Noel Fielding’s new solo show may be the most surreal thing ever seen on TV. He reveals all to his old friend and ShortList columnist Danny Wallace.
Work colleagues: sometimes you like them, sometimes you hate them, sometimes you end up interviewing them a decade and a half later for a national magazine — but, admittedly, that’s not so common. So, it’s heartwarming for us at ShortList to know that we’ve bought together two old work buddies — Danny was producer of the award winning 2001 radio show The Boosh — to talk about Noel’s new show Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. Once again they can relive those precious water-cooler moments and ask those comforting, familiar questions; “Did you watch the football on Saturday?”, “What do you think of the company’s new pension plan?” and most importantly, “What does Mr Bifty look like?”
Danny: Noel, I am going to ask you questions and you will respond straight after with answers. We will discuss the things that are in your new show, but first let’s talk about what isn’t. Were there any characters that didn’t make the cut? What’s the worst character you’ve ever written?
Noel: There was one called The Human Mistake. He was fat with a monocle and a top hat and his face was a croissant but his bottom half was a drill.
And he’d drill through the Earth’s core and appear at awards ceremonies. He’d pop up and collect the Sports Personality Of The Year award and do a speech that would be so inappropriate that everyone would throw up.
I would love to have seen you pitch this show at the bank for funding. Because what is it? It’s not a sketch show...It’s a hybrid, I think. If the Boosh and your stand-up hadn’t happened, this might have been a hard sell...
Yeah. But I wanted it to be different from the Boosh. I thought, I’m going to have to go even further into the realms of… madness, or whatever.
Did you not think about going the other way? A suburban sitcom, called My Two Jeffs, or something?
I wanted to prove that I’m… not that I think the Boosh didn’t do this, but when I started doing Buzzcocks, it dawned on me that people had started coming up to me, surprised, saying, “Oh, you’re really funny.” And I’d be like, “Did you see the Boosh?” And they’d say yes and I’d ask them if they found it funny and they’d say yes. But there was something about it — maybe it’s that they thought we were just acting or that it was just written [for us], I don’t know… but I found it weird. I think I just always wanted to stake my claim as a comedian in this country.
Did you feel you hadn’t?
I don’t know. The Boosh thing was more a double-act, so I suppose I wanted to do something as a comedian on my own, like a Kenny Everett thing.
Something with your name on it.
I guess so. Though it’s not really an ownership thing. I think what’s amazing about the Boosh is our chemistry and I don’t think we’ll ever beat that because it’s a freak anomaly. I think Julian [Barratt] was probably more into going off and making a film, and I want to do films, but not yet. I just thought that there’s a lot of stuff I couldn’t do in the Boosh that was more like my stand-up, and I wanted a way of doing it. And with this it’s more one idea after the other. It moves around a lot. I think it’s more accessible than the Boosh.
There’s a mentally ill biscuit in it, which I think is quite accessible.
Yeah, I think a lot of the characters I do are quite delusional.
One of the most fun things about your job must be naming characters.
Yeah! Sometimes they just fit. Sometimes it’s instinctive. You’ll be like, “Roy Circles. That’s what he’s called.”
Let’s workshop some now. I’ll invent a name. You tell me who it is. First — Mr Bifty.
I think Mr Bifty’s a cube. He’s a cube but you have to lift him up and his face is on the underside. You have to roll him to get him to speak.
Correct. How about this guy: Gulliver’s Solution.
He’s got to be kept in a hip flask. He’s poured out when certain situations arise. He’s a modern-day liquid genie.
I agree with this. With the characters in the show, though, you get the sense that you’re joining this very odd family.
Yeah. I’ve always been interested in identity. When I was a kid, I loved that Batman had a logo and a Batcave and everything else. I wanted some of that. I knew I wanted my brother as a butler, and Andy Warhol as my cleaner, and when I was thinking about where it was set, I suddenly thought, “Does it matter? Does it matter if no one knows where this is, or if no one knows what my job is? Or should I just suddenly get up and say, ‘Anyway, I’ve got to go now, I’ve got to start my job at Tesco Metro’?”
That would be a nice opening scene in My Two Jeffs.
Yeah, just me working at a Tesco Metro, but done in the style of a bleak, Czechoslovakian animation. That was soul-destroying as a kid. You’d be watching TV, waiting for Daffy Duck or whatever, and then they’d announce something that won the Golden Knuckle at the Minsk Animation Festival. But I bet Julian would have been, “Great!”
Has Julian seen the show?
Yeah, he came to a screening. And Rich Fulcher’s in it, Tom Meeten — some great people. But we realised early on that this would be a tough sell for TV. So we decided to just make one. Make a pilot ourselves. When we were first trying to get the Boosh on TV, we did an Edinburgh show, we did the radio show, but commissioners were still saying, “I don’t know how this is going to look on telly.” We went round and round in circles, and we were running out of ideas. Me and Julian nearly just went into some of the meetings with cardboard boxes on our heads with the fronts cut out, just saying, “How big’s your telly? Because this is how it will look on telly.”
Now, I’ve known you a long time, but there must be plenty I don’t know about you. So tell me something I don’t know about you that would shock me.
I play a lot of tennis these days. I’m pretty good.
Do you wear a headband?
I do wear a headband. People know I’m serious when the headband comes out.
Now something that will delight me.
Delight you? Well, I’m not sure if… thing is, you were in my dreams.
I was what?
You were actually in a recurring dream I had. I never told you this because I thought it would freak you out. Me and my dad were trying to escape a sort of witch. It was all set in an apocalyptic world after a massive explosion and there was this person always trying to help us. And it was this guy, I couldn’t work out who it was, this guy who was always helping us jump over garden fences… and I had this for years, since I was a kid, and the only person I’ve ever met who that person seemed to be is you… and I never told you because I thought it’d freak you out.
What would I do?
You’d turn up when the wooden-faced witch was close and say, “This way! Come on!” Is that delightful?
Who did the man-witch look like?
A bit like me.
So I was trying to save you from yourself?
Yeah. That’s quite delightful, isn’t it?
It could have been someone else with glasses. I get mistaken for a lot of people who wear glasses. It could have been one of The Proclaimers.
Either way, it’s delightful.
Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy begins on 26 January at 9pm on E4
(Photography: Jude Edginton)