Noel Fielding on his stand-up return
It's ten years since Noel Fielding's androgynous elf Vince Noir first baffled our screens in cult TV hitThe Mighty Boosh. He speaks to us about getting back to stand-up, and why he's quite happy to be the eccentric old guy kids point at in the street
It’s hard to think of Noel Fielding as a veteran of the UK comedy scene – the boy prince of surreal fascinations still has a youthful look and a glint in his eye that indicates mischief is about to be made. But at 41 years old (forty-one?!) he must take his place as one of the elder statesmen of British comedians. When asked about his age, he is as incredulous as anyone you might mention it to: "Forty-one. I know! How did that happen? I’m one of those Peter Pan figures."
Indeed, when you look at his career so far – spanning some 20 years – you realise he’s achieved quite a lot, ergo he’s been about for some time. “Hang on a minute,” he says, “he’s just done a series, then he did a series before that, then he’d done a tour and then he’d done a Boosh tour, then a Boosh show, then a radio show, then three Edinburgh shows. All those things take about a year, you go, 'Yeah he’s gotta be getting near 40, unless he was a child when he started doing it.'”
Fielding shows little sign of ageing, however – he still has an infectious positivity about him, meeting every sentence with an "awesome" or "amazing" as if everything is new to the man who was Vince Noir. After such a long time bringing new and baffling comedy to stages and screens it is refreshing to hear someone be genuinely excited about their next project, especially when he’s spent the last few hours on press calls.
"The Boosh tour was 100 dates and we partied massively. It was like being on an Aerosmith tour or something" – Noel Fielding
With his new tour, An Evening with Noel Fielding, the title is the kind of name Bob Monkhouse might have chosen, or Les Dawson. Not the man who popularised the art of crimping. Though the real reason behind the title of the show is less a settling down, and more his usual anarchic self. "I had no idea what it was going to be," he says. "It’ll be an evening with me, but I had no idea what that was. I thought it was quite old school as well. It’s not the sort of thing that I would do but I thought it just might be funny. Also, I had no ideas so thought I'd best be as vague as possible."
Having now written and trialled the show he has a clearer vision of what he might be putting in front of people’s eyes and minds. "Some of it’s stand-up, some of it’s characters, some of it’s stories, some of it’s animation, so it’s quite complicated putting it together. It’s not just a stand-up show. Got a lot of elements to it, so it’s quite a bugger. Some bits can’t really be rehearsed."
An Evening with Noel Fielding reflects his career so far, taking in little bits of everything to make something new and different. He is looking forward to touring again, though the hedonistic days of The Mighty Boosh tour of 2008 may have to be toned down. "The Boosh tour was 100 dates and we partied massively. It was like being on an Aerosmith tour or something. It was great and I would never change it but it was very full on." Now, he says, he’s happy to be getting back to what he loves – stand-up (of sorts). That buzz of a live audience that TV work can’t duplicate "feels a bit more like returning to your roots," he says. "When you first start it’s always in front of an audience. You spend years doing a TV show and it’s not the same. Even panel shows, there is an audience but it’s not quite the same as stand-up either. You end up having to remind yourself of what comedy is in its basic form, which is just you in front of a bunch of people."
After two series of Luxury Comedy that have split critics and fans alike, it’ll be refreshing to see Fielding taking to the stage for the immediacy of live performance. "The first [series] was quite Marmite," he admits. "The people who hated it, really hated it. Or really loved it, there was nothing in between." It was the first time Fielding had faced such criticism for his work, but rather than recoil he went about putting it right. "I knew there were good elements of [the first series] but just needed to house it in a way that people could get into." The second series was much better received thanks to the tinkering by Fielding and co – "weirdly this time we were ready for battle after we’d made it and everyone went, 'Yeah that’s pretty good,'" he says. "And we were like, oh, okay, really? The people of the internet were even kind and you know what the internet’s like. They hate everything."
When asked if he’s looking to do more Luxury Comedy, he starts to wander off into the other possibilities available to him at present, like a child who hears an ice cream van while discussing his day at school. "Could possibly do another series, or just do Fantasy Man, or do a film, I’m quite excited about this live tour, I’ve not been on tour for a while, but this feels quite different." As his mind draws him away, the elder statesman brings him back to the subject at hand – the tour – and he's excited to be back performing to crowds in contrast to the process of making TV behind closed doors and then hoping people like it: "It’s like a sort of secret," he says of TV. "Until we first started doing Boosh shows we just couldn’t believe how many people would come dressed as Boosh characters and we were like WOW. We weren’t sure if anyone was watching this and yet they came dressed as the characters and they would give us little presents.’
The Mighty Boosh was what launched him into the headspace of many a fan, and gave him such a loyal base, but it is ten years since Howard Moon and Vince Noir first stepped on to our screens to become the alternative comedy duo of the day. "[Boosh] were on Gold the other day. Which blew my mind. That means I am old. It’s like Last of the Summer Wine. It happened. Deal with it." Though age is a concern, it doesn’t seem to worry Fielding too much.
"You never really feel old in your head. I sometimes worry about, ‘How long can he wear makeup for?’" He breaks into laughter. "You go from being slightly trendy to being someone who’s eccentric. I’m happy with that. The one the kids point to in the street and go ‘That guy who wears a cape, I think he used to be on the telly. He’s a bit weird.’" Chuckling to himself at the thought, he seems excited about the future. If anything he feels that with comedy, the older you get, the better you get, provided you keep pushing yourself, ‘The more you do it, the better you get. Rich Hall. He’s just like a master, he’s been doing it for years. God knows how old he is. He used to write for Letterman. Gigs gigs gigs. Joan Rivers [was] 81, still doing gigs every week. Incredible really."
Older and maybe even a little wiser, the comedy world needs more role models like Fielding – still excited, eager to learn, looking for the next thing that might make him, and by association those around him, laugh.
And after all, don’t our heroes usually wear make up and capes?