“What do you even say about Adam Buxton? Like, where do you start?”
This is what my friend asks me as we’re making our way to the Duchess Theatre in the West End for his show, Kernel Panic. I’ve been a fan of Buxton’s since I first saw The Adam and Joe Show as a teenager, so can’t really imagine what someone coming fresh to Kernel Panic would make of it – or him. But having an idea of what to expect only made me more nervous at the prospect of working out and then justifying what I thought about the show.
“Yeah,” I said, by way of a response. “I don’t…know.”
Silliness is the watchword with Buxton, but a silliness so pure, so crystallised that it’s almost an art form in its own right. In Kernel Panic, Buxton builds on interests and running jokes he has formed over several years, first working with partner Joe Cornish and then in his BUG series of solo shows.
BUG primarily concerned itself with the finding and sharing of interesting, funny or beautiful short-form video, often music videos, and much of its humour derived from sharing the input of the YouTube community. It turns out that the comment sections on YouTube are a big pit of opinions nobody asked for, grammar fights and the genuinely bizarre – from the sublime to the ridiculous, to the downright withering.
Seeing as nobody knows or appreciates the YouTube community like Adam Buxton, and nothing’s more subjective than comedy, it seems only right to give them a voice here; all the YouTube comments in this review were left on Buxton’s own work. So, what is it about these slices of strangers’ brains that he finds so appealing?
Buxton’s musings on being his own boss are vaguely reminiscent of a few similar moments in Daniel Kitson’s Analog.ue, mainly Kitson saying he’d grown jealous of ‘anyone who had a colleague’. So perhaps it’s the sense of belonging to a kind of odd, ramshackle community that appeals: if you’re a comedian who makes a lot of short-form videos, YouTubers are your audience and your colleagues all in one.
Though I suspect, first and foremost, that the attraction is in the sheer oddness of the opinions people feel compelled to share with the internet. Kernel Panic alone features a bizarrely blood-thirsty response to ambient music and some misplaced, puzzlingly communicated homophobia. Having said this, although the comments are as prevalent as ever, the videos they relate to take a backseat here compared to their role in BUG. In this respect, Kernel Panic feels like an attempt to pull away from relying on content created by other people: though there are bits and pieces of music videos, they’re never longer than a few seconds, to contextualise the comments, and most of the video content is made by Buxton himself.
Buxton’s YouTube channel gives you a good idea of the kind of media interspersed throughout Kernel Panic, as well as the amount of work he puts into what looks like effortless silliness. Buxton is able to draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, and he’s naturally funny enough to carry off just about anything. Which isn’t to say it all works; for instance, on the night I went he seemed to lose the crowd a little during a long middle section about David Bowie, whom he adores, although personally I found this one of the most charming portions of the show. Still, the best way to never fail in comedy is to never do anything too interesting, and Buxton is consistently entertaining, even when you’re not entirely sure where he’s going with an idea.
Don’t get me wrong, deep it is not; there’s nothing life-changing in here, and nothing hugely new for anyone already aware of Buxton’s work. He’s aware of and plays off all Kernel Panic’s limitations over the course of the show, joking about its lack of depth and his over-reliance on technology ‘for chuckles’. It really is an unbelievably tech-heavy show, one Buxton himself describes as ‘a guided tour through the contents of my extraordinary laptop’, and if that sounds dull, it’s far from it – but his themes are all at once a bit too specific (technology, particularly the internet) and too general (the internet! It’s bloody massive), the result being that proceedings lack focus a bit in the middle.
Ultimately, though, it’s hard to mind too much. Adam Buxton is just too likeable and too funny for an hour or two in his company to be anything other than an absolute treat, and Kernel Panic is a satisfyingly silly trip through his mind and his laptop both.