HOWLING AT THE MOON: AN INTERVIEW WITH NOEL FIELDING

Entertainment

“There was a full moon yesterday – I went insane, a little bit.” First impressions count, they say – and Noel Fielding has certainly made an interesting one. Television’s self-professed madman has agreed to give us a half-hour interview, but we soon realise that we’re not going to be sticking to our prepared script. After all, he says with a chuckle, “The tour doesn’t start for a while – I’m happy to talk to anyone! I was talking to a kitten yesterday, telling it about my life – it wasn’t that interested….” We’ve not had many conversations that have begun with the moon and ended with William Blake, by way of Ringo Starr, Kipling and Bukowski.

Fielding is best known for pioneering The Mighty Boosh, and for playing the beloved mega-goth Richmond in The IT Crowd. He’s also known as an animator, musician, and team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks; his success as an artist has culminated in the showing of his surrealist exhibition Psychedelic Dreams of the Jelly Fox at the Saatchi Gallery in 2012. His 2015 tour reaches Oxford’s New Theatre on the 26th November – what can we expect from the man with such eclectic repertoire?

“I don’t know really… there’ll be some Antonio Banderas,” Fielding says, teasing at some other alter-egos – recurring characters such as Naboo, Fancy Man and New York Cop. “My brother plays my wife,” he says, matter-of-factly, as if it’s explanation enough for the entire show. The intention is to avoid one-sided spectator theatre: “We try to make it a bit interactive, to get the audience involved. There’s a bit where we put someone from the audience inside an animation and they become the hero and save the day for the whole night”, he explains. “I go inside the animation, and then someone from the audience goes inside as well.” But it’s clear that Fielding isn’t going to stick to just his animation: “At one point, I go out and interrogate the audience as the New York Cop.”

If the reaction to a new series of Peep Show is anything to go by, it’s certain that the quotidian exploits of two hapless, middle-aged men is what’s en vogue for British television. We ask Fielding what he thinks of modern tastes in entertainment, and how the cult status of The Mighty Boosh remains strong: “Everyone was doing all that mockumentary stuff, very minimal acting, and we were doing something weird…

“There was a bit where The Mighty Boosh got big,” he explains with modesty, “for about four seconds…. I don’t know. I think people got kind of drenched in psychedelia.” But, as he’s quick to admit, “These days, it’s quite hard to do weird stuff, because… it’s not really fashionable. I think maybe everyone’s into reality, which is a bit of a bummer. Reality’s quite boring for me.” He waxes nostalgic about the good old days of surrealist and weird comedy, the days of “all my favourite comedians, like Vic and Bob, Kenny Everett, Monty Python and Spike Milligan”. Though disappointed by the decline of surreal comedy, he remains in high spirits, joking, “I mean, I’ve got a lot of weird friends… I guess maybe the weird stuff just isn’t getting onto the telly”. Wanting to recapture that spirit of surreal adventure, Fielding hopes “to do a show that will shake it up a little bit,” as respite from the relentless barrage of life dramas, reality TV and talent shows – “all that shit”, he remarks tersely, “is getting a bit boring”.

Fielding’s characters are ever memorable, from the hermaphroditic Old Gregg to the disembodied head of Tony Harrison. He tells us that authors from his childhood such as Kipling, Carroll and Kenneth Grahame provide his inspiration, writers of fantastical stories about otherworldly places, people and animals. The Jungle Book is still his favourite: “There’s something romantic about growing up in a jungle,” he sighs. His interests in literature now range from Blake to Bukowski – there’s something strikingly bold, modern and haunting about Blake’s sketches, while Bukowski is an essential voice of cynical reason in an unforgivingly amoral world.

Fielding’s newer interests include Renaissance artists such as “Raphael, Michelangelo and that sort of stuff.” It’s quite a far cry from what you’d expect from such an off-the-wall personality, though as he’s quick to confess, “Julian (Barratt, of the Boosh) and I grew up on Magritte, and what’s-her-name with the eyebrows–“
“Frida Kahlo?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. I like surrealism, I like Dada… I like the Cobra movement: childlike, kind of primitive paintings.”
“I also like Hirst, actually,” he says, almost embarrassed at the admission – after all, few artists split public opinion so radically. “It’s very modern and now”, he explains, describing The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, Hirst’s famous shark in formaldehyde: “Wow, that was fucking amazing… he changed a lot in art.” Indeed, Fielding is considering an artistic tribute to the infamous diamond-encrusted skull: “I might cover my skull in jelly tots… as a sort of lo-fi version of Hirst”.

Fielding wants to share his love of the surreal, and has evidently thought long and hard about how best to communicate it – “When you’re doing weird stuff, you really have to do a story. It’s the way we learn, isn’t it? Everything we learn we learn through stories.” Narrative is central to Fielding’s idea of comedy as seeking a resolution, much like a story – “we were always aiming for these things we called superjokes…which were like jokes which were better than normal jokes, or which tied in to an ending or a resolution.”
He elaborates: “There’s a point in comedy when it starts working like a sort of domino effect…if you get a good visual and a good song and a good story moment, I think you can kind of blow the roof off.”

Does this mean Fielding’s personal, artistic and literary influences are inseparable from his comedy? “I think it’s always quite a fine line between standup and poetry and storytelling.” We ask him how much of himself he poured into the character of Richmond, and he confesses, “I am a bit of a goth, a bit of a Richmond… It’s pretty much 90 percent me.” He’s grown attached to the character – “I miss Richmond… he had a sort of slightly vampyric element to him, a sort of mystical supermagic element.”

Not unconnected with his gothic persona as Richmond is Fielding’s iconic dress sense. Twice included in GQ’s top 50 best-dressed men, in 2015 and 2008 (2nd in 2008), he is renowned as an uniquely inventive dresser. But Fielding, the fashon icon, is characteristically modest – “I’m slipping down the charts, aren’t I? But no – I do like clothes, and I like to dress interestingly.” He has rejected an offer to design a range for Topshop, from when the Boosh was at its height, but still he tells us, “I do love fashion – like Alexander McQueen and stuff I think is amazing… maybe when I hang up my comedy boots I’ll come out with a fashion line.”

“What I don’t like is people dressing like me – I like to dress up in my own clothes, you know, at the vintage stores.” Originality, then, is the key? “That’s what I’m excited about, yeah…. I mean, you’ve only got your ideas, really, when you’re a writer or a poet or a musician.”

Any advice as our conversation draws to a close? “It’s about getting that one good idea… that one good thing and running with it.” A bit like Richmond – and now we’re regretting not asking Fielding to do an impersonation for us before he left…

PHOTO: Anna Raynsford

 

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