“People Stay The Same Age And I Get Older”: Noel Fielding On The Enduring Magic Of The Mighty Boosh
Also: that time he challenged a stranger to a drunken Jagger-off at Cherry Bar.
It’s 6am and I’m waiting on a call from Noel Fielding, quietly acknowledging the many ways I have changed since I was 15. I’m up at a distinctly adult hour. I’m in a small apartment in Melbourne’s inner suburbs instead of a big house in my old country town. My favourite comedian has leapt out of the scratched DVDs I’d watch with friends in rainy lunch-hours in the high school drama room, and is about to call up for a chat from London.
Just casually. I’ll just be casually chatting to that guy whose jokes and quotes I used to post on Bebo. The one behind the Mighty Boosh tote bags and belts and badges my teenaged boyfriend would buy me in an attempt to show he “got it”. The one whose show I lined up for earlier this year amidst a sea of people dressed as hermaphroditic mermen.
When the call comes, there’s no publicist on the line; just a familiar voice. “Hello, this is Noel!” he announces, as though he’s mischievously ducked around a corner from somewhere he’s not supposed to be. “What time is it, five in the morning or something stupid? Oh my god, I feel for you. I feel your pain.”
“Let me just get into a quiet room, I’m at my mate’s house,” he says. “Serge from Kasabian has kindly let me do these interviews at his house.”
Just like that, I’m gone. I’m right back in 2006 and I feel as giddy and ridiculous as ever.
“You’re My People”: A Lifetime Membership To The Boosh
When Noel took the stage in Australia earlier this year for his latest show An Evening With Noel Fielding it was far from his first time in the country. That came a full 15 years prior, when he took out the top award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Alongside his now well-known collaborators Julian Barratt, Rich Fulcher and brother Michael Fielding, Noel performed a show called Autoboosh that would serve as the early foundation of a radio series The Boosh and eventually the iconic BBC TV show The Mighty Boosh.
“Australia just got what we were doing right way,” he says. “We won the Barry Humphries Award and played at the Hi-Fi Bar. The Hi-Fi Bar, oh my god. Before they did it up it was a weird sort of Boogie Nights ’70s nightmare. This guy who used to play Aussie Rules owned it and we had some crazy nights there with Johnny Vegas. He was always trying to get us to drink some weird cocktail called cock-sucking cowboys. We’d get out of the Hi-Fi Bar and it’d be light, it’d be morning and we’d still be drunk on weird creamy cocktails. Those were the days!”
But all that was only the beginning of the fun. When the Boosh took off in all its absurd mirrorball-coated glory, Noel became a household name. His on-screen persona of the cheerily foppish Vince Noir was the spirit animal of every vaguely artistic young person around the world and his odd couple pairing with Baratt’s nebbish Howard Moon created witty, well-crafted and consistently critically-acclaimed comedy. The pair made three seasons of the show over four years and followed it with an epic UK and US live arena tour Noel now lovingly describes as “knackering”. This was now a little over six years ago.
“People still come up to me every day and talk about the Boosh,” he tells me. “I thought it was going to be a couple of years and that would be it, but people just constantly come up. ‘Are you going to do more? Please do a film’ … I don’t think we’ve quite finished. We’ve got another good thing in us.
“Well, hopefully. I’m not going to say that because then everyone gets really excited and comes up to me on the street three weeks later asking for it.”
That may sound a little dismissive, but it’s not the case at all. In fact with so many of Noel’s fans loyally by his side for more than a decade, he’s developed an incredibly loving, relatively twee, bond with them. Every message from his regularly updated Instagram and Twitter accounts ends with an ‘x’. The phrase “I love you a little a bit” is often cheekily dished out to followers, both online and off. At one point, in his most-recent Melbourne show he rhetorically asks the crowd if they’ve ever dyed a piece of paper with coffee to make it look old-timey. “Of course you have!” he says. “You’re my people. You are the craft people!”
“When the Boosh first started, we had lots of young people,” Noel says. “[Vince Noir] appeals to people of a certain age, it always appeals to people who are at university or a bit younger, or arts students. There’s always an amount of those people at my gigs no matter how old I get. People stay the same age and I get older. It’s like some kind of horrific fairy tale.”
“We had lots of girls too which was nice because comedy can be quite difficult — it can be quite male or lad-ly. We didn’t ever want to do that kind of comedy, so we were always so pleased we had a mixed audience. As I got older I started to appreciate having older people in the audience too. Julian used to love it. He used to pull me aside and be like, ‘There’s an 80-year-old guy in the audience, it’s amazing!’. We have children from time to time as well.”
When talking about how these diverse audiences have found such a sense of camaraderie in his work, he’s contemplative. He pauses, as though genuinely flattered and taken aback by the implied compliment he must have received a million times before.
“I don’t know, it might be that [The Boosh] is about friendship. It’s about its own little world. It’s quite timeless — other than some musical styles we were parodying or a few references. Maybe it was quite Alice in Wonderland-like. It was our own little world; our own little magical stories.”
When Surrealism Turns Into Existentialism
Noel’s latest show is scattered with all the usual suspects; a variety act of all the magic he’s conjured over the past two decades. The Moon from The Mighty Boosh features in the upper corner of the stage and eventually transforms into an evil version of itself called The Dark Side Of The Moon. Noel runs around the theatre as Luxury Comedy‘s Sgt. Raymond Boombox interrogating audience members with characteristic charm. Towards the end he transforms into Fantasy Man and meets up with Plasticine versions of Joey Ramone, David Bowie and a reverse minotaur Nick Cave.
But this is all done after a decidedly simpler half-hour of stand-up. Noel takes the stage in predictably fashionable skinny jeans and a bright shirt and bemoans what it’s like to get older. Between stories of the inner lives of Diego Maradona’s herbal teabags, he’s talking about the bizarrely ordinary fact he gets worse hangovers than he used to. He constantly references his age for gags. “Okay, I’m Fantasy Man,” he says with a plastic cup sticky-taped to his chin. “I’m Fantasy Man, we’re heading into Fantasy Land, I have a reverse minotaur Nick Cave and I’m 42.” It gets a huge laugh each time.
“It’s a strange point for [my] comedy,” Noel says. “In my 20s I was kind of surreal, doing lots of whimsical stuff, and then when I started working with Julian [Barratt] it was different. He was older than me and his character was always intellectual, trying to be a writer or an actor or something, struggling with depression and jazz and the meaning of life. I was a happy-go-lucky kind of make-believe character who was into pop music. It’s not really a real person so my image was like some weird Mark Bolan fairy, some Camden goth. That is an amazing character — it’s like you’re not even real, you’re an angel or something — but when you get older, it’s harder to keep that completely going.”
But that’s not to say his work will be any worse now, just different.
“I think when you hit 40, you’ve kind of done everything. You’ve had a job, you’ve had a shit job, you’ve had a good job, you’ve had money, you’ve had no money, you’ve been in love, you’ve been chucked, you’ve had your heart broken, you’ve done everything. By that point, I think maybe you start going ‘what are we doing here?’. You start looking for some meaning in the universe or getting philosophical. Or, you have to have a child and live all that again through them. By the time you’ve got to 40, you’re going ‘What is this? This is well weird. Why are we here?”
Traces of these little existential crises may be present in the new experiments all over Noel’s career. Over the past few years he’s increasingly embraced his visual art regularly exhibiting work around London. He’s walked away from a third season of the critically-divided Luxury Comedy in the hopes of developing something different (likely another show with the UK’s Channel 4, but possibly a Boosh movie if Julian Barratt has the time). And, just a few weeks after touring Australia this year, he lost his gig at Never Mind The Buzzcocks — the much-loved music quiz show he’d appeared on for the past eight years.
“I miss that show,” Noel says. “It was the only proper job I ever had. There was the crew, and the production; it was like I had a real job. I don’t know [why they got rid of it]. They could have given it a bit of send-off, they were like ‘Right, that’s it’ one day with no explanation.”
In its place he now has this stage show. He’s been touring all year, doing press around the world, and is about to head off for the US. (“God knows what they’ll make of it,” he adds). In one particularly satisfying moment his press tour collided with that of Ronnie Wood’s new book and he was asked to interview him — a move which was as exciting for him as this moment is for me.
“He’s hilarious,” Noel says. “He is so nice, we got on so well. I absolutely love The Rolling Stones, they’re like a religion in my house. He was amazing, he had stories about Hendrix and Clapton… It was crazy to sit and chat to him about that stuff.”
“I met Mick and Keith once before as well,” he adds, without realising just how crazy these stories are to me. “I went to a festival at the Isle of Wight and they were playing. They chartered a ferry back to England on the Friday night and I got on and sat with Ronnie Wood and Bobby Keys. Mick Jagger winked at me and I shook hands with Keith Richards so it was pretty cool. I can retire now. I’m happy.”
I mention that I was pretty aware of his love for the Stones. When he was on tour in Melbourne he challenged a friend of a friend of mine to a “Jagger-off” at Melbourne’s renowned rock dive Cherry Bar. This is relatively upsetting news for him.
“Oh my God,” Noel says. “I was very drunk. When you get on tour, you always think ‘No, I’m not going to drink this time, I’m going to be ultra good’, but then the gigs are such fun. You can only really pump out three or four gigs before you can’t sleep. You have too much adrenaline, you’re all pumped up. About every four or five days, you end up in Cherry Bar having a Jagger-off with some stranger from Melbourne.”
He laughs when I tell him I have a pretty great photo of it.
“Those things happen. That’s what happens when you’re 42. Look at Jagger, he’s still going and he’s 72. I’m like a newborn compared to him. You’ll have to come and watch me have a Jagger-off next time I’m in Australia.”
It’s an offer both I, and that eternally devoted 15-year-old version of myself, could never refuse.
An Evening With Noel Fielding is out on DVD now.
Final image courtesy of Niall Howard. Not to be republished without permission.