London-born, Norfolk-based writer, broadcaster and actor Adam Buxton, 51, found fame in a comedy duo with his best friend from school, Joe Cornish – first on their Channel 4 comedy series The Adam and Joe Show, then on radio. Buxton’s film credits include Hot Fuzz, Stardust and Sing. In 2015 he launched the award-winning Adam Buxton Podcast, in which he interviews cultural figures. His memoir, Ramble Book, is out in paperback this week.
Ramble Book isn’t your typical comedian’s memoir. Was that your intention?
For most comedians, a book is a goof. You turn in old receipts, throw together some lists and diary entries, write down a few things you said to the postman, then go “There you go, that’s my book.” I wanted to do something a little bit more substantial. My editor kept pushing me to be more heartfelt, to write about my dad dying and not feel like I had to be funny the whole time. It came alive when I was honest and wrote from the heart. But mainly I’m impressed that I actually finished it. Everything I do tends to be bitty and ad hoc. I’m not good at major projects.
Was the writing process therapeutic?
I certainly cried as I was writing. I regretted things, felt ashamed, thought of things I should have said. I’m not sure how useful some of that wallowing was, but overall it did me good. It also encouraged me to find out a lot more about my parents. We never talked about emotional stuff, about their pasts or families. So it was fascinating digging into all that.
There’s a lot in the book about David Bowie. What would he make of the world today?
That’s an interesting question. Would he be super-woke or would he be appearing on Dave Rubin’s YouTube show? Would he and Jordan Peterson be bemoaning the excesses of cancel culture? Possibly. Bowie did a few cancellable things in his life. But I do miss him.
Are writing nerves different to performance nerves?
When I go on stage, I’m usually prepared. I have a script as a safety net. With a book, there’s nothing. It’s intimidating because you’re tortured by the possibilities. It’s what Philip Pullman calls “phase space” – the overwhelming sense that you could write anything. As soon as you write a sentence, you’re beginning to hack a path through the forest of possibilities and you don’t know if it’s the right path.
How do you react to reviews of your book? Do you take them more personally?
Lots of readers wrote to me. It got the biggest response of anything I’ve ever done. But I tend not to read reviews. Back in The Adam and Joe Show days, I quickly realised I’m not the sort of person who handles them well. I live too much in my head already. I don’t need a load of reviewers sitting in there with me, saying: “Oh, that was hacky. How embarrassing.” It’s why I came off social media too: you get a sense of constantly being reviewed – 99% was very positive and nice, but it’s the 1% that sticks with you.
You were an early adopter of podcasting. Do you get fed up with all these Johnny-come-lately copycats?
Yeah! Bastards. No, not really. I seldom feel like someone’s nicking my style. Although sometimes I do hear people laughing too much at slightly lame banter and think that me and Joe [Cornish] have been guilty of that. But that’s natural. Just the act of sitting down and pressing record instantly makes you feel so brilliant and important. It’s easy to think: “This is great stuff, people are going to love it”, but that’s why I edit so carefully. My podcast is a confection. It’s a heavily stylised greatest hits of a conversation.
What have been your favourite episodes?
Joe always makes me laugh until I wheeze. Sometimes you get intelligent, interesting people who are good at talking – Romesh Ranganathan or Kathy Burke spring to mind – so you just have to turn the thing on and listen to them.
The episode where Louis Theroux sings is a big fan favourite…
Even at school, Louis and Joe were the two funniest people to hang out with. I can see why he went down the serious documentary route – good for you, enjoy your Baftas – so it’s nice to showcase his stupid side.
You get great guests. Who’s still on your wishlist?
Currently high up there are Fran Lebowitz, Meryl Streep, John Waters, Scarlett Johansson and David Hockney. Björk is one of my heroes. We send her a request every few weeks. Tiffany Haddish is one of the funniest people around. Oh, and Demi Moore. I bet she’s pretty fucking interesting.
Your dog, Rosie, has become a breakout star. Who’d be on her guest wishlist?
It’d be good for Rosie to sit down and have an honest chat with the local muntjac deer. Just so they can air their grievances and explain what it’s like being terrorised by a yappy little poodle-cross.
Which podcasts do you listen to?
I feel a strong temptation to lie and list some that make me look more intelligent. But if I’m honest, I love Athletico Mince, Richard Herring, The Horne Section and a Canadian one called Stop Podcasting Yourself. The hosts remind me of a Canadian me and Joe.
What culture have you enjoyed in lockdown?
Most books I read tend to be related to podcast guests, which is good because it forces me to be more adventurous. I recently read two of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels: Klara and the Sun and The Buried Giant. I just watched Once Upon a Time in Iraq, which was great, but I wept throughout. Pretend It’s A City was an injection of joy. Me and my wife also loved a cold war sci-fi series called Counterpart – it flew under the radar but it’s fucking brilliant. And weirdly, one of its big motifs is a deadly flu pandemic.
You describe yourself as “a chronic over-thinker”. Have you become even more introspective this past year?
Lockdown’s been an opportunity to fret, so I have been entertaining terminal illness scenarios more than I normally would. Not helped by the fact that my ma unexpectedly died last summer. I was already in the mortality zone when Dad checked out five years back, but then Mum shoved me right into the centre of it. With my dad, it was very slow and he was older, but Mum’s death was a genuine shock. When she popped off, it was like: “Fuck, she’s gone. And I’m next.” We’re at that age when our parents are getting ill. We’re in the sad sandwich of life. A sandwich of death and grimness. But it’s got some delicious, unexpected flavours too. A surprising little zing of pickle.
Are you still in therapy?
Currently not. I got frustrated when I didn’t get clear instructions from the therapist as to how to fix myself. No, I’m being half-glib. After Mum died, I was in an emergency zone. I felt really anxious and had flashbacks. It was emergency surgery rather than an ongoing existential malaise. Therapy was useful for a few months, but after a while it felt like I was manufacturing problems. I was rehashing arguments I’d had with my wife, saying: “Who’s in the right? It’s me, isn’t it?” So I pressed pause for a while.
What projects are in the pipeline?
I’m supposed to be making some music for an actual record label. I shocked my agent by finishing my book. Now she’s gone back to being sceptical about my ability to deliver on this record deal.
Would you like to do more acting?
That’s the one great sadness in my life. We blazed through all four series of [ITV crime drama] Unforgotten in lockdown and it made me envy Sanjeev Bhaskar’s trajectory. To be on a hit comedy show and end up starring in a show like that? Wow. I don’t know if I’ve got the acting chops, but I’d love to do something like that. Maybe I’ll enter a phase when I can get gnarly old guy parts.
The Adam and Joe Show celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Do you have plans to work together again?
Fucking hell, 25 years? We got old, man. We get together for a podcast special every Christmas, which works nicely. Joe’s busy: he’s got a young child now and he’s working hard, directing a fantasy series for Netflix. I have this daydream about taking a break from the podcast in its current form and doing a run of shows with Joe which are more like what we used to do on radio. That’d be fun.
Is another book on the way?
I think so. I’ve been writing during lockdown. When Mum was dying, she said: “OK, I’m going to die so you can write about me in your second book.” She was partly joking but it does make sense. If Ramble Book was about my dad and the 80s, the next one might be about my mum and the 90s.