Can Adam Buxton bring ordinary Joes from the web to the small screen?
IT’S HARD TO put the internet on a TV or cinema screen. For every Catfish there’s a Rude Tube; for every The Social Network there’s a The Social. Adam Buxton’s Bug, which starts on Sky Atlantic on Monday, is a culmination of its five-year popularity as a live music-video show hosted primarily at the BFI, in London. Buxton brings interesting, weird and innovative music videos (and occasionally other YouTube videos) to an audience, and dissects some of the YouTube comments people feel compelled to leave below them.
Since the flashy MTV music video blew itself out, music videos have had to get more creative, finding a sharing audience online. In a culture where music is viewed as much as it listened to, and commented on rather than talked about, it has provided fertile ground for Buxton, of the comedy duo Adam and Joe, to plough.
Programmes “about the internet” don’t have a great history. Usually, they fill a muddled space that floats somewhere between cluttered home-video shows and Eurotrash, in which the viewer is expected to stay awake during a marathon of poor-quality footage of Frisbee tricks. Aside from using Twitter and Facebook comments as a replacement for letters, emails and texts, it’s very hard to put the internet on television. Which is why you need a characterisation of it.
Enter the troll. The troll has become a common denominator – or enemy – in modern-day comedy.
“People are getting to the stage now of spotting trolls, and saying, ‘Don’t feed the troll, he’s trying to start a war,’ but under certain videos it seems like people aren’t really aware there’s such a thing as trolls,” says Buxton. He is referring to his favourite thread on YouTube, under a video about the history of Russia that is set to the music of Tetris. He admits, halfway through talking about it, that putting YouTube comments on a TV show is weird enough, but describing them thereafter in an interview is even odder.
Calling someone out for being a troll has become as reactionary and hysterical as trolling itself. It’s the new cry of “Racist” or “Begrudger!” or “Hipster”. High-profile media people, including Graham Linehan, Grace Dent, Simon Pegg and Charlie Brooker, have all had their own “trollgates”, yet sneering at those who sneer often comes across as an odd, slightly self-obsessed insecurity, calling to mind the uroboros, the coiled snake eating its own tail.
Surely if the opinion of a troll is not worth anything, why call it out? The troll has gone from something answered to something ignored, to something called out and shamed, to a topic of columns and stand-up performances. Nevertheless, truly modern comedians such as Stewart Lee and Buxton have harnessed the surreal vitriol that typifies so many online comments, a genre of language that provides ample and easy comedic fodder, especially given Buxton’s bang-on delivery on Bug, during which endless threads of conversations are brought to life with a pinch of editorialising and a dash of funny voices.
As for online conversation itself, “I’d rather be commenting on the commentators than be one myself,” says Buxton, adding that he finds the world of commenting “exhausting”.
“It’s a full-time job. I admire people who do it and do it well . . . I stayed off Twitter for so long because I didn’t like that feeling of being connected all the time.”
Buxton says that being on Twitter is “squatted on his psyche” and that he feels stressed about that and about blogging, especially when people give him a hard time online. It’s those trolls again: “I thought you could use technology how you wanted.”
Buxton says Bug on TV creates a “shared experience with these videos which are otherwise consumed in a quite solitary way online. That was an important part we want to retain.”
YouTube parties, generally accidental and typified by the anxiousness you feel while you’re waiting for your drunk flatmate to finish playing their amazing YouTube choice so you can show them your amazing YouTube choice, are the contemporary equivalent of holiday-photo slideshows. While the internet has relegated personal photo albums to Facebook folders, found videos are the new show-and-tell.
Bug has worked in a live setting, but will it transfer to television? Whether Buxton likes it or not, Bug’s television debut is a test not just of whether his cult live show can work on TV but also of whether the internet itself can. Of course, the judges will ultimately be YouTube commenters. How’s that for an uroboros?