Julian Barratt is quite an intense person to have a lunchtime drink
with. He is not comedic in the conventional way. There are no
punchlines, no jokes, few impressions. “I’m not very funny at all in
real life,” he says, all hunchbacked against the pub sofa.
But Barratt is funny when he chooses to be - although he doesn’t
quite know how to take the compliment. Mention to him - as you would
almost certainly want to do had you seen the new British comedy Lucky
Break - that he steals the show as a Brecht-obsessed drama teacher, and
you’re sure to get those modest downcast eyes, that shy retreat into
sipping his pint of Guinness and an awkward: “I’m quite … It’s …
I’m, er … Thanks.”
Praise is not something 34-year-old Barratt has been short of over
the past couple of years. Both as a solo act and in his partnership with
Noel Fielding he has been showered with honours - the Open Mic award
for new comedy, the Perrier best newcomers award, a Perrier award
nomination and the Barry Humphries award. To Barratt, being on the
receiving end of the Next Big Thing label has become old hat.
“We’ve had a lot of good press over the years,” he says nonchalantly.
“About three years ago there were people writing, ‘Don’t hold your
breath because they’ll be on your TV screen very soon.’ And that was,
like, three years ago.” He lets out a little mock laugh at the unkept
promises. “It’s like this constant on-the-cusp type thing.”
It is Barratt and Fielding’s appearances in their act, the Boosh,
which has had tongues wagging. Variously described as warped,
ridiculous, loony, left-field and, more than a few times, surreal, their
shows - which in clude the Mighty Boosh, Autoboosh and the Arctic Boosh
- take the audience on a free-form fantasy tour of an eccentric’s mind.
As former postal workers in AutoBoosh, the pair decided to go away for a
relaxing break in the countryside but encounter a dubbed butler who
keeps his voice in a jar, a melodramatic cockney villain who raps about
fruit and veg, and a selection of aliens wearing funnel-necked parkas.
In their first radio show, the Boosh, they are zoo-keepers who go on
magical adventures but always end up back at the zoo.
“For me and Noel the radio show was a real breakthrough,” says
Barratt, “but the original idea of us getting together was to do TV. The
new Goodies or something. With the live thing we got a bit sidetracked
almost. I mean, we had a lot of fun but it was really in the process of
trying to prove to the broadcasters that we were funny because they
couldn’t really see that in the scripts. So we tried to do a live show
to explain why and they said, 'Yeah, it’s really funny live but we don’t
know whether it would work on TV because it’s so shambolic.’” He groans
into his Guinness. “It’s a bit of a frustrating thing, that.”
There is a genuine irritation at how unadventurous producers are. The
way that television settles for the “safe option” rather than having “a
bit of vision”. He is so unflinching in his speech that there are
moments when it is hard to tell whether he’s joking. When I say I feel
bad about interviewing him without Fielding there, he insists, “I do
exist in my own right. It’s like being married isn’t it? I am my own
person. I’m not Mrs Noel.”
Barratt is sexy in a detached and slightly moody way. Press him for
information on his personal life and he’ll mumble how “really there’s
nothing interesting there”. When we meet, he is not in that “performing”
mode we unfairly expect of comedians at all times, but is serene and,
at times, frighteningly serious as well as highly analytical. He’ll take
a topic and run with it, talking unwaveringly ahead or into his hands,
but rarely at me.
This is him on why he left comedy: “I’m not a natural comic, I don’t
think. That’s why I gave up stand-up. It was hard. It involved a lot of
death. Dying. Dying on stage. But it’s one of those jobs you can only
learn by doing it. You can’t sit in your room and learn how to make
people laugh. It’s about a two-way relationship with the crowd and
having to control them and it just became a bit of a struggle and a bit
lonely. You’re travelling around. It’s kind of great in a way because
you get ideas out quickly and a response back immediately.
"But then sometimes it’s a bit crushing but then you learn to cope
with that by becoming hard. And then you become harder and harder until
you’re like a piece of flint. I didn’t want to be fossilised and going
round the circuit like a fucking fossil. That’s why I started working
with people. And films, for me, is the ultimate group exercise.”
Lucky Break is Barratt’s first film but he is obviously grateful for
the change of scene. He is full of praise for his co-stars in a way that
is not dissimilar to his role as the drama teacher. Timothy Spall, he
says, is “so still and minimal. Just incredible to watch.” Bill Nighy
“was just amazing”. And he is in apparent awe of the cast of
Surrealismo, a forthcoming BBC period drama starring Stephen Fry in
which, together with Noel, he plays a sort of surrealist double act.
“Ewen Bremner, who is Dali, is a lovely bloke and very much an actor.
When he acts he becomes Dali. Ewen Bremner just disappears. He’s a true
actor. And I don’t think I am. I watch myself and think I’m a jittery
over-actor. I’m just doing too much.” It’s misplaced self-criticism. One
of the wonderful things about his Lucky Break performance is how
brilliantly understated he is.
Still, he says he would label himself as more of an actor than a
comedian: “Though I’ve only ever done comic acting. I would like to do
more serious stuff.”
Before the film he helped advertise Metz schnapps, a process he has
described as having his soul sucked out through his eyeballs. “It was
great in a way because it facilitated quite a lot of things. But I did,
you know, hate it as well. I didn’t realise quite how bad it would feel
to be a prostitute. But the money helped me feel less bad. And it’s good
to have a brush with the devil. At least I recognise it now.”
Then, unprompted, Barratt veers back to the subject of comedy and
offers a theory. “I was thinking,” he says quite suddenly, before
plunging back into monologue, “it’s all about the approval of strangers
and wanting their love. But what you’re getting is only laughter, it’s
not really love. A lot of people confuse that. Laughter’s good but it’s
not love. It’s one aspect. One emotion you’re eliciting from your
audience. That’s another thing I found with comedy: I want to do things
or write things that make people feel a bit more beautiful or tragic or
something because there are so many other things than just funny. You’re
just exercising one muscle. It’s like you end up with an enormous arm. A
bit of a freak. So I just want to try and just do some other things.”
Which is why, he says, “I’m having such a good day. I’ve just been on
a film set and met my hero, Stephen Fry. In fact, I can’t quite believe
what I’m doing at the moment. It’s a bit of a dream come true.” And,
without smiling, he takes another sip of his pint and stares fixedly
• The Boosh starts on October 16 at 11pm on Radio 4.
I’ll never forget what I felt looking into the man’s eyes: I was overwhelmed by the genuine compassion and kindness I saw in them.
He remembered me from the autograph signing earlier. He smiled. It’s exactly how my friend Oliver Holler described him when I first met the Hollers 2 years ago: he is kinder than you think he is, smarter than you think he is, and better than you think he is.
Dream achieved. “Hi Michael!!” “Nice to see you again!”
MEET & GREET! Submit your meet-and-greet stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. They are posted throughout the week.
On October 5th, 2013 I met my favorite band, Black Veil Brides. When we arrived to the venue and started walking and saw the tour bus the anxiety left and there was the biggest smile on my face. As soon as I walked in I couldn’t believe that they were there right I front of me. When it was my turn to meet them, I was speechless. They signed my cd and Andy thanked me. That meant the world to me because they’ve helped me through shit times and I never thought one of them would thank me for listening and loving the band. After that I met up with my friend and I just went for a hug I was bawling my eyes out. After they played me and my friend went outside. CC came out and signed stuff and he gave out wristband thingys and I got one. I had a drawing that I gave to him and he liked it. After waiting in the cold for about 3 hours Ashley, Jake, Jinxx and Andy came out and signed more stuff. That day meant the world to me because it was the day I met my heroes. They taught me to stand up for what I believe in. They taught me to be myself and they made me a better person. One of my dreams came true and I hope to meet them again.
I met one of my heroes today walking down the street?? what the fuck??? he was just there like “hey guys” like in his videos I jUSTW WHWVEKVWHJDOEBWHAKSMSAASGDJDKAL
also don’t crop us out, that’d be rood.