Email interviews are a bit like caffeine-free coffee or low-alcohol lager: pleasant enough, but lacking that anything-could-happen element that makes life so interesting. Occasionally you get to send a few questions over to a proper comedy hero though, which is what Adam Buxton is, even if he was in The Persuasonists.
Buxton and Joe Cornish first came to our attention with Channel 4's gleefully inventive The Adam And Joe Show back in the mid-90s, and in recent years won an avid following on 6music by rambling on about their unwatched DVDs, encouraging people to shout 'STEPHEN!' in random public places, and the like.
They also recorded a couple of top-notch comedy tunes every week, a second collection of which - Song Wars Volume 2 - is out December 6th, and has a lovely cover. That show has been on hiatus for a year now, but does return for a Christmas Day special, and perhaps a full-time comeback in the near future. More on that below.
In the meantime Cornish has been making his first film, Attack the Block, while his old mucker has kept busy with his own rather good 6music show (Adam Buxton's Big Mixtape), appeared in the aforementioned sitcom and, unbeknownst to most, done a bit of stand-up. But let's begin with the plug...
Song Wars is invariably magnificent, but did you have any qualms about releasing an album? One thinks of Mark and Lard's Shirehorses, DLT doing 'Convoy'...
There's nothing wrong with the Shirehorses and I grew a beard for the express purpose of approximating the magnifitude of DLT so if you're trying to unsettle me, it's not going to work.
As for Song Wars being 'invariably magnificent', that's charming of you but I think we both know that's not true. Because we would only have a week to come up with the songs each time the quality was in fact highly variable, so for Volume 2 there's been some trimming and we've ditched some of the really dreadful ones, partly for the sake of making a better album and partly because we couldn't fit any more on a single vinyl disc.
So now the album is less about presenting the results of our themed songwriting battles, and more about presenting a collection of timeless music that will one day be covered by fame-hungry youngsters on X Factor. That, combined with incredible artwork that took me ages, makes the album highly likely to be included in the top five of all decent best album lists at the end of this year.
A lot of people won't know about your stand-up career - is it a driving passion, or just another string to your bow?
I wouldn't say I have a stand-up career. Stewart Lee has a stand-up career. I just do the occasional show when I'm able or if someone puts me up somewhere nice! There's unlikely to be a best-selling live DVD out any time soon. As for it being a driving passion, I love doing it and would like to do more, but I can't see myself being a full time live-show guy.
Having said that I did some shows in New York recently and they were great fun and went down surprisingly well, although at one show only two people turned up. I went ahead and did the show for them though. It was a little surreal and felt like some kind of Mark Watson/Dave Gorman-style comedy/art happening, but it was fun. I may go out there again and do some more. In ten years I plan to have an American audience of around 12 or maybe 14 people.
When did you first do stand-up, and how does your current show work?
Around about 2004 I did a gig on a bill with Robin Ince, which was just me and a mic and 10 minutes of stuff I'd written about wishing it was possible to have casual sex with fans. Sounds like an amazing bit of material doesn't it? In fact it was like a kind of unfunny speech at a wedding and I decided after that if I wanted to do more live gigs I was best off doing character stuff.
I did some shows with a character called Famous Guy who's like a Russell Crowe/Billy Bob Thornton-type film star twat who also has a bad band, [plus] a character I've been doing a while called Ken Korda, a kind of culture pundit/media ponce, and a character called Pavel a very pretentious, tramp-like East European animator. I did a show in Edinburgh as Pavel in 2005.
I believe there are now videos involved?
Around 2007 I started hosting a show called BUG at the BFI Southbank in London where we show a selection of the latest worthwhile music videos and amusing music-related internet detritus. Because most of the videos we show can be found on YouTube I got into the habit of reading out selections of the variously insane comments that appear beneath. It's become a regular feature of BUG and now I've got into doing it at my own gigs too. I'll show a video I've made or recreate a sketch that's on YouTube and read out some of the comments people have posted online.
Each selection of comments is like a little drama of misunderstanding and rage with some casual homophobia mixed in. They seldom fail to move an audience. I don't pretend to be the only person who has ever read out a comment from the internet, but I feel I've added my own pleasing dimension to it.
Now I think of BUG and my occasional live shows as like having a friend round to my house. We have some drinks and I get out my laptop and show them what I've been doing recently as well as some other bits I've come across that I think they'll enjoy. Then we get undressed and make sweet, sweet love. I recommend it, but only if you've bathed beforehand.
The Persuasionists was quite a contentious topic a few months back: how do you look back on it now?
When you're involved with something that successful it changes you but I've done my best to keep my feet on the ground. The beginning of the year after the show went out was pretty crazy, just non-stop parties and award ceremonies and gold food and sluts. Angelina Jolie would ring up constantly and ask me to do bits of her favourite Persuasionists episodes down the phone. She'd put me on speaker so Brad and the kids could hear too and I'd do the bit about inventing a slogan for Cockney Cheese and they'd roar with laughter and beg me to go to Hollywood but I decided against it.
I know a lot of British comedians seem to think going to Hollywood is the apex of a successful career but I've always been very keen to keep it real and stay in the UK. I got a lot of incredible film offers but I passed most of them on to Jonah Hill and the rest to Zach Galifianakis who need the work. I was worried that The Persuasionists was getting too successful so we've decided not to do any more and never release it on DVD or repeat it ever again anywhere to stop people getting tired of it, although admittedly, it's hard to imagine that ever happening.
I know you're friendly with Radiohead but were you a bit nervous about directing their video [for the song Jigsaw Falling into Place]? Can you tell us a bit about their working methods?
Radiohead have a reputation for being quite an intense and serious bunch but people don't realise exactly how intense they are. On the occasions that Garth [Jennings] and I have worked with them in their studio outside Oxford, the intensity was so intense that bulbs would often blow spontaneously and toast would get burned after only a few seconds in the toaster.
Here's what you tend to see in the studio: Jonny and Colin Greenwood write heartbreaking poetry and talk about third-world debt all the time. Ed O'Brien is so obsessed by Nietzsche that he now only speaks German and wears what looks like a small Tim Burgess wig on his upper lip as a tribute to his unhappy philosopher hero.
Phil Selway is in the process of tattooing the whole of the Koran all over his body as a statement about Islamophobia (in public he covers the tattoos with make-up so as not to offend Muslims). It's a project that has already taken years and will take many more to complete and he is in constant pain, which is evident in his face when he's drumming.
Thom just sits in a corner crying and ranting about climate change. He is undoubtedly the most intense in the band but he's not averse to the occasional bit of clowning. Once, when he knew we were watching, he pretended to put a plastic water bottle in the non-recycling bin! We laughed and laughed then he started crying again so we stopped laughing and things went back to being very tense.
Were you surprised how beloved your 6music show became? What's the oddest place you've heard a 'Stephen', and what's the plan now for Adam and Joe?
I once got 'Stephened' from an adjoining toilet cubicle in an airport. I never saw the guy. I felt as though I was involved in some very pathetic form of cottaging.
As far as Joe and I are concerned I've no idea. We discovered in the early noughties that we weren't very good at forging a proper career together. We both prefer doing a wide variety of stuff rather than just being in a room for months working on one thing as a duo so that kind of narrows down our options for collaboration! The radio shows presented a great way for us to just be friends and ponce about again which we hadn't properly done for years but now our professional lives are so distinct it's becoming harder and harder to get together, which is a shame.
I miss doing the 6 Music very much and we'll certainly be doing the odd one-off in the next few months but as far as another proper long run goes, I dunno. Hope so. I think it's the thing I've loved doing most with Joe over the years and the fact that listeners seem to have taken it to their hearts is the icing on the cherry on the cake balanced on the attractive naked ladyman.
Your TV and film CV is impressive but do you feel you've found the right outlet for your own stuff yet? Any exciting new projects in the pipeline?
One day I may focus on something more substantial but for the time being I'm having fun tooling about on the internet, doing BUG and dreaming my dreamy dreams. There's always pilots and schemes bubbling away but I've learned not to talk them up as they often come to nothing. I've got so many ideas for things I'd love to do that I think would be great, the trick is to actually do them. Some people master that trick in their teens, I'm hoping to get to grips with it in my fifties.