Adam Buxton: ‘I was called a smarmy, greased-up dwarf’

Adam Buxton’s solo show Bug pokes fun at the casual brutality of online discourse

“It’s a steep curve in the net age,” says comedian Adam Buxton, “learning to deal with a new type of casual, brutal criticism from people you’ve never met.

“It’s a steep curve in the net age,” says comedian Adam Buxton, “learning to deal with a new type of casual, brutal criticism from people you’ve never met.” He remembers, with a queasy smile, somebody once describing him as “a smarmy little greased-up dwarf”. But the 43-year-old is better placed to deal with internet obnoxiousness than most. For several years, he has staged a live comedy show called Bug that makes great play of the awful things people say to one another online. “Kids, mostly, pushing each other’s buttons,” as Buxton thinks of it, “saying the unsayable, screwing around with how social interaction works.”

He is best loved, no doubt, for the boyish comedy created with his friend Joe Cornish under the banner of their double act, Adam & Joe. But Bug has been an enduring solo success for Buxton, staged regularly since 2007 at the BFI in London and touring the UK this summer. I meet him in a sunny London square, just off the train from his home in Norfolk and a few hours before he is due on stage in west London.

Bug is nominally a showcase for quirky music videos, culled from YouTube and teed up enthusiastically by Buxton, who is something of an aficionado. (He once directed a Radiohead promo.) The real fun, though, comes after each clip, when Buxton reads out some of the comments that have been posted about the footage. Blunt announcements, startling confessions, mean little snipes… Errors of logic are subtly teased and bad spelling highlighted, the exchanges transformed into surreal little plays.

An extract from one of Adam Buxton’s past Bug shows.

“I guess the internet has created an environment where people aren’t forced to consider the consequences of what they say,” says Buxton. “Maybe it’s unlocked a part of people that in the past they were taught to hide. But, you know, even saying something like that nowadays sounds reactionary and snobby. Of course everyone has the right to express themselves – and people just go for it.” When Bug started, he recalls, he didn’t imagine it would last; perhaps expected the churn of novel and damning internet commentary to “fizzle out”. Nope!

What has fizzled, to the dismay of fans around the country, is his 6Music radio show with Cornish. After broadcasting on and off from 2007 to 2011, they stopped because Cornish launched a promising second career as a film director, responsible for the 2011 British sci-fi thriller Attack the Block. Is the radio show gone for good? “I hope not,” says Buxton. “The understanding is that we’re just on sabbatical while Joe conquers the film world… I’d be very sad if we never did any more. Fingers crossed that it all goes wrong for Joe.”

Were this final comment posted online it might need a winky emoticon, or several exclamation marks, to make clear the sarcasm. As it is, Buxton leans forward and says levelly into my voice recorder: “That was a joke.”

Adam Buxton presents Bug Special: Radiohead at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester on 16 May, and Bug Fatboy Slim Special at Brighton Dome on 20 May;