Bish, bash, boosh: how The Mighty Boosh started to believe its own hype

Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt’s odd-couple sitcom started out joyously quotable but soon descended into smug nonsense

Picture, if you will, a scene. It is 2004. Hot new rock sensation Kings of Leon are causing a “check shirt and beard” epidemic to engulf the entire middle class of the UK. People are actually saying things like: “Did you see Lost? I can’t wait to see what they’ve got planned for the ending!” And you, thumbs still raw from a gruelling Mario Kart: Double Dash marathon, are idly flicking through the channels one evening, and you stumble across an odd little BBC sitcom called The Mighty Boosh. Within minutes, you have decided The Mighty Boosh is the greatest thing you have ever seen.

It was, however, difficult to describe. “So, right, there’s these two zoopkeepers,” you’d yammer, “only one’s like a rock star and the other’s a jazz weirdo, and there’s a talking gorilla called Bollo and a shaman called Naboo – yes, like the planet in The Phantom Menace – and they go on magical adventures and do these songs, proper songs, but also these weird made-up sort of raps.” The person you’re talking to generally then asked you to go away. Occasionally, though, very occasionally, their beady little eyes lit up. “Yes!” they’d honk. “The Boosh!” And then, apropos of nothing but your sheer companionable joy, you both broke into an off-the-cuff rendition of Calm a Llama Down.

Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding.
All mouth… Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. Photograph: BBC/Baby Cow Productions

That’s what The Mighty Boosh was, for a time. A club. A wonderful little secret between the like-minded. It obviously helped that, as a comedy, it was also objectively brilliant. Shorn of its psychedelic fruffery, the Boosh was the flatpack model of a classic odd-couple sitcom: Noel Fielding’s Vince Noir was cool, affable, yet thunkingly naive; Julian Barratt’s sadsack Howard Moon wore personal and professional resentments like ballast around his neck. Both were losers, stuck together, them against the world. Their back-and-forth bickering – honed in live performances and on the Boosh radio show – were pin-sharp masterclasses in joyously quotable nonsense.

The second series ditched the zoo for a more conventional flatshare dynamic, but the Boosh magic survived, comely DIY aesthetic, funny little “crimp” raps and all. By now the series was also hugely popular: live tours saw theatres packed out with fans dressed up as their favourite characters. “I’m Old Gregg!” bellowed from every stinking undergrad halls of residence. All was well with the Boosh. Until suddenly it wasn’t.

Somewhere between the second and third series, the Boosh started to believe its own hype. Live shows became gigs, Fielding and Barratt living out their own rock’n’roll fantasies. The third series was – Crack Fox aside – dry, uninspired, overly slick, self-referential and smug. Vince and Howard were retrofitted as “cool” minor celebrities of their little corner of hipster Dalston. They weren’t losers any more. The underdogs we fell in love with were gone. The nadir came with the arrival of Vince and Howard’s lookalike superfans, Lance Dior and Harold Bloom, who challenged our pair to a “crimp-off”. It was a self-satisfied deconstruction of the fan culture the Boosh had spawned. Unforgivably, it also simply wasn’t funny.

We’ll always have those first two series, though. Come on, all together now: “Calm a llama down, calm a llama deep down...”


Luke Holland

The GuardianTramp

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