The future of the celebrity interview is on podcasts and two genre-resistant Brits are at the vanguard. Adam Buxton is a comedian, actor, writer, musician, music video director, broadcaster and half of an adored double-act, Scroobius Pip a spoken-word poet, hip-hop artist, broadcaster and now actor. Both have a cross-form restlessness that treats conversation as a sort of music and many of their social strengths overlap: the judicious question, the throwaway insight, when to let the other person pause for thought, when to tell a story yourself, how to phrase a difference of opinion. Each are about to pass milestones - Pip his hundredth episode, Buxton his twentieth - and that, to my ears at least, sounds like a trumpet to compare the two in light of each other.
The Adam Buxton Podcast is a clash of modern and traditional, a techno-folk splice of "ramblechats", walks in the woods with his dog Rosie and homemade jingles almost too good to be funny. As an interviewer, Buxton toggles between slightly different versions of himself. With Louis Theroux, the childhood friends' speech patterns mimic each other as they discuss quirks of etiquette (how much food is it acceptable to take from a buffet? What is the correct response to "how do you do"?) But he's more formal with a showbizzy Rob Brydon, and sweetly deferential to pop-encyclopaedia Jonathan Ross. His most fruitful interviews synthesise the existential with the specific in the least pretentious way - Kathy Burke on Gary Oldman and her love of Big Brother; Sara Pascoe on jealousy, money and the death of Prince; Doc Brown on children's books and the perils of transparent bin bags. A walk to the pub with amiable film director Garth Jennings, another close friend, drifts into a fascinating story of when Garth stood up to his father-in-law on holiday.
Fatherhood, indeed, kindles some of the most poignant exchanges. Adam's Christmas chat with Joe Cornish days after his dad died has layers of pathos: it's moving enough to hear the most inventive pair in modern radio reunite after a hiatus, but Adam's sadness and Joe's sensitivity to it are doubly devastating. Weeks later, the death of Adam's beloved David Bowie prompted a magnificent "Bowiewallow", a two-hour collage of interviews, songs and memories dedicated, impeccably, to "my two dads". (Adam's mix of unpatronising silliness and offbeat wisdom must make him a wonderful dad himself.)
Equally versatile is Scroobius Pip, who takes his name from an uncategorisable Edward Lear creature. His Distraction Pieces podcast is baggier than Buxton's, but his interview style is sincere, perceptive and relentlessly charming. It's also, with certain guests, slightly more class-conscious. A kindred outsider at posh RADA poetry slams, Kate Tempest describes how, at a performance of Samuel Beckett's Endgame, a woman in the audience kept turning round to hit her, a physical reminder in Tempest's eyes that she didn't belong in the high-art world she loved. Akala ponders how the Internet circumvents the creative interference of a corporate agenda, how English history is tempered by a particular view of who is considered English, the inconsistency of "lazy immigrant" and "job-stealing immigrant" stereotypes, and the joy of foreign fans.
Pip is a champion of homegrown actors and musicians, as wary of pomposity as his guests. Both Kathy Burke and Stephen Graham apologise in advance at the risk of sounding "wanky", but Pip's call-and-response cosiness teases out shadows and depths. Cajoled into describing the violent headspace he used to enter to play This Is England's Combo, Graham commends Pip as a "very good interviewer", while Burke praises the mental-health panacea of social media.
Kathy Burke has appeared on both podcasts, triumphantly, and there's an interesting moment when Pip acknowledges he doesn't want to go over any of the material she discussed with Adam. Even more porous is a double-episode where Buxton interviews Pip for an hour on his show, then Pip interviews Buxton for two hours on his. As a guest, Pip tells Buxton his stutter stems from a time he nearly drowned (I may have imagined this, but of all his interlocutors he seems to stutter the least with Adam). They bond over how to deal with criticism and both have an inventive approach to marketing: Buxton embeds adverts in bespoke jingles, Pip sells personalised stash from aprons to bobble hats (ingeniously, Pip also used to perform for free outside gigs whose audiences might like his stuff too).
When you listen to the same interviewees again and again in the ever-decreasing circle of the podcast community, linguistic tics emerge: Buxton's LA twang for words like "processing" and "cathartic", Pip's treble-relaxers "welcome welcome welcome" and "yeah yeah yeah", Akala's liberal use of "quote unquote", the vehemence with which Jon Ronson says "fucking". Between them, these podcasts distil, refine, carbonate and bottle multiple personalities with aspects of their own, chat-capsules of the 2010s to uncork and sample in the decades to come.
Is it the height of hipster tosserdom to write about people interviewing people about interviewing people? Probably. But if the podcast has become a uniquely flexible echo chamber for the meticulously researched heart-to-heart, Adam Buxton and Scroobius Pip are the modern masters of the long-form. Never Mind The Buzzocks missed a trick in not appointing Buxton permanent host post-Amstell. He once suggested to Jon Ronson at a radio awards ceremony that the reason they never won anything is they were "marginal".
Not any more and certainly not on podcasts, where marginalia is golden. Chat broadcasting used to be the arena of sneering suits like Russell Harty (whose much-tweeted interview with a young David Bowie grows more comically misjudged over time), but the advance of fringe multitalents to traditional fields, like Kate Tempest's from spoken-word poet to Bloomsbury novelist, is a heartening metaphor for the socio-cultural mobility of the digital age. To paraphrase Zadie Smith, whose brother Doc Brown is a fellow shape-shifter to these two bearded sages, the interviewee becomes the whetstone upon which the listener sharpens their sense of self.
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