NOEL FIELDING (NOEL): Hello.
ALLAN SKO (BMA): O hello Noel mate, how are you?
NOEL: <Chuckles, in that very special way of his> I’m alright, good, I’m fine thanks... How are you?
BMA: I’m not too bad at all, ta for asking; thanks for making time in your hectic schedule to have a chat.
NOEL: It’s alright. It’s quite early in the morning and I might be a bit comatose; I’m rubbish in the mornings.
BMA: Well you’re doing well so far.
NOEL: By the end I won’t care, I’ll just be making stuff up. Imagine if you did interviews all the same? It would be so boring.
BMA: I’m sure you get the same questions again and again and I can just imagine the poor interviewee on the other end of the phone, slowly, smashing their head against a brick wall.
NOEL: <Laughs> Their souls slightly dying... I don’t mind interviews! I like chatting.
BMA: Well, that’s good to hear. I actually had the pleasure of looking after your brother [Michael Fielding, who plays Naboo in The Mighty Boosh and Smooth in Luxury Comedy... But you knew that already, right?] when he was “exposing his mad DJ skills” to Australia.
NOEL: Oh my God... I saw some footage of that, actually. It’s crazy, it’s just a load of people screaming and shouting. Hilarious!
BMA: Yeah... He’s a lot taller in real life.
NOEL: <Laughs> Yeeeeeah, a lot taller than what? A dog?
<Laughter all round>
BMA: Well, I suppose, onto the actual thing... Hearty congratulations on an absolutely insane new series. It’s brilliant. If someone asked me to describe it, I say it’s like a children’s show for adults. Do you think that’s a fair summation?
NOEL: Yeah, per-fect! That’s what we thought as well. We were thinking ‘What is it like?’ It’s kind of like a fucked up children’s show. It was fun actually. After the Boosh, we’d done so much stuff with the Boosh, we’d worked together for so long... I just kinda had some ideas, some characters and animations techniques and I wanted to try some stuff out really, and just leave it quite loose and make it pretty random. What we want to do with the second series is take some of those elements and mould them into bit more of a story and maybe involve a live audience as well... I’m not sure yet. I’m getting excited. Maybe have a bit more narrative and stuff. I feel like I can go back to that. We did so many stories for the Boosh I felt I couldn’t do that when I first wrote something on my own but now I feel like I can go back there, back to the narrative beast, which is a nightmare unto itself, a tapestry of madness, like a Japanese jigsaw. But it’s worth it in the end.
BMA: A live audience? That’s going to be an interesting concept for such a show.
[See what we mean here at the Many Faces of Noel Fielding Gallery... We agonised for ages on the cover shot. Which pic would have you chosen for the cover?]
NOEL: Well I’ve never done that for a TV show so I quite fancy the idea of it. But I don’t know how that will work practically but it could be good. I think if there’s an audience there, it just makes everyone a little bit more on top of their game, you know? You try and be extra charming. Whereas when you film in a sound stage it can get a bit gloomy and hard to keep the energy up and stuff. Might be fun having an audience. And I’d love to do it live, I’d love to come and do some shows in Australia and America.
BMA: It would be nothing short of insane, you’d be absolutely exhausted by the end of it as far as costume changes go.
NOEL: <Laughs heartily> Yeah but we’re used to that, that’s alright, in the Boosh it was like that there, but then there was more people in the Boosh so it was easier. We could always stick Rich Fulcher [Bob Fossil] out if we needed to buy some time.
BMA: The ultimate time waster!
NOEL: <Laughs heartily> He can hold a crowd (he says with a loaded tone). He knows what he’s doing.
BMA: Leaves people mystified. You could get a series of some 20 tear-away costumes and just bit by bit rip them off for each sketch.
NOEL: Ahhh now that’s quite good, like one big costume that you get rid of each layer? That would be amazing.
BMA: That’s right. And then ultimately end with tearing off your own skin. That’s the finale to end all finales.
NOEL: <Delivers a cackle a hyena would be proud of> Like Russian dolls, going too far. ‘How many have I done? Nine or ten?’ And then the last one’s your own skin, and then you just dance about as a skeleton.
BMA: It’s all gone terribly wrong.
NOEL: <That familiar husky Mutley-like wheeze continues> Done to the bone. That would be good.
BMA: Only problem is, you can only perform it once.
NOEL: ‘Have you seen Noel Fielding’s show? He tears his own skin off and becomes a skeleton.’/’I’ll have to check that out; is it funny?’/’No, it’s horrific, but anyway, it’s something.’
BMA: I’ll never sleep again; very visceral work.
NOEL: ‘But don’t bother trying to see it; he can only do one show. Every show he has to have months of intensive surgery afterwards but it’s definitely a good show.’ Imagine if I did that and got bad reviews?
BMA: Bad reviews hurt at the best of times but that one would have a particular sting to it.
NOEL: The idea that you’d kill yourself on stage - I don’t think anyone has ever done it - but it’s such a fascinating idea that you would just go that far for your art. But I sort of think, people are like ‘Yeah! That would be quite an amazing thing to do’, but no one’s ever actually had the balls to do it.
BMA: No, I’m surprised no one’s had the balls yet. There was an Absolute Power episode - with old Stephen Fry - about just that.
NOEL: Really? Ahhhhhh... I’ll have to see that.
BMA: So people have had the idea of it, but no one’s actually done it.
NOEL: No one’s had the balls!
BMA: Charlie Brooker’s recent Black Mirror had a bit of an idea of that; a conceptual artist killing himself as a finale to an art piece. So the idea’s out there, but no one’s seized the mantle yet. Maybe this is your time to shine.
NOEL: It’s a powerful notion isn’t it? That you could actually do that. But also you wouldn’t be around to know how it went.
BMA: Some would argue that’s a good thing.
NOEL: Yeah, maybe! <laughs> Traumatizing an entire crowd.
BMA: If you got a bad review, you literally wouldn’t be able to live with it.
NOEL: <Laughs heartily> I suppose the thing about comedy is that comedians have died on stage many times already in their careers. So I don’t know what would be worse; a physical death, or a comedy death. Comedy death is probably more painful.
BMA: Well yes, because you’re alive to feel it really aren’t you?
NOEL: Yeah! Those moments never leave you. One of my first ever gigs was just horrific... No one was heckling, no one knew what was going on so it was just <whispered> silence. I was being paid to do 20 minutes and it went on and on and on. My friend was with me and he was watching from the side of the stage and I could hear him laughing because it was horrifically funny for me and him but it couldn’t be any worse. And I remember that gig so clearly, but gigs where you play the O2 Arena or Brixton Academy - big massive Boosh gig, really incredible, everyone loving it, standing ovation... <Low voice> Can’t remember them at all. <bursts into laughter> Blinded by your own ego; you can’t remember anything! <laughs> But these bad ones they’re gonna be there; my life when I die, when your life flashes before you, is just gonna be bad gigs. Not all of it, but at least 15 minutes is gonna be bad gigs!
BMA: A stony awkward silence... And then you die. Good to know, really.
NOEL: <Laughs heartily> Ahhhh comedy... What a weird thing to do.
BMA: I know, right? I was speaking to Bill Bailey ages ago and learned that we were one bad gig away from losing him as a comic. This was back when he was strutting the boards of Bath for his first gigs and he apparently had two bad gigs in a row and said to himself, ‘Right, this is terrible, this is horrible, if I have one more of these I’m obviously not meant to be a comic’ and he was going to pursue his musical career. Fortunately the third went well and he is the bearded bringer of mirth we know today.
NOEL: Wow <sounding genuinely awed>. That’s interesting, isn’t it? Often comedians say that the first one is really good, and then you have a lot of bad ones after, but you’re always chasing the dream of that first gig. ‘It CAN be good, it was good once!’
BMA: Like chasing the A-class train, you’re always trying to get back to that first experience with acid.
NOEL: I know, it’s crazy.
BMA: As far as Luxury Comedy goes, it simultaneously feels like you’ve opened up your mind and poured everything out without censorship or editing whilst at the same time it feels like intense fine tuning has gone into it. Which one is closer to the truth?
NOEL: I think what happened was we just thought let’s do a lot of ideas. If they’re a three minute idea fine; if they’re a 30 second idea fine; if they’re eight minutes fine, let’s allow them the time they deserve. And if they’re just a one-off that’s fine, it will just be a completely random show.
But then unfortunately the thing with me is I write in a certain way where I like to have a regular group of people around me where I can do stuff that’s a little bit more sitcom-y. So there was all this sketch stuff where I play a version of myself and I had a butler who was Andy Warhol and this girl and I quite got into that as well so in the end the show turned into a half sketch half sitcom hybrid which probably was slightly inelegant but we didn’t care we just thought ‘fuck it, let’s just do everything we want to do’ it was like machinegun fire, just opening up the head, and there was a sort of punkness to that I really like. There was a purity to that. And it was a bit wonky in places, some of them not as good as the others, some bits are great, but that’s what I needed to do after the Boosh, I’d been in the Boosh for a long time and it was very specific what we did, this double act where’s there’s always a story and we knew how to do it, but we’d done a lot of executions of that idea and this was just me going a bit crazy. Especially with the colours.
I worked with my friend who I went to art school with who is an animator and it was like, aesthetically we just wanted to make something that was beautiful but it was too much work in the end for just two people <laughs> It nearly killed him! I guess also if you have lots and lots of money and a big amount of people working on that the likes of Disney or Pixar you could knock that out in a week but because it was just us two it was quite a task. I think I nearly killed my best friend, the director and animator doing it.
BMA: And is that Nigel Coan, your best friend?
NOEL: Yeah. He’s brilliant, he came up with so many techniques and directed it at the same time and sort of helped me write so it was difficult for him. He’s not really a comedian, more an animator, so he was trusting my comic instincts and I was trusting his aesthetic and we were both getting involved. But it was an interesting thing to do as it felt more like an art project or something. The way we approached it. I probably made a mistake calling it Luxury Comedy! <laughs> Actually we gave certain ideas like the music and the aesthetic as much attention as the comedy, we tried to give everything the same level of importance. With the music I ended up working with Sergio from Kasabian, we wrote the tunes together, and we took that really seriously as well, so it was like ‘let’s make the music really good, and the look of it really good, and the comedy...' I think we tried to do too much really and I think we can simplify it. But Channel 4 are good; they gave me a second series almost straight away, they were happy for me to experiment on telly, and I’m not sure many people are given the chance to do that.
BMA: Which is fantastic. Harks back to the days of the Monty Python lads going in and pitching an idea for a comedy series, TV execs asked what's going to be in it, they said they didn’t know and the execs were like, ‘Brilliant, here’s a bag of money, go make 12 episodes’. In this day and age TV execs understandably have to play it safe so it’s refreshing to see a show like yours just go there.
NOEL: It’s much harder now to get things made, because of reality TV. It is weird, the two people who commissioned my show are always joking about getting fired, it’s hilarious, but I think they do live under a terrifying fear that they’re gonna get fired, or that they’re jobs aren’t for long! But they’ve got the attitude of, ‘Fuck it, let’s just be mavericks!’ and just commit to unusual interesting stuff and all the things they genuinely believe in. They’d rather do that. But I think a lot of execs have a cushy number and they just think, ‘Ahhhh we’ll just do another one of these reality things’. I mean, things like Big Brother in this country - it was on Channel 4 for a long time and it’s moved to Channel 5 now - and it’s still pretty popular.
BMA: It’s just about to be re-booted here in Australia; it pissed off for about three years and it’s just about to start back up again.
NOEL: There’s genuinely something unbelievably sort of more-ish about it. Just watching people do nothing! It’s like heroin, it’s more-ish.
BMA: I just feel they should make it a little bit more sadistic somehow. Deprive them of a few more things to the point where they basically end up like the Dondylion.
NOEL: <Laughs> All going insane, killing each other. It feels tame, doesn’t it? We’ve got so many permutations of it now where it’s all about sex. We’ve got one called Geordie Shore, it’s based on Jersey Shore, and it’s basically people in their early 20s having lots of sex. It makes Big Brother seem really tame, and there’s a lot [of other shows] that do. There’s so many different versions of reality TV now. I didn’t think the idea was that big or strong to begin with...
BMA: I’m with you there.
NOEL: ...but they just keep managing to find a new spin or twist on it, which is actually quite amazing in a way. And I’m the same as everyone else as well, I fully understand the idea of those show. Sometimes when I’m really tired and I come in I don’t want to watch something complicated or intricate or something brilliant like Madmen because I go ‘I can’t be bothered, I just want to watch something really mundane coz my brain needs to switch off!’ That’s why I watch Project Runway <laughs> It’s got to be both though! It’s gotta be Project Runway AND something really intricate and amazing. It’s getting harder to make more intricate stuff with a script.
Who’s that guy who did Summer Heights High? Chris Lilley. He makes interesting shows. He looks like he’s making it for himself, it’s pretty unusual. And in America there’s a lot of unusual stuff going on, it’s just in England there doesn’t seem to be that much. So I’m out there on my own, freaking people out!
BMA: The hook for me in your show... I’d had a crazy mad busy day, head was absolutely shattered, they’d just started showing it on ABC over here, it was about 10:30pm at night and then the Daddy Push grooving away to spoken word Sherlock Holmes bit came on and I basically lost it, and I thought right that’s it... I’m sticking around for this.
NOEL: <hearty laugh> Thank you. I’d love to do a film with Daddy Push. He’s like a horrific Mr Bean.
BMA: A Charlie Chaplin style flick; that would be magic. Does a character like Daddy Push jackknife into your brain space or does that come from workshopping?
NOEL: Yeah, I was taken with the idea of doing some silent comedy; I really like Jaques Tati, Buster Keaton and I like a lot of silent comedy and nobody really does it any more. I thought you can’t do a whole show but you could have a character with visual jokes, bit more cartoony. And then Nigel the director, his son found a shell on the beach when they were on holiday and it looked like a face, and we were always laughing at it and going, ‘that’s ridiculous and quite beautiful’. I said I wasn’t sure about having my own face out in this visual comedy thing and Nigel had the idea of using that shell as a mask, photograph it in lots of different angles - it’s almost CGI basically - to transplant that onto my head and we were like, ‘Is that going to work?’ Something about the deadness and the stillness about it is really powerful...
BMA: It’s fascinating...
NOEL: It’s also like there’s nothing inside it. A lot of people think it’s a mask, hilariously, but Nigel painstakingly creates that over the top of my own head. And if I don’t keep still enough, it creates an extra week of work for him. It’s a nightmare! <laughs>
BMA: Well I’m here to report I thought it was a mask too, so that’s a job well done.
NOEL: He’d love that. He’d say, ‘my job’s done’.
BMA: Nice work Nige. I love the little physical gestures as well; the flexing of the hands, it’s great.
NOEL: Well thank you very much. Hopefully I can come and perform it live for you. I think that would be the funnest thing to do.
BMA: Well, I’ve looked after your brother, so I might as well collect the whole Fielding set.
NOEL: Perfect. Yeah definitely, I’d love to.
BMA: One last quick question - it’s 20 mins we’ve got, yeah?
NOEL: Yeah, I think so.
BMA: Alright, well I better piss off so I don’t throw out your schedule. You said Luxury Comedy is such of malaise of ideas and that some of it works and some of it doesn’t... Do you have characters or moments that you’re particularly proud of or really happy with?
NOEL: Well I like Fantasy Man...
BMA: I absolutely adore Fantasy Man.
NOEL: ...And I like the cop [Sergeant Raymond Boombox], and Dondylion. They’re the three main ones. And I like Daddy Push actually, and Secret Peter. So I’m going to use those ones in the second series - pick the best ones. I mean, there was obviously <laughs the next words out> some ones which are just for myself, like Doorag and The Audience. I think you’ve got to do some stuff to keep people in their toes.
BMA: One of my friends, who also adores the show, we’ll ring each other up and huskily say “A mashed po-ta-to re-vol-verrrrrr” down the phone and just hang up.
NOEL: <Laughs> The song they did went down quite well, the Mashed Potato Utopia eurosong, so y’know there were a few moments that made characters successful but in the end there’s just too many, so a lot of them didn’t get enough screen time; some of them you didn’t get to know them well enough. So in the second one I’m going to keep the successful ones, come up with new ones. I’ve got a new one that I’m pretty excited about called The Human Mistake who bores through the earth’s core into award ceremonies and then receives an award and says really inappropriate things, his speeches are always absolutely horrific; everyone pukes up or is absolutely disgusted and then he bores back through the earth, leaving the people to say, “Awww, The Human Mistake...”. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be a winner!
BMA: That sounds magnificent; I thoroughly look forward to that. Well even things like with the Jelly Fox, my dear friend and columnist, a man by the name of Scott Adams, loved the sketch simply because the way you say ‘diabetes’ (‘die-uh-bee-tessss’) is exactly how his aunt says it. So it’s the little things that make all the difference.
NOEL: Well brilliant, thank you. That’s amazing.
BMA: Awesome mate, well I better let you go. I could gleefully gasbag to you all evening...
NOEL: I know. I could. It’s been great, thank you.
BMA: Likewise mate. Thanks so much for the time; I’ve been a huge fan of your work for many a year now and the chance to grab a cheeky 25 minutes has been a joyful one, so thanks so much.
NOEL: Well thank you, it’s been brilliant speaking with you, thank you so much.
BMA: Keep up the good work, and best of luck for the remaining interviews.
NOEL: Thank you. Hopefully I’ll get to tour out there soon!
BMA: Good on you mate. See you, Noel.
NOEL: Bye... Actually wait... One last thing... I know this is going to sound crazy, I mean we’ve only been talking for 25 minutes but well... I think you’re one of the funniest people I’ve ever spoken to and I think I love you. Would you like to co-write the next series of the Boosh with me instead of Julian Barratt?
BMA: Well, I’m very flattered Noel, but I don’t think you actually said any of that last paragraph for real and I believe the writer Allan is taking extreme liberties with the transcribing that are frankly deranged and borderline libellous, so I think it best we end things here.
Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy is out on DVD on August 22.