me:-the-mighty-boosh

Face to faces: Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt

Time Out - May 2004

Howard Moon is preparing for a bout with a killer kangaroo. He doesn’t want to fight, but Bob Fossil, his boss at the zoo, is convinced it’ll pull in the punters. And Fossil has pictures of Moon’s freakish naked torso to ensure his minion cooperates. Moon’s raffish apprentice Vince Noir volunteers to train him up. But it’ll take grit, muscle, one of Carlos Santana’s old tracksuits and a puff of magic dust from a lisping shaman for Howard to knock out the fearsome Killeroo.

After years of waiting, The Mighty Boosh have finally made their first TV series. And, as the above plot synopsis suggests, it’s utter nonsense. Which is a long way from being slack, or random. Julian Barratt (Howard) and Noel Fielding (Vince) have been doing this stuff for seven years now, ever since they played King Don’s penis and Moby Dick respectively in a Stewart Lee show at Edinburgh. Fans and foes alike have accused the pair of just mucking about. But both tall, regal Yorkshireman Barratt and cockney peacock Fielding, winner of last year's Time Out Live Award for his solo show, take their delusions very seriously.

“What we didn’t want”, says Barratt, 35, “is a weird world with weird people in weird hats doing weird things. That just becomes tedious.”

“But because everything we do is odd,” says Fielding, 29, “everyone we work with thinks they know what it’s about. They’ll go, ‘Oh yeah, you can be a giant in one of the shows, great!’ And we’ll go, 'No, it really doesn’t work like that.’”

“It’s a specific kind of nonsense,” says Barratt.

“Vic Reeves always said that because it’s nonsense people think it’s easier than writing normal jokes,” says Fielding. “Everyone goes, yeah, you just say anything, don’t you? And he’d say to them, 'Go on, then, try and say something funny.’ And they’d go, 'Oh, there’s a cat and he’s got a bag!!!’ And he’d go, it’s not funny, is it? Vic and Bob’s stuff is always well written, they don’t just pluck it out of air.”

Reeves and Mortimer’s skilful gibberish has certainly been a liberating influence on the Boosh. Legend also has it that, after working separately on the circuit, Barratt asked Fielding to join him to become 'the new Goodies’. But today, sitting in their manager’s Soho offices, they’re less interested in allying themselves to their forebears. Still, they will tolerate comparisons to Monty Python, The Goons, Tony Hancock and, yes, The Goodies. “We love old double acts,” offers Fielding. “We’re Frank Zappa meets 'Stepford and Son’”, ventures Barratt cautiously.

Their relationship on screen seems an only slightly cartoonified version of their relationship off. The softer-spoken Barratt is contained but dangerously sharp. Fielding is more upfront, more discursive. But they clearly adore spending time together. They lock eyes, play deft conversational ping-pong, and occasionally roar with laughter at each other’s throwaway lines.

It’s this blurring of the line between friendly backchat and double-act banter that gives the Boosh such an unusual, effective shtick. Their stage shows - fantastical no-budget adventures studded with the odd-couple enmity of their barely altered alter egos - were an immediate cult hit. Their first Edinburgh show, in which they played two unlikely zookeepers, won Perrier Best Newcomer Award in 1998. The following year’s show, in which they played two unlikely postmen, was nominated for the main prize. When they came back for 2000’s Autoboosh, their entire run was sold out before the festival started. They were expected to win the Perrier, then didn’t even get nominated. Feted for their anything-goes unpredictability, they were starting to second-guess themselves.

“We got to the stage of thinking, 'What is it we do? Well, we’d better do that again’”, says Barratt.

“When we started it was word of mouth, 'Have you see the Boosh?’,” says Fielding. “By the third time it was 'Well, this had better be good.’ Edinburgh’s all about the hype, and if you get a really big hype, what do you do after that?”

They haven’t been back (though Fielding’s solo show got him nominated for the Perrier in 2002). But they kept touring. “One year we did seven months away,” says Fielding. “It was great, like being in a band or something. But after a few years of that, you go, oh, it’d be nice to put some of this down.” So they concentrated on getting on TV. A series looked like shoo-in after their Fringe dominance. But shifting from theatres - where the rough staging was half the fun - to the literal-minded small screen proved harder than expected. They wrote a pilot for Channel 4, 'Boyz N The Wood’, which had them living in a house surrounded by fusion guitarists and tree dwelling Monkey Nanas - white-haired granny apes in cardis. “There was no way we could have done that!” cackles Fielding. “It was like 'Lord of the Rings’ or something.”

They had more luck with a radio series recorded for BBC London then snaffled by Radio 4. But it was TV they wanted. After several false starts, it was only after bumping into Steve Coogan’s production partner Henry Normal in the street that they put their extravagant visual ideas into affordable form. “It’s useful to be backed by people who’ve made good comedy themselves,” says Fielding. “People think of Coogan and they think of Alan Partridge.”

“And lap-dancers.”

“I think that helps.”

So now, after last year’s pilot, they’re back with an eight-part series. The format is that of the radio show: two unlikely zookeepers have adventures - Barratt’s brooding 'jazz maverick’ and Fielding’s Rod Stewart-haired chancer rubbing up against boss Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher), the mystical Naboo (Fielding’s brother Michael) and Zoo-Niverse owner Dixon Bainbridge (Matt Berry out of 'Garth Marenghi’).

On the evidence of 'Killeroo’, it really works. It’s funny and fast, referential but endearingly innocent. Whatever weird hats are being worn, it’s always about Barratt and Fielding’s relationship. They write each line together, playing their parts as they work. In fact, they can discuss the minutiae of their mutual playworld with a fluency that verges on the scary.

“We do talk about it as if it’s real,” admits Fielding. “But what’s good is that it’s two people who have different opinions and fight all the time.”

“Billy Wilder said that if writing partners are too similar, it’s like two people pulling on the same end of a rope,” says Barratt.

They’ve written the treatment for a Boosh film in which Moon and Noir would be two unlikely archaeologists. They’d like to do another series, maybe a tour. Whatever The Mighty Boosh do together, though, it’s sure to be seriously deluded. “Well, we can’t really write anything straight,” says Fielding. “I try sometimes - I think it’d be really good to do something ordinary. And then within a second there’s always a talking cushion or something.”

The Mighty Boosh starts Tue on BBC3; see TV Digital Listings. It will be on BBC2 in the autumn.

 - Dominic Maxwell {x}