The British comedian Noel Fielding is probably best known for his role as Vince Noir in the surrealist BBC television comedy The Mighty Boosh. The show was the brainchild of Fielding and Julian Barratt, who played jazz-loving Howard Moon, and came to an end in 2009 with a final British stage show.
Fielding is in Australia for the Melbourne International Comedy festival 2015, and will then take his solo show, An Evening with Noel Fielding, around the country.
Guardian Australia caught up with Fielding on a drizzly Melbourne afternoon to hear his thoughts about his solo show, the dangers of shaving foam and the possibility of a Boosh film.
An Evening with Noel Fielding conjures up images of leather wingback chairs and a glass of scotch by a roaring fire. Is that what audiences should expect?
I thought, “What would Barrie Humphries call his show?” There’s something quite classic about An Evening with Noel Fielding.
I’m trying to achieve a lot in two hours. There’s stand-up and my brother Mike and Tom Meeton are in the show. [Mighty Boosh character] the Moon’s in it – he’s got a dark side now, so you never know if you’re going to get the Moon or “the dark side of the moon”. There is some animation, sketches and music I’ve done with Serge [Pizzorno] from Kasabian.
How much cream do you use on your face to be the Moon?
Lots and it fucking kills. No one really knows this, but if you leave shaving cream on your face for two hours, your face starts to burn and goes bright red and swollen. So you need to get the right one. The worst ones are those that say they are for sensitive skin or have aloe vera – they really set your face on fire.
The ones that don’t hurt are the old-fashioned ones that just say “foam”. Basic shaving foam.
Do you give much thought to the structure of your show or is it all pretty freewheeling?
Julian used to call it a “loose basket of ideas” or a “loose cardigan of ideas”. We knew we had to hit certain points; you’ve got to get to good jokes along the way so the audience doesn’t get bored. But you could always orbit those ideas – go off and come back.
Sometimes with the Boosh it got too loose. We thought it was fun but then we’d watch it back and go, “Fuck, we need to tighten this up.” If everything is loose, it starts to get baggy. Our director would say, “Cut half an hour, you idiots”, and we’d say, “What? We’re Miles Davis.”
Should audiences expect an old-fashioned variety show, in a way?
I just like to build. Don’t get me wrong, I think stand-up is great, and when someone like Richard Prior or Steve Martin does stand-up there’s nothing better in the world. But I don’t want to watch a lot of stand-ups for two hours. So I can do 45 minutes of stand-up and then say, “Can we do something else now?”
I apply that to what the audience is thinking. I like to warm them up with stand-up, get them into my world and tone, and then bring other characters on. There’s so much you can do theatrically on stage. You keep changing the direction and angles and then people don’t get bored. The kind of humour can stay the same but you’re putting lots of different spins on it.
Do you think audiences demand that now?
Me and Julian always thought we should give audiences value for money, so the Boosh was always really long, lots of props and we’d spend most of the money on the show. We wanted everything – animation, the Moon, Marilyn Manson’s tour bus, five star hotels. “You know you’ll make 13 pence after this tour?” “Fuck it, it’ll be a good show.”
How do Australian audiences differ from British ones?
In a way, the Australians got the Boosh quicker than the English ever did. When we came here people were like, “Yep, we like it.” They just knew what they wanted from English comedians and we seemed to fit that mould perfectly.
The Goons were always one of our favourites, we always felt we were in that tradition – Goons, Monty Python, Peter Cook, Vic and Bob, Spike Milligan. We felt we were part of that lineage, but in England it wasn’t happening like that. There was a brand of comedy like The Office, which was very real. That was brilliant as well but it wasn’t what we did, it wasn’t surreal.
Is the Boosh done and dusted now?
The only thing we didn’t do was a film, which me and Julian really wanted to do. We talk about it, and we are talking about it. The trouble is the older you get it’s hard to find time to make a film: it’s a year to write, a year to get money, a year to make it, a year to edit. It’s four years of your life.
So is it going to happen then?
Well we both want it to. Julian is quite busy this year and he’s doing sitcoms on Channel 4 so I’m not sure it’ll happen this year, but we’ll sit down and see if we can get an idea together and, if we can, possibly write something next year.
Would the story be one long narrative?
We’re not sure. When you have five years off, it’s like, “Do we revisit or keep moving forward?” I think you’ve got to keep moving forward. There’s something quite magical about saying, “That’s it, it’s gone.” But I’d love to do a film. It’s down to Julian and when he has time, really.
Could you ever feel unhappy while wearing a cape?
Well, Madonna could.
Would you rather be a Mormon or a merman?
A merman obviously. I am a merman. [Mighty Boosh character] Old Gregg is a merman. I think I peaked with Old Gregg and that’s it. People still say, “Are you Old Gregg?” I think it’ll be on my tombstone.
Do you even like Baileys?
Well, I did at the time. We were into OBD [Ol’ Dirty Bastard] from the Wu Tang Clan and he was drinking Baileys from the bottle. We tried to put a few elements of that into Old Gregg but we had to ask Baileys if we could use it. They said as long as Julian said, “Mmm, that’s delicious.” If you watch that scene, it’ll be like “Baileys is creamy” and then Julian says “Mmm that’s delicious”. And he does it in the most sarcastic way, like “Fuck you.”
I have a festering idea for something that’s a bit like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets The A-Team. People who have shared hallucinations where they go on these quests, but they haven’t actually left the hospital or they are on a roundabout or skip in Oxfordshire.