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Noel Fielding Concentrated Insanity

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It says a lot about Noel Fielding that within the first minute of our phone interview, he’s already joked about killing a flying ant with a contact lens and suggested that I might want to masturbate to the sound of his voice.

Originally a stand-up comedian, this sexpot surrealist first cantered onto our TV screens like a horny Trojan pony in cult noughties series The Mighty Boosh, which smuggled avant-garde art into a sitcom narrative featuring Vince Noir (Fielding), Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) and a motley crew including Noel’s brother Michael. After three series, Fielding returned with Luxury Comedy in 2012, resulting in some of the most uncategorisable entertainment ever broadcast.

All in all, it’s not a stretch to say that his CV has redefined what comedy can look, sound, dance and dress like. This autumn he’s doing stand up again, and I chatted to him before last Thursday’s gig in Hull.

Hey Noel! What have you been up to today?

Hello! We travelled in from Fife, got up, wandered round Hull, did some writing in Pizza Express, did the soundcheck, did some singing. We're still fiddling round with the ending. It’s only our third gig tonight so we're still tweaking. I think probably on the last day of the tour, you go 'It works!' and then 'That's the end, bye!' People want it to be shambolic, so if it fucks up they sort of like it. And if you make stuff up with the audience and improvise, they love it because it's special to them. Julian [Barratt] used to say to me "You hate jazz - you are jazz!" I used to go, "No please, I don’t wanna be jazz!" But unfortunately, I am jazz.

What are you wearing right now?

I look like a right old goth today. I've got a black t-shirt with a gold skull and this weird 80s coat that Keanu Reeves would probably wear in an 80s film, and I've got these tall silver and black boots that I'm quite pleased with, and I haven't really washed my hair properly, so I look a bit like Robert Smith haha. I need some products really badly… [I hear him talking to someone] My brother’s just come in holding a baby, going “Look, we’ve got a bigger baby!” It’s a prop and it was too small. It’s quite difficult to get a big baby these days, I’ll tell you that much.

I’ll bet. Is your working process different for comedy than for art?

Yeah, very different. Art’s much more relaxing. Comedy’s like an horrific nightmare [laughs manically], like a year-long panic attack cos you know you have to go out and sell it and if it’s not funny you’re like [groans], ‘Oh God, I’m just gonna die like a bitch’, so you’ve just got to keep working and adding stuff and changing jokes.

Also, this show’s got a bit of story in it. It’s got animation, it’s got people, it starts off as stand up then it gets theatrical, there’s music in it, there’s props and visuals. It’s quite a big old deal. You’ve got to just keep getting it tighter and slicker every night and then you have a bit of a meeting afterwards. When you’re all trapped on a bus together you either get really drunk and party or you end up dissecting the show drinking tea and eating cereal. But I bought a James Dean book in a second-hand shop, so about 3.30 in the morning I started reading and I read about half of it so I didn’t get much sleep. I was a bit depressed because Dennis Hopper always talks about the fact that they were friends, but it says at the beginning [puts on pretty good American accent]. ‘Dennis Hopper makes up a lot of stuff about being friends with James Dean’. I hate books when they demystify people. When you take the mystery away, there’s nothing left. And this book keeps talking about ‘factoids’. That word gets more absurd the more you read it.

That’s a good bandname!

Shall we start a band called The Factoids? [Getting more and more excited] Yes, I like that. ’Check the Factoids’! I’m punning like a motherfucker!

There’s a great episode of Luxury Comedy where there’s almost a fist fight between Andy Warhol and George Orwell about who’s to blame for reality TV, and there’s a line which I thought might be your manifesto: “Wouldn’t it be great if fantasy could be a metaphor for social commentary?”

Yes, absolutely, well spotted [laughs]. I think that is our manifesto, yeah!

You danced to Wuthering Heights for 2011’s Comic Relief. Did playing a fantasy Kate Bush make the real one come back?

Funnily enough she did say that it brought her back a bit into the public consciousness and apparently she released a single or an album and it did quite well. Nothing to do with my catastrophic dancing [laughs]. I wasn’t expecting her to get in touch, though. She ended up putting me in her video. We saw Florence & the Machine the other day, and obviously Florence likes her as well. Actually, I looked like Florence when I was dressed as Kate Bush, that was the irony of that. The circle is complete.

Are fantasy and reality mutually exclusive?

Wow, that’s a fucking question! Well, there’s a bit in this show where Fantasy Man tries to get the whole audience into the Fantasy Zone cos he feels like there’s some non-believers in the audience who aren’t using their imaginations properly. It seems to be one of the best bits in the show.

You can’t have one without the other. In a way maybe that’s what was wrong with my first series. Everything was weird, whereas the second one maybe had a bit of grounding. I concentrated on the main four characters and they were in a coffee shop and there were stories. Narrative is key. It’s easier to digest weirdness if it’s in a story, whereas the first series was just like concentrated insanity. I can’t even watch some of those myself. They give me a panic attack.

Do you think that making stuff up has the same stigma as wearing make-up for a man?

Ha! I think people don’t take you seriously if you wear make-up. When I used to dress up a lot on the Boosh, I noticed in meetings people would always talk to Julian because he’s taller, he’s older and he was more like a man in a suit - albeit a corduroy one - and he had a moustache, he was like Rommel or something. I was like the pretty wife [cackles] that they never listened to. It’s sort of annoying.

Yeah, making stuff up’s weird actually because it’s quite a skill. I notice that when I play a character and I go into the audience and improvise, they understand what that is and they love it, but if you just make stuff up on stage when you’re doing stand up, they think you should have written something and they don’t know why you're doing that.

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An Evening with Noel Fielding is at the City Hall on Wednesday 29 October 2014.

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