Comedy seems to be something of a curse for Noel Fielding. He’s been doing it for long enough but he jokes that writing is like “stabbing yourself in the eye with a biro” and complains that being a comedian is like “a mental illness because you’re always watching it back thinking ‘Oh why did I do that?! Why did I say it like that?!’ You can never get it right.” However, that hasn’t stopped him; he has hopes of penning a feature film and will start an extended UK tour of ‘An Evening with’ this winter. With so much lined up, it’s no surprise that I catch him fully caffeinated: two coffees in, with Jeff Goldblum cresting the horizon. “I’m pretty hyper anyway, so anything that makes you fast, I literally turn into The Fly” he says, with a buzz of laughter.
“What I like about [stand-up] is that it’s kind of Punk…” he replies when I ask him about the attraction of being back in front of a crowd, “If it’s not working then you know about it straight away.” Even if his bubbly personality and ability to laugh at just about anything makes him the polar opposite of ‘Punk’, he’s not one to play it safe on stage and recalls a routine at a charity gig that was completely out of place. “Sometimes, as a stand-up you’re just a bit of a pervert, you know, you go towards the danger, because you can do gigs, and you know how to do them (in front of your own crowd) so you try and make it harder for yourself. Like, I wonder if I could do this tied up in a sack. It’s idiotic really”. Fortunately, he has managed to spend his entire career surrounded by people who think in the same way. Rather than help untie the sack, they tend to get distracted by the colour of the rope, “In the Boosh we just used to try and make each other laugh, because you’ve done the show every which way you can, you’ve stretched it, you’ve added bits, but you still have to remain disciplined and remember that people coming to the show are seeing it for the first time. It is hard to do that, especially when you’ve got Rich Fulcher in the show, because he never says the same thing twice so it’s quite easy to go off on a tangent.”
A long standing member of the comedian’s idiosyncratic creative circle, Rich Fulcher is, according to Noel, the master of curve-ball one-liners. “There was a bit where he used to come out as a robot in the future, and I’d ask what he’d been doing and he used to say, ‘I’ve been fucking…’ and it was something different every night. Once he said ‘I’ve been fucking a burnt shephards pie’”, he lets out another stifled giggle, “but it’s the perfect example of the words and the way the words sound; it is poetry in a way.” This touches on the style that gave Boosh part of its appeal as Noel demonstrates, suddenly pacing through a few well-remembered lines: “I’ll be all over you like a flannel, I think in the first series of Mighty Boosh I said you’re as edgy as a satsuma,” he continues, satisfied, “Satsuma is such a great punchline.” I agree, but wonder if there’s any trick to coming up with these verbal knockouts: “It’s like trying to handcuff lightning, catching it while it comes out fresh.” Noel and Julian preferred to leave their script only part-internalised for just that reason, “so that it was still zingy”, and could be re-written on the spot.
Zing, lightning and satsumas are just some of the things required for a successful script, but what Noel insists you don’t need is too much control. Luxury Comedy (or “the weirdest show I’ve ever made”) is a case in point: “I think editing yourself and writing it and being in it is just too much. Someone should have just gone ‘you can’t edit yourself, this is madness.’” He recalls spending a long time making everything look as good as it sounded, but with hindsight sees that “like Lee Mavers – I was probably trying to put 60s dust into it,” a neat reference to an anecdote he’d just told about the La’s singer, doubling nicely as a fable about perfectionism. In his head, Mavers, who wrote indie anthem ‘There She Goes’ could apparently hear their debut album without fault, but when it came to recording he soon worked out that, contrary to the inner workings of his mind, the band were running off modern equipment; what they needed was made in the 60s. Pandering to his despotic needs, they re-recorded the entire album on aged machines but something continued to eat away at him. Everything had been cleaned, and as a result, the sound lacked 60s dust. Noel laughs, “Everyone’s thinking by that point: you’ve got to let it go! I totally understand what he was doing, and I feel like that sometimes.”
Luxury Comedy, which had a turbulent two-series run from 2012, split critics and fans in every direction but Noel doesn’t look for a way out and unlike the La’s, won’t be about to sever any association with his work. “Luxury was just a reaction to having done Mighty Boosh for ten years, and also to how famous we’d got, because we didn’t really think – I mean we thought we’d get a cult following, but it did really get ridiculous at one point.” In contrast, “people who’d watched Boosh saw it and went, ‘What’s this?!’ Half of them hated it, and half of them loved it, and in a way – they teach you this in art school – that’s the best reaction.”
Sometimes, as a stand-up, you’re a bit of a pervert. You go towards the danger
Noel doesn’t remember much about Croydon Art School, only that he saw a trained professional “regurgitating goldfish” as part of the apparent ‘entertainment’ during fresher’s week. He admits that he was probably “quite lazy”, going on to say, “if you’re an art student, you just have to look at it as having some time to do what you want.” He lists hanging out with film students and dressing up as Jesus – for stand-up of course. But the most important lesson he learnt at uni came from Turner nominated Dexter Dalwood: “he taught me that there wasn’t any difference between the ideas I was having in my comedy and the ideas I was having in my art. I had sectioned them off in my head, so that was quite revolutionary to me.” Does the divide still exist in some form? “I love painting and drawing but I never try to do too much, because I don’t want to make it into my job… I sort of just do it to relax.” It’s a minor annoyance to him that he puts “too much in” most of the time and compares this to the frenzy of his comedy, concluding that “the simplest stuff is always the best.” Brilliantly, on one occasion, he attacked a watercolour with such vigour that he ended up giving himself repetitive strain injury. “I felt sorry for myself,” he says sheepishly, “then I read about Michelangelo when he was doing the Sistene chapel and was looking up at such an angle all the time, that the weight of his brain pushed against his vertebrae and changed the shape of his skeleton. And he almost went blind as well. I thought, well, I should probably stop moaning.”
It’s impossible to have a dull conversation with Noel Fielding, darting as he does from one topic to another, and then out of the room, to hunt down a delivery man who seemed intent on disappearing. A few minutes later he comes back with the parcel, a film – inspiration for his own – picks up the thread again and returns to the point. “There is some weird thing that happens with art” referring to how serious everyone is about it, “why not imagine that when the artist made something he was pissing himself with laughter?’” There’s no point imagining anything else with Noel Fielding because you can almost guarantee that the part-time artist, full-time comedian and former Dondylion – has been doing just that from the very beginning.
Noel Fielding will perform his live show at Scarborough on November 21st. Also available on DVD.