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Interview: Noel Fielding

1 October 06 words: Jared Wilson

"I think I’m much more sarcastic in real life, it’s a London thing maybe. Down here people are quite yappy"

Magic hair products, a talking gorilla, a zoo owner who doesn’t know the names of any animals and the eternal battle between Gary Numan and jazz funk. These are just a few of the things that make up the surreal world of The Mighty Boosh - one of the best new comedies I’ve seen on telly in ages! Created by Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, if you haven’t seen it yet take a few sick days off work and get yourself under the duvet with a copy of the DVD set. It’s comedy, but not as we know it, with no satire, no swearing and no formal ‘jokes’ - yet it’s strangely compelling. One half of the duo is in Hood Town for standup, doing the Just The Tonic Christmas special at the Theatre Royal in December. We caught up with the man with the mighty hair known as Noel…

What are you up to today?
We’ve got to write the third series of the Mighty Boosh so I’m supposed to be meeting Julian but actually I’m meeting my mate Richard from Garth Marenghi instead. We’re writing together too, so I’m doing an afternoon with him and having a day off from the Boosh.

So how did you first get into comedy and who were your inspirations?
I quite liked Bill Cosby when I was growing up. I think my mum and dad had some of his albums when he used to do stand-up and they’re kind of little stories about him when he was a kid and stuff. Quite gentle but nice and surreal. I also really liked Monty Python when it was on telly and anything by Vic Reeves and Chris Morris. But I wanted to be a painter and went to art school. I just got sidetracked into comedy. It was a mistake… I’m trying to get out but I’m trapped!

Are you one of those comedians who are not funny in real life?
No I’m hilarious… but I suppose that’s debatable isn’t it? I think I’m much more sarcastic in real life, it’s a London thing maybe. Down here people are quite yappy and they kind of take the piss out of each other naturally. I think there’s a different kind of humour in different parts of the country and up North it’s a slightly more self-deprecating thing. In London it’s much more attacking and people really take the piss. You have to be on your guard otherwise you just get caned.

How long have you been working with Julian now and how did you two hook up?
Too long… it’s like a marriage! We were doing stand-up and were on the same bill together. I was on first and usually you can only have about one weird comedian on a line-up. He’d been doing it a bit longer than me, but I think I had him worried for a bit and he was quite impressed. It was a bit like Batman and Robin. He said ‘listen kid, you’re good but you’re raw. C’mon, let’s see what you’re got. Let’s write together’. I’ve been stuck with him ever since and that was about eight years ago or something. So yeah, we’ve grown together.

Is it true that series three of the Boosh might just be done with puppets?
(Laughs) Julian’s going to be played to be a puppet. I’m going to be real but he’s just going to be a tiny puppet which I just get out of my pocket every now and then and hit with a hammer and then put back.

You like working with musicians on The Mighty Boosh. You’ve had Razorlight and Robots in Disguise on there. Will there be any more music guests in the next series?
Maybe… we’re always slightly worried about getting bands in to do music because we like doing that ourselves, but we do hang around with a lot of musicians. We don’t really hang out with other comedians or go and watch much stand-up. I’m really into visual things and animation and Julian’s really into jazz.

What really? So you’re not actually joking around with that in the series...?
Yeah. He’s well into jazz actually. We don’t really write any ‘actual’ jokes, I just make the fixtures and he makes the sounds and it seems to work.

I heard the title of the show comes from a haircut your brother Michael (who plays Naboo) once had…
Yeah, he had a big afro when he was a child. His mate, who sounded a bit Portugese said to him ‘your hair’s mighty, you’ve got a mighty boosh!’ and I thought it was quite funny. When we were looking for a name we didn’t want to be Barratt and Fielding, because that sounds like solicitors or lawyers or something, so we thought we’d call ourselves something weird. We’ve been called that for so long now that I honestly don’t really know if it’s a good or a bad name, I don’t even think about it anymore. A lot of people can’t say even it, they call us ‘The Mighty Bosh’ or ‘The Mighty Bush’.

So in real life how much are you like the character of Vince?
I suppose about 60%. I do dress like that and my hair is a bit like that. But I’m much more sarcastic and moody. Vince is a bit like an innocent child, he never gets unhappy and always wins at everything without even trying. I’m much more depressive and probably much more difficult to be around.

What’s the last thing that made you laugh?
I’m sure there are about ten things that made me laugh yesterday! I saw a picture of Borat on a billboard in some weird swimming trunks and that made me laugh. I’ve been watching some old episodes of Star Trek and there’s some acting in that that is absolutely hilarious; it’s just so wrong in every way. Oh, Julia Davies from Nighty Night in Fanny Craddock - that really made me laugh.

What was the last thing that made you cry?
Hmmm… probably music. When you’re a bit hungover and you listen to music, often that’s the thing that really gets you. I’ve been listening to a lot of country singers, Townes Van Zandt has got a really sad voice and Gram Parsons’ singing always makes me cry.

Are you a fan of Ed Byrne, Daniel Kitson and David O’Doherty who you share the Just The Tonic Christmas Bill with?
Yeah! I really love David O’Doherty, I’ve known him for ages. He’s a mate and I think what he does is well funny. Last time I saw Kitson he was really really good. I think we both got nominated for a Perrier the same year, so there was always this supposed rivalry between us with people going ‘ooh you must hate each other’, because he won the Perrier and I didn’t. But we weren’t really like that at all. I hung out with him a bit in Ireland at the Kilkenny Festival and really like him. So it should be a good night I think.

Have you been to Nottingham much before?
We did the Boosh there when we did the tour, but I haven’t been to Just the Tonic for years. I did it when I first started doing stand up. I had flu and had a really crap gig, so it’s a miracle that Darrell (Martin - club owner) was ever going to book me again.

What are the chances of there being a second series of Nathan Barley?
Mmmm…..I dunno actually. I have no idea. You’d have to ask Chris Morris. Whenever I’ve asked him he’s not sure. He’s always got lots of stuff on and keeps busy. It’s not out of the question but I really don’t know whether he wants to do that. I’d be well up for it though, you’ve always got to keep the hope and faith.

Who’s your favourite person you’ve met since you’ve been on the telly?
Well, Chris Morris is pretty nice actually. He’s one of those people that I didn’t think I’d ever meet and yet he’s kind of a mate now, which is quite insane. He’s really fun and quite an interesting character. Who else have I met who is interesting? I met Courtney Love, she was crazy… but Morris is the most interesting.

And maybe Gary Numan as well…?
Oh yeah, Gary Numan! I almost forgot Gary for a second… how could I? He’s really nice and funny as well, he’s great!

What’s your best anecdote from a Boosh tour?
We once couldn’t get to a gig because some oil caught fire on the motorway when we were driving to Bristol. We had Depeche Mode’s tour bus and we were sitting on the roof drinking beer. It was freezing and everything ground to a halt. We were going to miss our gig and it would have cost loads of money if we’d have had to cancel it because we’d sold all the tickets. So their people were going ‘you can’t miss the gig’. We were trying to work out how we could get there by maybe walking across some fields and getting a cab from the next village. In the end all these police cars surrounded our tour bus and drove us the wrong way down a busy motorway. It was really exciting, everyone in their cars must have been going ‘who is that?’ like it was Madonna or someone. That was probably the most exciting thing to happen, but there are many things I couldn’t tell you about… or at least that you couldn’t print.

Was there a big jump between your original vision for the TV series and the final product?
Hmm… kind of. We’re still working at it. You get closer, but you never get it exactly right. I think the second series is more like what we had in our heads, particularly the way it looked and the pace of it. The third one should be even better again, but I don’t know if you can ever quite get onto the telly exactly what you’ve got in your head or on paper. If you achieve that, then you probably have to just lie down and never do anything ever again in your life because you’ve got nowhere left to go. It’s always good to have somewhere to move on to and always be going ‘oh I wish we’d done this better’ or ‘I wish that bit worked’. But sometimes you also get new stuff out of it, which wasn’t
how you’d imagined it, but comes out better!

Tell us a bit about the new series. What have we got to look forward to?
Its going to be set in a nefarious second hand magic shop where Naboo deals black magic under the counter. I sell fashion clothes and Julian sells jazz records. It’s sort of like a second hand shop where people come in and get involved in black magic. So it’s gonna be set in there and also a club that our band play at. It’ll be a bit more in one place, rather than going on another six adventures. We might go on some adventures as well, but I think we’ll keep a few of them in and around the shop with some regular characters in it. Bob Fossil will be in it again and Bollo will be too. There’ll be a bit more animation, a bit more music maybe and hopefully the writing will be good too. We’re getting better…

What are your tips for new comedians?
For me, it’s always originality really. I just like people that are different. When you see something different it’s always really exciting. I just think you can be really good but if you’re doing the same as everyone else it’s a bit boring. I always look for stuff that’s weird and different, so if someone does odd stuff I’m happy. Material you couldn’t write yourself is always interesting. When someone comes in and does something and you think ‘how the hell did you think of that?’ So just originality really and a bit of charm too. I think there’s not enough charm on the stand-up circuit, people are too abrasive and too aggressive. A nice smile goes a long way.

How did it feel to play the Secret Policeman’s Ball?
It was really good fun! We were on tour doing quite a lot of gigs anyway and were well practiced with the live stuff. I really like those big gigs. We thought, what shall we do at the Albert Hall? Let’s do a swordfight and have some rabbits run around and bum us. We wanted to do something they definitely wouldn’t see for the rest of the night. It was fun to meet Chevy Chase and we shared a dressing room with Richard E Grant. Hmmm… what else happened? Jeremy Irons was wandering around and Eddie Izzard and Jimmy Fallon, this guy from Saturday Night Live in America, was there. There was a woman on called Sarah Silverman, an American comedian who I thought was the best on the night.

Who cuts your hair, do you style it yourself, what products do you use?
A bit of wax, bit of gel, bit of mousse. I do style it myself. It’s cut by a goth lady who works in Islington, in Angel, but I can’t say where as I don’t want her getting bombarded or I won’t be able to get an appointment myself anymore! She’s like a hidden secret and she’s brilliant. She’s been cutting it for ages, so she knows what I like. We’ve got a sort of joint philosophy now, I don’t even have to speak. I hope she doesn’t move. She was thinking of emigrating to Morocco at one point. Then I would have had to go there to get my hair cut.

Where can we get a Bollo suit from?
They’re quite hard to get actually, we had to make ours. Some guy who worked on Planet of the Apes did it. He’s a sculptor and he does gorilla heads and all kinds of monkeys. He’s like a monkey specialist and looks a bit like one too. Maybe he was a monkey? He could have been, just disguised in jeans. I didn’t check… But yeah, they’re really hard to get right. If you go to a fancy dress shop they just look awful! We were originally going to build up prosthetics on Dave’s head (the guy who plays Bollo), so he had to shave his eyebrows off. Then we tried it and it didn’t look that good, so we ended up using a mask. But he’d already shaved them by that point, so he wasn’t very happy with us.

The Mighty Boosh website