Come with us now on a journey through time and space…
Noel Fielding is best known for playing the always fashionable and fantastical Vince Noir in The Mighty Boosh, singing intros to songs on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and the weird and wonderful world of his Luxury Comedy on E4. Now he’s taking his unique brand of comedy, animation, and improvisation on tour from Scarborough to San Fransisco, then on to Portland and Preston.
We caught up with the comedian, writer, and goth detective to talk about touring until he’s 70, a whale working in a skyscraper and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.
So you’re on tour at the moment? I did a massive English tour, and then this is an extra month of places and dates we missed out the first time around. It’s another cheeky month of places like Bromley and Glasgow. I don’t know why we didn’t get to those places yet, but we didn’t want to leave anyone out. Since then we’ve been to Australia, and then we’re going to America.
You can’t keep Bromley waiting… I was furious about not doing Bromley. So, yeah, it’s a show that wont die! I’ve done it a lot now, it goes through cycles. Like, by the time you get to 50 gigs you know the show really well and you’ve improvised it a lot and it’s settled in. Then when you get to about 100 dates you go, ‘oh, alright, this is either getting much better or slightly going a bit wonky.’
You improvise quite a lot, so you must be able to mix it up a bit each night? It requires quite a lot of discipline but you have to remember that people haven’t really seen it before. You don’t wanna be too elastic, where you’re having a great time but everyone else is going, ‘what’s happening? You’ve stretched it to the point of madness!’ My brother’s in the show, and Tom Meeten’s in the show – he’s a comedian who I do stuff with on telly – so there’s three of us, it’s fun, we can muck about when we’re in some scenes together. In the second half I play a New York cop and interrogate the audience, that’s the most elastic as I never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know who I’m going to get, that’s the fun part. And then we bring someone on stage and put them inside an animation and they save the whole show. There’s animation, stand-up, sketches and music, there’s a lot going on so hopefully we can keep changing it so that people don’t get bored. It’s quite a long show at two hours. People can get drunk in the interval – who would want two hours of me? No one.
Has it got to the point where you all hate each other? My brother is pretty easy to get on with, he’s like nine years younger than me but we don’t really argue, I’m a bit parental towards him. But Tom and him argue like they’re the brothers, which is quite funny to watch, so I just enjoy that. We’ve got an Australian tour manager and we usually have a tour bus driver. So there’s like a gang of us and the crew traveling separately, and you get to know them. It’s like a proper little gang, it’s good fun. Problem is, you don’t have any responsibilities when you’re on tour. You’re in a tour bus, you get given money to eat and live and you get food. You don’t have to do anything or go to a shop or see a cash machine or anything.
So it’s a bit like being a toddler? It’s weird, you get on a tour bus, sleep on a tour bus, eat on a tour bus and then go to a dressing room where they’ve prepared it all. And then you go on stage, go out drinking, have fun, and then you just get back on the tour bus. It’s like being in a womb. It’s difficult when you come back because you have to make tea for yourself. You sorta just go, ‘well this is weird, I’ve gotta do stuff for myself, gotta make some decisions’. The only decisions you have to make when you’re on tour are in the show, which is great. I can see how rock ’n’ rollers get addicted to it. Like the Rolling Stones who never stopped touring. They’re nearly 70 and you think, ‘fucking hell, why are you still doing that?’ but I can see why, as it’s like a cocoon. It’s quite fun.
So you’re going to keep going until you’re 70? I hope so! [Laughs] If I make it!
How do you translate to Australian and American audiences? Australia is amazing because The Mighty Boosh was quite big over there, a lot of my TV shows were, Never Mind The Buzzcocks was bigger there than it was here. Boosh had a moment here that was great. It was massive, it went a bit arena – for a while we were playing to 15,000 people which was weird for comedy. You drive the tour bus into the arena, everything’s big, it’s fun, but then I don’t know how long you can do that for, the comedy slightly suffers, and when you do a good, big theatre, you sort of realise it’s probably the best place to do comedy.
It’s not as if you’re playing to small audiences now though is it? They’re still sizeable audiences… It’s still places like the Hammersmith Apollo, yeah. It’s just a bit more manageable, whereas with ten or fifteen thousand people you feel a bit like, ‘I don’t know if I’ve got control of this, this could go at any moment’ [Laughs] Like the set pieces were fine, the musical bits were fine, when we brought a band on that was fine, all those visual things were really good, but sometimes there’s a slight gulf created between you and the audience.
So it’s hard to connect with that many people would you say? A little bit, yeah. You’d have to be wearing a meat dress and rolling around like Lady Gaga [Laughs] I mean singing always works, all the things that work in show business work in big rooms, it’s like a cliché, but they do work – pyrotechnics, dancing, singing, a band – all those visual things, they all work a treat in big venues.
Standing on stage doing crimping, does that work? Weirdly enough that was alright, just about, that was good [Laughs] I think there’s a moment where everyone knows what you’re doing and it’s so exciting. It doesn’t last that long, but everyone’s excited – we’re excited to be doing it, they’re excited to come, and it’s like magic for a bit. And then on that last big Boosh tour, we did a hundred dates, we were knackered afterwards. I think Julian just wanted to do something else after that point. He’s six years older than me and I think that, six years later, I’m starting to feel how he did at that point, which I don’t think I understood at the time, I was just having the time of my life.
But you did some live stuff last year didn’t you? We did Jack Black’s festival, that was really good fun, on a pier in Santa Monica. What really freaked me out was that I was walking along the pier and there were dolphins in the sea, I was like ‘wow!’ and all the locals are going ‘yeah, we’ve got dolphins…’ and I couldn’t get my head around it. Like when you go down Brighton pier, you don’t expect to see dolphins, but there were 40 dolphins going past.
We had a whale in London once that’s about the closest we got… Yeah we did, didn’t we? [Laughs] What happened to the whale, did it die? Commit suicide? Did they pick him up, scoop him up and put him in a van? I think I might have done some jokes about him, but I don’t remember what happened to him. Maybe he’s still here, working in The Shard. I’d like to do a gig inside a whale.
We love how you came here to sell your tour and we’re talking about the London whale. [Laughs] Yeah, so I did Australia, and it was going so well, we did so many dates in Melbourne and Sydney, we just kept adding extra dates because they kept selling out, it was like the old Boosh dates, so we thought ‘fuck it, why not film the DVD here?’ So we did. So that’s coming out soon as well, for anyone who still buys DVDs. If you are going to stream it online illegally, just send me twelve pence in the post, I’m starving.
Do you prefer performing live to doing TV shows? Yeah, there’s something about live performances, where you just have to deliver, you have to be funny. It’s a nightmare, but every line’s got to be a joke, you’ve gotta get it right otherwise you’re dying and you feel the pain of that, and you have to keep changing it. It’s like a car, like you’re tweaking the engines of a car, going ‘that didn’t quite work, let’s get rid of that, that works, add something to that’, and you never really stop tinkering with it, you just keep getting better and better and better.
But TV’s not really like that – there’s no audience, you’re just hoping it’s good, and then they film it and it doesn’t quite look how you wanted it to, and then you’ve got to edit it… there’s so many processes before it gets to TV that can make it not as funny as when you were writing it. It’s much harder, especially if you don’t use an audience. I’m writing a new thing that’s on location, which I haven’t really done much of, and it’s sort of piss-take of a reality TV show. It’ll look more like the rest of TV and hopefully the jokes will be stronger.
As someone who’s worked in TV for so long though, you need to mix it up and challenge yourself a bit, don’t you? I think what happened is the Boosh is great, but we worked on that for a long time to get that right, we’d done so many live shows and radio shows, we did everything, so by the time we came to doing telly we were ready, really, the first series was a bit wobbly, the second one we got it, and by the third one it was better, sort of getting better really. I think we should probably have done a film, but we didn’t, so I hope we talk about that sometime. We may still do it, you never know.
We remember at university, everyone in their rooms would have the Boosh DVDs, it was just a thing… I think that really helped us because even the Boosh was a little bit of a slow burner, but I think now it’s tricky to get people to watch things more than once. Young people do, that’s why I think students and teenagers like the Boosh and Luxury Comedy because they have time to do that, and they get quite obsessed about it. But when you get older you haven’t really got time to watch a show four times, you want something easy to watch.
I do it myself, I find myself watching Project Runway or RuPaul’s Drag Race because they’re easy to watch. They’re both good programmes, but you don’t need to put in too much work with reality TV shows – you know what’s going on and you just let it wash over you a little bit, whereas if you’re going to put on something like Breaking Bad you really need to concentrate.
Did you find that the Boosh had a bit of a gay following? I think maybe, because we weren’t very laddish, and we weren’t into sports, we were quite women-friendly and gay-friendly. Funnily enough, even though Vince was quite a flamboyant character, and wore glitter ball suits and stuff and was quite fabulous, I think most gay men fancied Julian, which always surprised him. There was something about Julian that attracted quite a following of gay men. I suppose I was the girl on the show really, and he was the Northern man.