Ignorant of the show’s original stage and radio incarnations, it was by sheer chance that I stumbled across the first episode of The Mighty Boosh in 2004. It featured a boxing match between a human and a deadly kangaroo, “Santana tracksuits” (a psychedelic dream sequence accompanied by the sound of the didgeridoo) and a man demonstrating his dislike of cricket via the medium of dance. In print it sounds painfully studenty but I found it hilarious – although I assumed it would gain only a cult following at best.
By 2006, however, the stars of the show, Noel Fielding (who plays Vince Noir, an excitable, style-obsessed “indie” youth) and Julian Barratt (who plays Howard Moon, a character with a large elbow-patch collection who fancies himself as a philosopher), had embarked on a major UK tour. The first episode of the third series in 2007 – set in a shop run by Naboo, the shaman best friend of Vince and Howard – attracted 1m viewers. Alongside the success of New Zealand comedy folk duo Flight of the Conchords, such popularity might suggest that comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll – or is at least becoming indistinguishable from it.
When I put this theory to the pair in a pub in London’s Primrose Hill, Barratt will have none of it, pointing out that comedians such as Steve Martin have played big venues since the 1970s. Fielding, however, is more receptive to the idea. “I think what’s happening with our show is that we’re able to do a lot of things that rock ’n’ roll was providing,” he says. “There was a lot of music from the 1960s to the 1980s that was very big and over the top, like Kiss or Van Halen. We can do some of that stuff: stupid costumes, fireworks, big, overblown visuals. A lot of bands are five men looking at the floor. I think maybe there’s a need for a sort of David Lee Roth character.”
In keeping with his Boosh alter ego, Fielding looks every inch the androgynous rock star, with dishevelled black hair and pointy boots (Barratt, by contrast, compares himself to a geography teacher). Fielding may claim it’s “unfortunate” that the role of ludicrous 1980s rocker falls to him but he doesn’t look as though he minds the role of rock god any more than the similarly flamboyant comedian Russell Brand, with whom he appeared last year at the Royal Albert Hall.
But their interest in rock isn’t just an act. The pair once guest-edited an edition of the rock music magazine NME, and the show has featured an impressive roll-call of cameos, from Razorlight and The Horrors to electro-pop pioneer Gary Numan (who pops up from inside a cupboard) and Roger Daltrey of The Who (who does the Hoovering in an apron).
“Over the years we’ve realised that a lot of bands are into us,” Barratt says. “I mean, they like a lot of comedy, but they have a particular thing for us. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys and Arcade Fire and all these bands have said, ‘We watch your show all the time’.”
The Mighty Boosh’s popularity among musicians is perhaps because – unlike David Baddiel and Robert Newman, who played at Wembley Arena 15 years ago – the duo don’t just act like rock stars; they actually make rock music (and rave, music hall, rap and electro, sometimes all within the same tune).
Their surreal, parodic musical tracks have been integrated into their TV series from the start. In the first series, for instance, which was set in a zoo, when the evil zookeeper’s scientific experiments are rumbled (he has been cross-breeding), his mutant creations don’t just attack him; they burst into an electro number, complete with dance routine: “You can’t stop me with your human skills/Cos I’ve got nine feet and gills …”
Like the music from Monty Python or Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s television shows, these tunes gained a life of their own. It was Barratt’s interest in the musical part of the show (“I spend way too long on the songs, really,” he says) that led them to form The Boosh Band, which in turn led to The Mighty Boosh Festival, today’s one-day event at The Hop Farm in Kent.
“We wanted to play festivals,” says Barratt, “and festivals were saying, ‘Do you want to do the comedy stage?’ and we were going, ‘No, no, we want to play a music stage’ and they were going: ‘Er, we’re not sure.’ So when [festival promoter] Vince Power asked us if we wanted to do a Boosh festival, we thought about it and then thought, ‘f*** it. Yeah.’”
Appearing alongside The Boosh Band will be The Charlatans, Jarvis Cocker, Har Mar Superstar, Peaches and The Kills, as well as TV show favourites Gary Numan and Robots in Disguise. There’s also a strong comedy line-up, headlined by Ross Noble.
With a band, a festival, an album in the pipeline, another UK tour this autumn and even a forthcoming book, The Mighty Book of Boosh, one wonders whether The Mighty Boosh is in danger of losing its “indie” status. Fielding, however, says he’s not too worried about a potential backlash: “It’s not out of control like it was with Little Britain.”
Out of control or not, The Mighty Boosh is proving remarkably popular for such an eccentric formula – although Fielding points out that “it’s quite traditional in a weird way”, positioning the show in a lineage that started with Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Monty Python.
“We emerged at the time of The Office and a lot of that embarrassment comedy,” he says. “I didn’t think that there was a place for us at all.”
The Mighty Boosh’s next UK tour runs from September 2008 to January 2009. See themightybooshtickets.trinitystreetdirect.com
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