NOEL Fielding is telling us his Los Angeles story. So far it’s already involved Billy Idol revealing that he’s a Mighty Boosh fan and Fielding getting inebriated with former Sex Pistol Steve Jones. You join us in the smeary aftermath of the events of the previous sentence. “I tried to sneak into the house at 3.30 in the morning,” he begins. “I was staying at Russell Brand’s house. He had 50 Cent’s house. That was where he was living.”
He’s sitting in a London hotel room while he tells us this. Did I mention Fielding is wearing a dress? No? OK. Noel Fielding is wearing a dress. Back to the story. “I had no keys,” he points out. So he tried to climb over the fence. “It was an electric fence and the alarm went off and I was like, ‘F***, this isn’t going well.’”
The dress is just for the photographs, by the way. He doesn’t normally wear one. He didn’t arrive in it. That said, he did arrive in suitably rock star gear so it’s not as if he’s dressing up now. I am particularly taken with his bag. It looks like a slice of watermelon. Oh, and there’s a little tag that looks like a little Noel Fielding. Sorry, I’ll stop interrupting. Where were we? Oh yes, he’s on an electric fence.
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“And the next thing there’s a beam on my head and a policeman telling me, ‘Sir, get off the fence.’ I said, ‘I’m staying with Russell Brand.’ He said, ‘Of course you are, sir. I’ll escort you in now.’ He took one look at me and said, ‘He’s not lying. If you think a thief in LA would dress like that …’” He laughs with the rest of us. “Those were the days. Instead of sitting on a sofa in drag.”
Ahead of his upcoming touring show An Evening with Noel Fielding (coming to an auditorium near you very soon) I am spending an afternoon with the comedian, champion ligger and willing wearer of clothes that err on the far side of ridiculous.
Actually, you’ve already missed the tangerine stripy top. “I think the designer’s missed a trick with yellow,” he says as he models it.
“Is that a male look?” someone asks. “It takes a bit of skill to pull it off,” Fielding says. “There’s four of us in the country.”
He poses for the camera. Kohled eyes, that splendidly beaky nose, a hairstyle that certain pop stars would give their next platinum disc for.
“Should I look miserable?” he asks. “My hair is 1950s housewife.” He pulls at it and makes a sarky comment to the young stylist. She isn’t sure if he’s taking the mickey. “I don’t know when anyone’s being sarcastic,” she laments. “That must be quite difficult,” Fielding suggests. “I don’t think I’ve said anything that wasn’t sarcastic since 1984.” He focuses, pulls a suitable face; half pop star pose, half comedy pop star pose. “This is for the Financial Times, yeah?”
There are some people who don’t get Noel Fielding. There are some people who have never bought into the DIY surrealism of The Mighty Boosh and certainly had no time for Fielding’s avant garde spin-off Luxury Comedy, which played to a “select” audience on E4.
And then there are those of us who regard the line “The man’s an arse” as some kind of high point in 21st-century comedy (look out the Boosh episode The Nightmare of Milky Joe for proof if you so require).
Fielding’s comedy universe – whether his own or the one he shares with his Boosh compatriot Julian Barratt – is a lovely, loosey, goosey place of post-punk whimsicality, inhabited by crack-addicted foxes, singing coconuts, angry triangles and a Plasticine Joey Ramone with a Scottish accent. (That will go down well in Scotland, he’s hoping.) It’s not, I think it’s fair to say, observational comedy.
Yet Fielding is probably best known for having slightly malicious fun at the expense of pop stars on the panel show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, but that’s not what he wants to be remembered for. “Panel shows are amazing because they’re a good way of getting exposure and you can make stuff up and improvise. But it’s disposable.”
He’d rather you liked him for Boosh or Luxury Comedy, although when it comes to the latter he wasn’t sure anyone did for a long time. “It’s weird. Now I’m not doing it they’re coming out of the woodwork. ‘I like that. Are you doing some more?’
“‘Of course I’m not. You’re lucky I still live in this country.’”
The fact Luxury Comedy has reached its end (natural or not) partly explains why he’s on the road again. “After doing two TV shows back to back that were very post-production heavy, with animation and stuff like that, I wasn’t really feeling like a comedian any more. I hadn’t heard anyone laugh for a long time.”
He must be used to it again now. An Evening with Noel Fielding has, off and on, been on the road since last autumn. Just over a year ago he was in Dunfermline. “Did you come to that show? It was quite good fun. I’d never been there before. Is it Fife? We went to get food. We found this place that did pizza and they did chips on the pizza which I thought was quite unusual.”
Ah, Fife. There are places in this world that clearly outBoosh even former Booshers. The question I want to ask is: what would a night out with Noel Fielding be like these days? If we were to head out after the photo shoot, what would occur? Would we inevitably end up trying to clamber over 50 Cent’s electrified fence? Is that a given?
“I still have fun on an evening out but maybe not as much as I used to. There comes a point where you have to trade in the crazy nights and drink peppermint tea.”
Fair enough. You are in your forties now. “Yeah, you can’t do that for ever,” he admits, before rallying. “I gave it a good go. I gave Stevie Nicks a run for her money.”
Now there’s a boast.
Random insert one: Noel, what scares you?
“Spiders. Australia was hard for me because I’d have to check my hotel room constantly. In Australia, they’re massive. They kill you. There’s this relief you get when you go from Australia to New Zealand. In New Zealand there’s nothing that can kill you. Well, earthquakes obviously …”
When he was a boy Noel Fielding liked to dress up as a “psychedelic” cowboy. (“It was turquoise and yellow. I used to go to the shops in it.”) And he once thought he saw a fairy. His brother was nine years younger than him and so his parents – who were themselves young – gave him free rein. “It was quite bohemian, I suppose, which is probably why I ended up doing what I’m doing.”
Growing up, he loved to draw. He even went to art college. And in many ways there’s an art-school sensibility to his comedy. If Barratt’s role in the Boosh was to make music, Fielding’s was to make props. Weird, arty comedy props.
Fielding did his first stand-up gig in Cambridge with Phill Jupitus. “I nearly legged it and Phill went ‘No, don’t’ and gave me a hug. He’s a lovely man.”
It went OK, as it happens. His second gig was awful, though. “You have to be very strong to do stand-up. You have to make yourself hard so you can live through the humiliation when you start out.”
So did he have to toughen up? “Everyone has to. I was quite lucky because I was a bit yappy. I was from south London and used to a lot of banter. I liked the banter, which is why I think I can do panel shows quite well.”
His material was always off-kilter. He’d watch other stand-ups go on stage and tell jokes about cash machines or girlfriends. With punchlines. “And then I’m going on to do five minutes about my dad being a hammerhead shark. If you didn’t get on board with it I was trapped. They weren’t going to laugh two minutes in.”
It was only when he saw Eddie Izzard doing routines about hunting gazelles with wolves did he believe there was an audience for what he was doing. “I remember thinking, ‘These aren’t jokes, they’re stories.’ I suddenly thought this was an in for me.”
Look hard and you can see all his comedy influences in the Boosh. A smidgen of Pete ’n’ Dud, a spot of Python, Vic and Bob, Kenny Everett if you want to look for it. But when he teamed up with Barratt they synthesised those influences and took them somewhere new. They created their own world, one that won them a Perrier Newcomer award at Edinburgh, a radio series and three TV series, plus more than a few arena shows. He talks with fondness of the Edinburgh days. “It was really pure, really fun. It is only when you become successful that it can be a drag sometimes. You’re making money so it becomes ‘you should do this’. And then you’re in Pink Floyd or something.”
Random insert two: Noel, complete the following sentence. “Sometimes I wish I was a girl because …”
“Wow. I would like to be a girl. There’s something about women’s minds that I like. Most of the women I’ve known well have pretty interesting, unusual ways of thinking, quite abstract. Men are quite cliched. And happy to be cliched. They’re not that bothered either way. ‘You’re a bit like this. Yeah, so what?’ Women are quite unusual.”
You know that if you twist that answer about a bit you could be describing your own comedy career, don’t you? “I think I was the woman in the Boosh. They always said, ‘Why aren’t there more women in the Boosh?’ I was the woman. Didn’t you get that? Julian and I were married.”
What is the smell of fame, I ask Noel Fielding. “Wow. God. Baileys,” he says. “Very alluring but it makes you quite sickly if you drink too much. Fame’s weird. You don’t have time to notice it’s happening to you. All of a sudden you walk into a room and everyone knows you. You could go to a party every day. Drink, girls. There’s a lot of stuff coming at you. You just go, ‘Oh my god, this is insane.’ That’s fun for a year and then after that you sort of go, ‘It’s the work that you buzz off, not this.’
“It’s good going to parties and seeing people like Kate Moss and Rhys Ifans for a little while. But eventually you go to a party and there’s a back party you didn’t know about and then there’s a smaller party and eventually it’s you in a cubicle of your own, thinking, ‘Is this still fun?’ Parties are always the same. People get drunk. It’s better when it’s with your real friends.”
He doesn’t really understand the idea of celebrity today. “You can be a celebrity in this day and age and not really have anything at the end to show for it. Julian was a musician really and I was a painter so we were used to making stuff. So we were both used to having a thing at the end of it – ‘Look, this is what we’ve done’ – and I think maybe you can lose that element a little bit by just cropping up on television.”
How often does he see Barratt now? “We live on the same street. Like Morecambe and Wise.” (Presumably that makes Barratt’s partner Julia Davis the Janet Webb of this scenario.) “I think he can see into my bedroom as he walks past. I can see into his front room. He’s got the better deal. So I see him a lot. We’re still mates. We wouldn’t touch a TV show now. We wouldn’t go back there. There’s no point. And he’s got kids and life’s a big ask for anyone over 40. It’s so tiring. All that leaves is a film.”
But then he’s been talking about a Boosh film for years. It doesn’t seem any closer. In fact there is something a little wistful about the way he talks about where he is. I suspect he might have been a little hurt by the reaction – or lack of it – to Luxury Comedy.
Does he have comedian status anxiety? “What’s that?” Do you worry about where you are in the league table of comedians? “I guess so. You can only be the new thing once. That’s the thing. Once that’s happened it’s very difficult to reinvent yourself. I suppose someone like Bowie constantly reinvented himself. People hated him when he killed Ziggy Stardust. They were furious. But he was just, ‘I don’t care. I can’t do that for the rest of my life.’”
If we were to map Noel Fielding on to the Bowie timeline then where would he be? He thinks about it for a second and comes up with the answer. “Tin Machine.”
And he starts to laugh.
An Evening with Noel Fielding is on at the EICC in Edinburgh on November 14, the King’s Theatre, Glasgow on November 15 and Aberdeen Music Hall on November 16.