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Noel Fielding’s endless journey through time and space

By Maya-Roisin Slater
Photo: Dave Brown

Photo: Dave Brown

VANCOUVER — In the first episode of The Mighty Boosh, originally broadcast in May of 2004 on BBC Three, a man with an edgy haircut dressed in a red cowboy hat and a purple feather boa can be seen grabbing the testicles of a massive kangaroo puppet in an attempt to save his best friend and coworker who is losing a boxing match against the rabid creature. The man in the hat is Noel Fielding, his losing companion Julian Barratt. They were the creators, writers and stars of the show, an international cult hit that chronicled the adventures of characters Vince Noir (Fielding) and Howard Moon (Barrett) as they lived through surreal adventure after surreal adventure. Starting as a live show, then making its way to radio, and finally landing on television, it’s been 12 years since The Mighty Boosh first aired on BBC. Since the show’s end the pair have gone on to pursue individual creative projects, Barrett acting in television shows and movies, Fielding doing the same, as well as getting back to his roots of live performance. Calling in the middle of the tour for his stage show, An Evening With Noel Fielding, he is in Toronto lying on a bed at the Fairmont Hotel, surrounded by a variety of vintage coats.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’ve got a disease,” says Fielding of his compulsion to buy used outerwear. After a whirlwind career starring in a popular comedy program, touring the world with it, getting wrapped up in the raging London night scene of the early to mid-2000s, starring in another popular comedy program, then setting out for a new world tour of stand up and sketches, coming out on the other end with nothing more than an affection for ’70s era parkas is a pretty wholesome problem to have.

“I thought about doing stand up at my university but that seemed really scary. So I did a performance art thing at college where you had to do an act to do with a book. I dressed up as Jesus and sang Jumping Jack Flash, that was my first gig really, I built a big cross and jumped off it. I did a little bit of stand up as Jesus, talking about lepers and miracles. I couldn’t even grow a beard yet, I had to paint one on. Then I started doing gigs at the university, but as Jesus. Then I suddenly thought, I’m quite good at this, but I can’t just pretend to be Jesus, that’s ridiculous. So I booked a proper gig out in the real world,” says Fielding. That proper gig in the real world took place in Cambridge, Fielding and three friends piled in for the drive. The show had a full audience, but due to a particularly sinister bout of fog on the highway, few of the other comedians showed up. Fielding, the shy art school kid who’d cut his teeth impersonating religious figures, was understandably nervous. “Phil Jupitus was there, which is insane really that he was at my first gig and we ended up doing Nevermind the Buzzcocks together years later. I just panicked, I thought I couldn’t do it. Then Phil gave me a big hug and said ‘Just try, don’t worry about it.’” Fielding’s expected five minutes turned into 15, the audience laughed, and he was hooked. Continuing on the stand up circuit, Fielding was eventually booked on the same show as Barrett. “I absolutely stormed it and he went on after me and was furious because I’d gone on and done all the weird stuff. Then he gave me a lift home. I was with four girls, I don’t know why, but he told me after the only reason he gave me a lift home was because I was surrounded by girls. Then when we got to my house I said ‘Julian you do know if you come in you can never leave?’ and he said ‘Yeah, that’s fine, I haven’t got much on anyway.’ The next day he phoned me up and we started writing.”

From that point onward, The Mighty Boosh consumed their lives. Winning the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival lead to a string of live shows, eventually they built a studio in Shoreditch and turned the show into an audio program, following that it ran on television for three years, bred two live tours, a book, and even a mobile phone app. “That 11 years just became a blur,” says Fielding. “We worked very hard, but it was fun. That’s the most fun you can have, lugging all your props into a van and then driving all the way to places in the middle of night and back, you don’t get in until five in the morning, you’ve got to carry stuff down three flights of stairs, that’s all the fun stuff. Then once you sort of get there, you get a successful TV show or a tour, it’s more the journey there that’s the fun of it. We did have a really good time, I do miss the Boosh a bit. But at that point in England it did get a little crazy.” Propagated by the many free newspapers reporting on the London night scene at the time, Fielding became a cover boy and a face associated with fantastical indulgence. Pictured in all sorts of outlandish hats, giving Courtney Love a kiss on the cheek, or with Blake-Fielder Civil stretching one arm around him and the other around Amy Winehouse. Fielding explains, “It’s like it’s your birthday everyday. I was just hanging out with all sorts of famous people and partying too much, and became sort of famous in England in that weird tabloid-y way. It got a bit much, some crazy stuff happened, because you’re living life quite extremely, extreme things happen, you’re with extreme people. I loved it and I wouldn’t change anything, I had a good time. But I guess there’s only so long you can do that without going mad. I was writing all day, going out all night, doing gigs, I was not sleeping or looking after myself. But it was brilliant, I would recommend it to everyone.”

Post-Boosh, Fielding’s next independently run project was a surreal sketch show entitled Luxury Comedy. The program had dramatically mixed reactions, where the Boosh was bizarre and familiar, Luxury Comedy was like an acid trip so bad you had to laugh. “I think because with the Boosh we did a lot of touring, a big 100 show tour of arenas, by the time I finished all that I had a backlog of stuff in my mind. I guess really Luxury Comedy was just me opening my head and letting everything out. It was kind of supposed to be an experimental show. I guess probably because of the success of the Boosh, the expectation of what Luxury Comedy should’ve been was enormous. People didn’t want Luxury Comedy, after the Boosh, they didn’t want to see anything that wasn’t Julian and I together. So it was very difficult,” Fielding explains. The reason the show was so significantly more absurd than his previous projects had much to do with his headspace at the time. “I wanted to make something crazy. It was probably a reaction to fame. A reaction to too much partying, fame, the Boosh getting huge, a reaction to everything that was going on at the time, I’d broken up with someone I’d been with for 10 years, I’d lost a lot of old friends, and gained a lot of new ones that weren’t necessarily that good people. Maybe Luxury Comedy, the first season, should’ve been called This Is What Happens When You Get Famous. Fielding describes the nature of Luxury Comedy as a room with no ceiling, and no floor “It was just see you later I’ve left you with a compass and pulled your trousers down spun you round kicked you out of this plane, give me a call when you’re finished.”

His current project, An Evening With Noel Fielding, is touring around North America right now. He says the show uses the best bits of Luxury Comedy, with some characters from the Mighty Boosh, a sprinkle of stand up, and some mild kidnapping. Having done the show over a hundred times for audiences around the world, he describes it as very honed. Travelling across continents with suitcases stuffed full of dusty jackets, all laced up in some sort of gaudy silver boot, Noel Fielding is living a life usually reserved for the protagonists of left-of-centre children’s novels. A cockney Willy Wonka type figure, Fielding has made a career of turning the grotesque Dickensian aspects of life into charming characters drenched in loud colours and primary school-era glitter glue. Challenging reality is a strange job, but somebody has to do it.

An Evening With Noel Fielding will be at the Vogue Theatre on April 9.

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