Getting Surreal with Noel Fielding

Sophie Gallagher spoke to the moon.

was supposed to meet Noel Fielding in a hotel room. Flashbacks to the 14-year-old dreams I had of hanging out with hip British comedians, drinking at underground bars and going back to swanky hotels suddenly filled my mind. But like the moment that teenage journalist in Almost Famous realises he is in fact not cool and none of the band members really like him, my dreams crashed before my eyes. I was given the classic excuse of “time restrictions and flight changes.” Noel and I were not meant to be, and a phone call was to be our only connection.

Neither awkwardly quirky nor dressed in tweed, Fielding is certainly not your classic British comedian. He achieved cult status in the UK and abroad through The Mighty Boosh—a punk, hallucinogenic series that defined bizarre. Now, an international comedy superstar, Fielding is taking his myriad of weird and wonderful characters on the road for his first solo, international stand-up tour.

“The Moon is in the show with his new alter ego, The Dark Side of the Moon. Naboo is in the show but he’ll be playing my wife, and various other characters. There will be some animation. Tom Meeten is also coming; his character is Antonio Banderas. He plays a triangle and is having an affair with my wife.”

An Evening with Noel Fielding is billed as anything but normal. On the screen, it’s unpredictable, but live, it’s downright absurd. Though Fielding loves the erratic nature of the stage, and the thrill of an immediate audience reaction.

“Stand-up is easier because it’s live and a real buzz. Television is like creating a giant collage that you’re not sure anyone has seen. You spend three years on it and you have no idea if anyone has even watched it. It’s not as rewarding.”

Stand-up is also where he began. In the late 1990s, he developed his act using physical comedy and songs in surreal routines. How he even got there though is a mystery; he never wanted to be a comedian.

“Growing up I was quite funny, like a cheeky scamp. But I had no interest in being funny. I wanted to be an artist. When our teacher left, she wrote a poem about all her students and she said, ‘Noel is really funny and can make the class laugh.’ And then she said that my best friend Paul was a good artist, and I was furious because I wanted to be the good artist. When you’re a kid the idea that you’re funny means nothing to you. You’re like ‘What’s that, what am I going to use that for?’ Furious! I wanted to be Picasso.”

Whether he’s playing an intersex merman called Old Gregg, or being a team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, you can see his artistry at work. An innate energy and drive led to his success, having a constant determination to master his skill. It’s also what attracted long-time comedy partner Julian Barratt to him in the first place. In those early days of The Mighty Boosh, he knew it would be successful.

“It was the arrogance of youth. Dave Brown [who plays Bollo in the Boosh] actually said to me once, ‘Wow look there’s a picture of you on the same page as The Beatles, bet you never thought that would happen?’ And I said, ‘Yeah I did actually!’” he laughs. “When I was young I thought we would make it because… well me and Julian were writing dialogues together and I suddenly had an epiphany and thought, oh this is good, this could get really big. I don’t know. I am very thankful and lucky that people got into it because it is quite unusual.”

The Mighty Boosh ended in 2007 and he hasn’t worked with Barratt since, though they have discussed making a film. Whether age will translate across to the characters is another question, with Fielding now in his 40s. Can we one day expect to see him play a punk grandfather version of Vince in the imminent Boosh film?

“Maybe the character of Vince is a bit difficult to keep doing because he’s a young Camden kid, he thinks he’s going to be in a band. He’s very naïve and innocent and vain and sort of stupid, you know, but in a sweet way. I think as you get older it’s difficult. My stand-up is much more spiky, so I could always do that. John Cooper Clarke is still going and he’s one of my heroes. He’s a legend, and he still wears a great suit, has a great haircut, looks amazing and is still funny, so he’s my inspiration.”

Indeed, stand-up may increasingly be Fielding’s place to shine. Luxury Comedy, his solo television series that followed on from the Boosh was divisive, receiving some strong negative reviews. Criticism, especially through social media, is something Fielding admits he has trouble dealing with, even though he tries to use it to his advantage.

“I’m a sensitive person so obviously any criticism is hard. I mean, someone said that Luxury Comedy was like the second 9/11, and I was very hurt by that. But then actually, I wanted to use it on my DVD as a quote, so you get over it very quickly. But with the onset of the Internet, there’s a lot of opinions you’re getting, that you don’t necessarily need to see or hear or respond to.”

I ask him what’s next, and he answers quickly: “suicide.” Anything else? “I’d like to write some children’s books. I’d like to write an animation, like a full animation that I’m not in. A film! The Boosh film would be great to do. I’m not sure… I’d like to do something different. Write a play? A novel? You’ve just got to keep testing yourself and pushing yourself, in a way; evolving, otherwise it gets boring. Maybe I’ll open a dance school. Ballet? Origami? Bull fighting? Cookery Show? Not sure.”

It’s clear that as long as he gets to explore creatively, he’s happy. He tells me he “buzzed off The Goodies, Monty Python, Scott Milligan” when he was younger, and seeing these performers inspired him to create a show that could try and stand alongside them. Now, whether it’s through art (he had his first exhibition, Psychedelic Dreams of the Jelly Fox in 2008), or by wearing an incredible glittery dress on The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, Noel Fielding will continue to make his own unique mark on the world.

An Evening With Noel Fielding is at the State Theatre April 22 & 30 and May 1.

Illustration by Wanyi Xin (Cabbage).