In 2000, the little-known UK comedy troupe The Boosh (who would later be known as The Mighty Boosh) took Melbourne by storm. The group, which comprised of Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, alongside Rich Fulcher, were performing their stage show Arctic Boosh at the 14th incarnation of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The show, which saw Fielding and Barratt play postmen (and went on to become the loose basis of the Tundra episode of The Mighty Boosh television series), became the underground hit of the festival. Their penchant for mind-boggling surrealism and piercing dark humour ended up scoring them the festival’s prestigious Barry award. Named after one of the festival’s founding patrons, Barry Humphries, the award recognises the most outstanding show of the festival each year.
“Was it really 15 years ago?!” laughs the affable Brit, mixing a tablespoon of milk into tea. “I remember that after we won the Barry award, about two years after, I actually saw Barry Humphries. I went up to him and told him that we had won the Barry, and he was like, ‘Is there such a thing?’ He had never heard of it. I was like, ‘Well, this is good. This is all bullshit!’ He asked what it entitled us to and I told him, ‘It means we get to keep you for a week’.”
Arctic Boosh was the second of three stage shows created by the group. Fielding and Barratt conceived the idea of The Mighty Boosh when working on Stewart Lee’s show King Dong vs. Moby Dick at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where they played a giant penis and a whale respectively. They debuted their first ever self-titled show at the Oranje Boom Boom comedy club in London, before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where they won the Perrier Best Newcomer Award.
“Julian had a song about a mammoth that he wanted to sing to a girl in the audience, and I had a few ideas for some weird sketches,” he notes when reminiscing on the creative process behind the show. "We started working on our ideas together and it turned into some sort of fucked up play really. We were zookeepers and we got sucked through our bosses’ eyes and into a magic forest where I met this fusion guitarist with an afro. Then we got a girl onstage, and we made a smoothie, but we needed her tears as one of the ingredients. So Julian sang to her to make her cry, and then we put them into a tube and he drank it and then he fell in love with her. Then when he’d leave to get ready to woo her I’d get off with her and we’d have a big fight. We’d call her Yoko because she’d split up The Boosh.”
The Mighty Boosh was never intended to become a long-term project, with both parties assuming they would soon return to their solo stand-up not long after. “We always thought we’d make one show and that’d be the end of it. But after we won the Perrier, everyone was telling us that we had to do another, which we did and brought it to Melbourne and won the Barry, and then we made a radio show that won the Douglas Adams Award. We won loads. It was manic. We always thought we’d do a couple of years together and go our separate ways. We went from stages to the radio show to television to live shows. It went on and on.”
Following their snowballing success in 2004, The Mighty Boosh transformed into the cult television series Fielding is best known for – of which three seasons were made – and then in 2006 it was turned into a live concert. “On the first tour we didn’t really know if anyone actually liked the show. Well, you do roughly, but ratings can be quite misleading,” he shares. “But once we started touring and we’d see people dressed up as the characters we were all like, ‘Fuck! People actually like this show.’ Halfway through that tour we had to start doing bigger gigs and adding extra shows.
“On the second tour, we sold out a year in advance. We were performing in arenas and we had Marilyn Manson’s tour bus. I remember when we were doing a show at the O2, which is like 15,000 people. We were all, ‘This is ridiculous. There’s a been a mistake, there’s been an admin error!’ It was like being in the Rolling Stones. And we partied hard. We gave fucking Fleetwood Mac a run for their money. We partied every night. We’d get up just before sound check, do the show, and then go out again. It was crazy. I encountered everyone from Pete Doherty to Courtney Love, Kate Moss to Amy Winehouse, bless her.”
These days however, Fielding prefers to opt for tea instead of hard liquor and art galleries instead of nightclubs. “You can only really do that sort of stuff once,” he details. “I couldn’t do that again. You’d kill yourself. It was amazing, and you have brilliant fun, but I probably had four lost years. You go out a lot, you get invited to heaps of parties, you meet other famous people and it’s brilliant. But that disappears quite quickly, you get bored of it. With that comes a lot of horrible shit, like weird stuff in the press or a lot of hanger-ons and people who are pretending to be your friend.
“I think Jack Nicholson once said, ‘Everyone who gets famous is a wanker for at a least a year and then they’ll return to being a good person again, unless they’re actually a wanker, then they’ll just stay a wanker’. It’s kind of like when it’s your birthday when you’re a kid and you have a party and you get heaps of presents and it’s amazing. Then after a while, you’re slumped over your new bike full of cake and you’re dying because you’ve had too much of everything. That’s a bit what it’s like when you get famous. You’ve had too much cake, too many sweets, all of your friends leave. You’re sort of hiding in the corner going ‘eurgh!’ That’s the point when you realise that you need to get back into what you love doing, which is the work.”
Since the days the days of The Boosh, Fielding has gone onto become a permanent team captain on the BBC Two music/comedy panel program Never Mind the Buzzcocks and also currently writes and appears as the central character on the television show Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy. However, he doesn't rule out the possibility of a Boosh reunion of some form in the future. "The only thing that we never did was a film, which I really regret," he notes. "We do still talk about doing that, but it's just hard to get the right time when we're both free. It'd take a year to write it, a year to get the money, a year to film it, a year to edit. That's four years of our lives. I mean, that's a long time. I hope that's something we get to do someday, though, because then we will have done everything that we wanted to."
This month will see Fielding return to Australian shores with his latest show, An Evening With Noel Fielding. “My brother [Mike Fielding (Naboo/Smooth)] is in the show and so is my good friend Tom [Meeten] who is also in The Boosh,” he shares. “So there’s three of us. It’s like a little gang. I’ve always liked little gangs. There’s animation, stand-up, sketches, improv and some music that I did with Serge [Pizzorno] from Kasabian. I play some of my characters, we take someone from the audience and put them into an animation. There’s a lot of weird ideas, but hopefully people who liked The Boosh will like this.”
BY TYSON WRAY & NICK TARAS
Noel Fielding will perform at Hamer Hall on Wednesday April 15, Thursday April 16, Sunday April 19, Sunday May 3 and Monday May 4. Tickets available here.