingly assembled pre-recorded videos.
“I know I’m going to get some stick for using so many props,” says Buxton. “People will go: that’s not what Edinburgh’s about, it should be one man and his mike! But there’s lots of other men and their mikes. I’m sure there’s room for something like this.”
The something like this includes a video of his 2-year-old son Frankie in his cot, playing a TV executive who will commission shows only if they star Jimmy Carr. Pavel, like Buxton, is a victim of the rigid formatting required in a competitive multichannel universe. And then there’s the extended Star Trek farting sequence — far better than it sounds, thankfully — suggested by his director, David Sant. But Buxton is a little worried what his script adviser, Graham Linehan — co-creator of Father Ted — will make of the show’s flatulent new direction.
“Graham hasn’t seen the fart material yet. He’ll go: ‘Oh, Adam. . .’ Graham’s a real — not a fascist exactly, but he’s a real comedy scientist. Which is the opposite of me. I shamble my way through, and he goes, ‘More jokes! More jokes!’ I’m not used to thinking about jokes as such. Edinburgh is all about seeing if I can make a fist of these things.”
Newcomer though he is, Buxton’s TV fame means he won’t be eligible for the Perrier Award. At the age of 36, he’s nobody but a desperate commissioning editor’s idea of over-the-hill. He and Cornish would love to make more Adam and Joe Shows, given the chance, but Buxton knows that he needs somehow to make his name — again — in a TV comedy culture in which content counts for little unless you can sell it in a catchphrase.
“I was supposed to audition for a couple of sketch shows earlier this year. Then I heard that they didn’t want me because I was too big a name. And I thought, ‘Since when was I too big a name?’ I’m too big for Channel 4, but not so big that they’ll hire me! I seem to have fallen between two stools in a very frustrating way.”
Hence some big hopes for Edinburgh, albeit moderated by the knowledge that it all might come to nothing. “I know that people will poke holes in it: ‘What’s the point of Adam Buxton, I thought we’d got rid of his annoying student antics and here he is again.’ And I’m worried that I’ll come out thinking, Why did I do all that? Why haven’t I spent the past nine months trying to get a proper job on TV?”
So if you can get past Pavel’s preposterous accent, he has rather a lot in common with his creator. Both are creative types who insist on doing things on their own terms (“though I might be less choosy about my TV work if I stopped getting voiceovers”). Both believe in untrammelled artistry — albeit, in Buxton’s case, in a populist form. “I’m an ex-art school guy,” he says. “I love the idea of all these people going up to Edinburgh and trying things out. Exposing themselves. I’m quite a pretentious sort of person at heart.”
# I, Pavel is at the Pleasance Courtyard (0131-556 6550) from Aug 3