Sometimes you need a reminder that the word fan stems from fanatical. Which is a very appropriate adjective when describing the people who adoringly follow the British comedy series The Mighty Boosh. The sitcom-style fantasy show centered on the lives of Vince Noir [Noel Fielding] and Howard Moon [Julian Barratt] has become a cult-like phenomena in the UK. Growing out of the theater show Barrat and Fielding created nearly ten years ago, The Boosh has evolved from theater to radio to television to touring to appearances at giant music festivals. And now with their show picked up for syndication in the U.S. on Adult Swim, they're about to be opened up to a whole new audience.
With a press trip packaged around the release of their first three complete seasons on DVD (coincidentally coinciding with Comic-Con), the entire cast hit our shores in New York before heading west to the annual San Diego nerd-fest. This gave me the chance to sit down with Barrat and Fielding for quite literally their first interview on U.S. soil. I was also privy to witness their first ever U.S. live appearance later that evening at New York's Bowery Ballroom. But don't worry, I'm not bragging. Rubbing it in the faces of their crazy fans maybe, but not bragging.
This is the first verbally transcribed interview I've done in a long time.
Julian: Well, hopefully we'll help you through it.
Without lying, what was the last thing you listened to?
J: A Hawk and the Hacksaw, do you know that band?
Noel: The last thing I listened to was on the plane, it was Peter Green. Fleetwod Mac Peter Green. I really like two of his songs so I kept playing them over and over again.
[To Julian] You write all the music for the show, correct?
So is tonight just going to be comedy, or is there going to be music?
J: Tonight is a DJ set.
N: We were supposed to just DJ at a party for some MySpace people, and now they want us to do a complete set, so we're trying to ramshackle something together. It will be a bit of music a bit of comedy a bit of theater.
J: A little taste of everything.
Although, I read you are going to be doing some sort of real musical endeavor soon?
N: Yeah, we got a band together and toured with a band.
J: We would end every show with songs. We would start with music, then do a big narrative piece, theater. You know theater? Then we do the gig at the end with the band.
N: We were doing a massive tour with crew and stuff, so we can't do that here. We're just going to do more cabaret type stuff.
You've been together for almost ten years now, do you have any plans to celebrate your ten-year anniversary?
N: [Laughs] Are we going to celebrate? We're going to have a low key one, eh?
J: yeah, I'm going to cook. My favorite pasta.
N: Since we do such big shows, we thought it would be good to do something low key. Maybe go to the insect museum.
Is it weird to be here in the U.S. for the first time? There's obviously people who knew about you already, and now with Adult Swim, but like you said, you are doing stadiums back home.
J: Yeah, I don't know. We just want to see how it works out here and how people react to it.
N: We're up for doing a proper tour, we're just testing it out. It's like we're putting our toe in the water.
J: I'm also looking for painting and decorating work as well, if anyone is looking to hire someone for that.
N: You do do that don't you?
J: It's mainly why I'm here. The Boosh is just a side thing.
N: I dry flowers and sell those on the streets. Although that guy with the bubble gun said I could work with him. He's taking Thursday off to go to the park, so he said I could fill in and if it goes well I could do every Thursday.
J: Maybe we should be a bit more gung-ho about playing in America [laughs]. We're going to destroy this place! We're going to really smash it's ass!
N: No, we don't do that.
J: We're going to smash it's ass off! We're going to break it's ass!
N: We have an American in our group and he's a bit more excited about it.
How do you figure out what bands to have on the show? Is it people you like or people who approach you?
J: it's more about when it's funny or there is a part we feel fits.
N: Well, we both thought Gary Numan. We had Peaches in our live show, we just liked having her with the gorilla.
J: Beauty and the beast.
N: It depends what it's for and it's usually very specific. We're not into the idea of getting cameos when we don't know how it will fit into the show.
Is there anyone specifically you really want to get?
N: Jagger. I would love it if Jagger would do it.
J: I'd like to ask who he was.
You guys never explained the transition from a zoo to a flat after the first season and then ultimately to the shop. Do you guys have a reason or do you just want to keep it open ended?
J: We just wanted to change the location…
N: …and then we thought we wouldn't mention it [laughs].
J: Yeah, it's more about our relationship really, rather than where we were. We thought if we kept changing it people would be like, 'I wonder where it will be this time.' We thought actually of all the old double acts where in one film they're street sweepers, the next film they're working in an ice cream parlor or in a barbershop. So that's what we were trying to do, but there is sort of a logic to it. The ape was with us and we met him in the zoo. It was almost like we got kicked out of the zoo was the idea. We did have one conversation one afternoon about being kicked out of the zoo and taking the ape with us.
N: Also, as a vehicle for writing comedy, the zoo was almost too big because it was slightly competing with the magical places we wanted to go. Then we found the flat and it was almost too simple, we didn't have a job or anything. There was nothing we could gag about, it felt a bit strange we weren't doing anything. So then we thought, 'we don't want to go back to the zoo, but we need some sort of little job, a quite simple job that everyone understands.' So the shop seems perfect, because you can leave the shop and go someplace fantastical.
J: It was more about learning how to write as well. We didn't really know what we were doing in the beginning, so we were just going along, then we realized we needed jobs and thought about the situation in depth a bit more. Because initially we would just do all our stuff that was very chaotic and psychedelic.
What about the characters, was that something you conceptualized before the TV show?
N: Yeah, live, we did it live. Some of the characters worked really well live, the Hitcher and Rudy.
J: And from voices. Just doing the voice a lot and then you think about visually what they might look like.
N: I think Rudy was in the first live show we ever did and Hitcher was in the third live show. Which was good for me, I'm a bit more of a cockney and I quite like the evil characters.
It's funny you say that, because I wasn't expecting you guys to represent your characters this much. At least from an outward perspective, you [Noel] came in dressed up and you [Julian] are very business casual.
N: [Laughs] There are no characters, it's based on us.
[To Julian] Are you a jazz fan?
J: Yeah, yeah. I suppose we forget that so much of it is who we actually are.
N: We thought we would incorporate all those things we like, like the fact that I didn't like jazz or understand it. He would say 'You fear jazz.' I used to literally be like, 'What is this?' and he would say 'You fear it, it's jazz.' And I'd be like, 'Ugh, it's giving me a panic attack.'
J: He's been getting into it lately though.
N: Secretly, I've been getting into jazz, don't tell anyone [laughs].
Yeah, well as a jazz fan I was wondering why you're always hating on it so much.
N: It's funnier for my character not to understand it and to be confused. And it's funny that he only likes music where it's all about fashion and the way people move and dance and for Julian to go, 'Awful, what's Bowie doing here?' Obviously Julian likes Bowie and I quite like Miles Davis. In real life, we cross over, but I think it's about comedy.
Do you prefer the live show over the studio show, because it seems like you haven't kept consistent with the TV show in terms of seasons. You take breaks to go on tour or do theater.
N: Actually, we do a lot of TV and we start to get bored of it, and then go, 'Oh, we can do live again.' And then we do the live show and it's so exhausting and massive you sort of think it might be quite nice to make something permanent. Because you can record live, but it doesn't work in the same way, you need to come and see it really. Especially when you do a big show.
J: Plus we get a lot of the ideas from our live show to put into the TV show. We were in a shop on stage before we were in a shop on the show. The last show we did live, we were set in the future in an apocalyptic narrative where I was the last man on Earth…
N: …and I was an alien.
J: Then he turned up and I was really quite annoyed [laughs], but you know, that might become something we write for the screen.
And NME has listed you as the best TV show for three years running. Who do you know there? Can I send them my demo?
[Both laugh] N: I think our sort of comedy appeals to people in bands or who like bands. A lot of people who like music and go to music gigs like to come to our show.
People always refer to your comedy as very “British” so I was wondering if there are any American comedians or TV shows you take inspiration from?
N: I was huge into Bill Cosby's stand-up when I was a kid. We like Kaufman.
J: Steve Martin, I really loved his early stuff, his stand-up especially.
N: The early Saturday Night Live stuff, I love Belushi and all that.
J: We didn't get Saturday Night Live in England, so it was really rare you would see it.
N: Richard Pryor, Larry Sanders, Seinfeld… all that stuff. Family Guy I really like, Entourage… there's a lot of good stuff that comes out of here.
So the kiss scene; I only caught the one, but have you kissed more than once?
J: It happens at the end of every episode [laughs].
N: [Laughs] That was the best part of the documentary that we used in the show.
J: I kind of wish that at the end of every episode we made out.
N: And then just said, 'Ok, see you later' [laughs].
J: Enjoy the credits.
N: I don't know, it's one of those things we thought would be funny and it was quite strange. It was sort of popular with some viewers and then it freaked quite a lot of people out. It caused quite a stir actually. It still does.
J: It breaks a lot of rules in terms of double acts.
N: It's really crossing the line, there's no way you should kiss your double act partner 'cause it's that sexual tension that keeps you going.
J: And what happens when you lose that?
N: We did actually think about doing a whole episode where we kiss then we weren't funny anymore.
J: We thought of an idea where we went to a bar that served us this magic punch that made us get really erotic and we woke up the next day in bed and thought we made love. So we thought that would be a quite good episode to do that, you know, sort of the awkwardness between us.
Was it awkward after it happened in real life?
N: [Trying to be as serious as possible, looking directly at me] No.
J. Mmmmmm [laughs].
N: We were both comfortable with it.
I guess that's it. Do you need an extra Bollo, I'm open for auditions?
N: [Laughs] Where is Bollo?
Do you guys do the voice or does he?
N: We used to. We've both done it actually, I did it on the radio show and he did it on the live show.
J: And we do it for the TV show.
So I could do it then.
N: [Laughs] Should we tell Dave he's fired or do you want to do it?
Buy The Mighty Boosh Seasons 1-3 on DVD here.