From the Event Guide, September 2008
(Not the?) Odd Couple
By Aoife Barry
Sometimes, it’s the most unlikely of pairings that end up having the most impact. And in the world of comedy, it’s often the seemingly unsuited duos who audiences find they relate to. Morecambe and Wise, Reeves and Mortimer, Walliams and Lucas – all pairings that feature two men who really don’t seem the type that would gel, and yet who do so naturally. In the case of the Mighty Boosh however, this sense of ‘the odd couple’ is one that at first seems so obvious – and yet quickly disappears as soon as your attention is taken from the two men’s differing appearances to the their love for off-beat comedy and their uncanny ability to rustle up ideas in the time it takes some writers to draft just one line.
In the Mighty Boosh, Julian Barratt (aged 40) plays Howard Moon, a jazz-obsessed sensitive soul with a science teacher’s dress sense and the fragile heart of a poet. His foil is Noel Fielding’s (aged 35) Vince Noir, an easily swayed wannabe rockstar who deep down loves his housemate Moon – but treats him like the brother who’s to uncool to have around. At the heart of the show is the relationship between the two men – and their curious adventures to the likes of Planet Xooberon, the Mirror World, and the (literally) rubbish home of the Crack Fox.
Noir and Moon inhabit a world that’s not quite in the same dimension as ours – it’s a world where urban foxes become addicted to illicit substances, where a shaman called Naboo (played by Noel’s brother Mike Fielding) and his familiar, an ape called Bollo (played by longtime friend Dave Brown), share a house with the protagonists, where a crazed zoo owner wreaks havoc wherever he goes (the inimitable Rich Fulcher as Bob Fossil), and where anything is possible as long as it’s within the realms of imagination.
The Mighty Boosh has taken many forms – it was a live show first, going from small pubs to the Edinburgh Festival in a short space of time; then it went from a being an award-winning production to a radio show; its next incarnation was as a TV show on BBC3. That show, also titled The Mighty Boosh, has had three series and paved the way for a new incarnation of the Boosh live on stage. Now on their second tour post-TV series, Fielding and Barratt, along with the huge crew of friends that makes up the family behind the show, will be bringing the Boosh to Ireland for the first time.
If the last tour, which took place in 2006, is anything to go by, expect plenty of fans in costume, dressed up as everything from rogue jazz cells to hermaphrodite sea creatures. The fans are what have made the Boosh as successful as it is today, going from a cult TV show to a surprising, but deserving, mainstream hit. And it appears that no one is more surprised than its stars.
“It has been amazing,” says an astonished Noel, as he ruminates on their fame. “The only way I can measure it is by the people who come up to us in the street. It used to be just cool kids, but now it’s cab drivers and chavs, which is great because it means you’re appealing to more people.”
The live show will contain “up to 30 or 40 per cent music”, which comes as no surprise as the show has featured a large number of wonderfully off-kilter songs written by Fielding and Barratt, the latter of whom is a consummate musician in his own right (similarly, Fielding’s talent for art led to his sketches becoming the basis for the look of all of the characters). In fact, there was even a Mighty Boosh festival at Hop Farm in Kent last July, at which the Boosh Band performed – which goes some way to demonstrate the current popularity of the show.
So what is it that they love about performing on stage? “Live comedy gives you a particular buzz,” says Yorkshire man Julian. “It’s so instant. You get a reaction straight away. Having spent a lot of time making television recently, you hunger for that immediate response. It’s great to find out what people think of your material right away rather than months or even years later. You can improvise as you’re going along, which is a real thrill too.”
In ten years, the Mighty Boosh has gone from a little-known duo to a full on stage show – and there’s even a book and film in the works. So what do they think accounts for its success? “The Boosh is pure escapism,” observes Noel. “When I was young, I used to watch The Goodies or Spike Milligan, and I had no idea where it was going. We try to create a world that people can get into and love. My favourite programmes – like Monty Python or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – conjured up their own worlds. Once you’d entered them, you could go where you pleased. We aim to do the same thing. We put in all sorts of different elements – music, animation, loads of characters. It’s never too narrow. We’ve never stopped ourselves doing anything on the Boosh.”
Key to their success is also the chemistry between the two. “As individuals we’re very different, and that’s crucial to our success,” says Julian. “I have another friend who is a lot more similar to me, but the Boosh’s spark comes from the fact that Noel and I have very different interests. You yoke us together and that generates a real creative friction. We can take the mick out of each other’s delusions. We’ve created a universe we love, and it’s fascinating to bring all sorts of different ideas to it. Difference is very important to us.”
Although their rise to fame has been ten years in the making, it appears these two talented comics are aware of the fleeting nature of celebrity. “This business is quite ephemeral,” Julian concedes, “and you have to maintain a healthy cynicism about it. There is a ‘flavour of the month’ aspect to it, so you have to keep moving on and mutating. We’re never precious about work, we never say, ‘right, that’s it, that is the crystallised form of the Boosh.’ We’re interested in constantly trying different things.”
With their rather unique imaginations and ability to come up with characters, scenarios and plotlines that can charm, bemuse and astonish audiences, it’s clear that the Mighty Boosh will exist, even if in a number of different forms, for many years in the future.
“It’s vital to keep changing,” says Noel. “If we kept doing the same thing, we’d soon get bored and the audience would say, ‘We’ve seen that – next!’ Fortunately, there are loads of new places to take the Boosh. We’ve never had a day where we’ve said, ‘we haven’t got any ideas today’.”
Somehow, it’s hard to imagine that day will ever cme.