Interviews: Noel Fielding – Let’s Dance!
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN FEBRUARY 2011 FOR THE VELVET ONION
February 2011 saw Noel Fielding take on one of the biggest challenges he’s ever faced: a live dance-off on BBC1 show Let’s Dance in aid of Comic Relief.
Noel was kind enough to talk exclusively to The Velvet Onion on the way to rehearsals.
Noel talked about his appearance on the show, and whilst we had the lovely man’s attention, it would have been churlish of us not to ask about plans for the Boosh and his own forthcoming series.
Thankfully, Noel was more than willing to indulge us. Here, then, for posterity, is our complete interview…
Hi, Noel… thanks for talking to us today: we know you’re insanely busy!
Yeah I’m on my way to the studio now, actually – I’ve got to do the dress rehearsal today, which is a bit scary. It’s the first time everyone’s been all together and can see what you’ve been doing for the last two weeks.
It’s quite hard to get to that level. I’ve sort of learned what I’ve got to do, but its getting all the bits to look good in the dance at the same time. You always lose one bit, so the middle bits good but the end’s wrong or something. It’s really hard to get everything good.
Obviously when I watch my dance teacher, who is amazing, and then I see myself in the mirror I just go: “OH MY GOD!” In my head, I thought I was doing what my dance teacher was doing, and when I saw myself I was like: “Not quite…” I guess it’d be like them trying to do stand-up.
It’s a ridiculously hard thing to learn in such a short space of time, and I’ve never been so tired in all my life. I’m actually knackered all the time.
How did you end up getting involved? Did they ask you, or did you offer yourself up for exhaustion?
They asked me, of course. There’s no way I would have volunteered! [he laughs] Richard Curtis sent me a really long, three page email saying it’d be really good if I could do it. He’s been doing this stuff for twenty years now, so it was a really nice, really well constructed email. There was no way anyone could’ve read it and thought: “Nah, I’m not doing that.”
Then you realise just how much work everyone else is doing for it, and he’s been doing it for so long and still manages to write films and do stuff, so I said yes and then thought: “What have I said that for? What a dick!” It was ages ago when he asked, so you think it’ll be fine, but then as it got closer I thought: “Did I really say I was doing that? What an idiot.” But its fine… it’s been really fun actually.
You’ve done bits and bobs for Comic Relief before, haven’t you?
Yeah… I think me and Julian did a gig once in the middle of the night which was pretty hilariously bad. It was presented by Russell Brand, but by the time we went on it was about half three in the morning, and the people who were in the live audience had been there since about 10 o’clock and they were furious!
I actually wanted to do The Apprentice thing, because I love that show, and I thought that’d be fun but then they said they wanted me to do the dance instead.
I think they’re running out of people! I guess there’s six people in each round so it must be quite hard to find people who will do it… so they asked me!
Were you given free rein to pick a dance routine?
That was the first thing I asked about when I went in for it. I did get to choose, so I went away and looked at what’s already been done, which is pretty much all of the most famous dance routines. The big stuff that’s left you look at and think there’s absolutely no way you can learn it in two weeks, so you have to go for something quite simple. I wanted something unusual, though, and I managed to find something… which I’m not allowed to say!
Total secrecy, eh?
Definitely. It’s hilarious when you’re doing press but you’re not allowed to tell people what you’re doing… it’s really odd. You want to say but you really can’t. But the thing I’ve managed to find I’m really excited about, and they were really excited about too, which is good. It’s quite unusual, and I’m not sure how it will go down, but I guess it doesn’t matter really!
Do you think you could go all the way?
I really don’t know. I’ve seen what Lulu’s doing, and it’s pretty amazing, and really mindblowing stuff. I guess it depends how it goes down on the night.
I’d love to get through to the final, just because it’d be fun to come and do it on the main night because it’s been quite a lot of work getting to this stage. I’ve kinda gotten into it now, so if it’s over on Saturday it’ll be like: “That was that. Bye!”
Have you started taking it seriously then?
I’m quite competitive so I have been a bit. I’m not sure how funny it is, but if I can do it well, it’ll be really good. We’ll see.
You’ve had to make a short intro film as well. Were you allowed to run with that a bit more?
They had a few ideas for me, but I just thought I’d like to write it myself. The thing is it’s for 7o’clock on BBC1, and I’ll never ever be on telly at that time again! [he bursts out laughing] That’s not my forum in any way! Even that was a medium I’m not used to… I feel like I’m dreaming in mainstream.
I managed to write something in there for my little niece to be in, because she loves dancing. She’s really excited because she gets to be a fairy. I thought of this idea where she teaches me how to dance, which should look very funny. That was really nice for her. She got to film for a day and dance for the camera, so she’s buzzing that she’s going to be on telly. She’s only seven so that’s probably mindblowing for her. But I’ve no idea what it looks like now, because obviously the production team have cut it together and put music to it and stuff.
I saw some of the other introductions last night, and they’re all pretty broad and quite cheesy, but it is that kind of timeslot. The show is kind of like being punched in the face with rainbows. It gave me a panic attack for about five minutes when I first watched it. But the people on it are so good… that teacher and the young girl from Waterloo Road were really funny, I thought, because they were such an unlikely double act and what they did was hilarious.
Russell did really well too. He looked like The Fonz in that outfit. I’ve never really thought he looked like The Fonz before, but dressed as a woman I suddenly couldn’t think of anything else. It was quite disturbing what he did, but I think it was a good choice. Him pretending to be a sexy black woman… there’s a lot of stuff to do with that.
Are you in drag yourself?
[An enormous laugh jumps down the phone-line…]
Not right now, obviously!
I am, now.. of course! It’s weird, because I dressed up in such weird costumes in the Boosh that probably the weirdest thing I could’ve done was pick something really manly. That always freaks people out a bit more. I can’t say but you can probably guess…
Twitter is awash with rumours of you wearing a red dress…
I don’t know where that came from, actually! We haven’t had a dress rehearsal yet. I think someone just made that one up…
It’s a bit weird, because I have only seen glimpses of other people. Jared Christmas has got his kid coming in to watch him train, and she’s so cute, cos they wear the same tracksuit. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen is him in a blue Adidas tracksuit and his tiny two-year old in the same outfit. It’s the best visual I’ve ever seen… it literally kills me every time. And I’ve met Lulu, who was really nice. I don’t know who else is doing it, actually.
There’s quite a varied mix of contestants really. They’ve got comics, tv presenters and popstars from the past.
It’s weird, because they treat it like a real competition. When you watch the show it’s all light-hearted, but when you train you’re all in separate rooms. They treat it like you’re gladiators or something.
Some people take it really seriously and others just aren’t bothered. Apparently when Christopher Biggins did it, he did one rehearsal and thought it’d be alright. He was dressed like Danny from Grease, and just the visual of him in that outfit carried him through the whole show!
It’s going to be fun, though… and it’s quite good to do things in the mainstream every now and then… remind people you’re still there.
TVO hasn’t heard from you in some time. Where have you been?
I’ve been really busy lately on my new show. I’ve made a pilot of the first episode for Channel 4, so I’ve just been locked away in a studio in Belsize Park with my mate Nigel [Coan], who is the director and animator for it. We’ve been locked away from the world just writing and writing and writing, so I haven’t really done any performing or any sort of press or anything. You forget, then go: “Oh yeah, I remember how this works!”
We’d heard the show had been announced, and some kind of launch occurred recently, but where exactly are you at with it now? There were a few titles knocking about, so has a title been decided upon?
It’s like my own show, and it’s weird. It’s called Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. We’ve made one, and it really is luxury comedy: it takes so long to do! There’s a lot of animation elements, so sometimes it takes three days to make a bit that’s going to be on screen for four seconds.
It’s a filmed show, but there’s going to be some animated elements and such, with some animation over the top of the film.
We’ve made one, basically, and it’s pretty psychedelic. It’s a little bit sketchy, but not really. It reminds me of The Kenny Everett Show, in that its got a place that you come back to, where there’s a regular face and regular characters. It’s pretty insanely psychedelic… its weird but it makes the Boosh look like Dad’s Army!
I’m pretty excited about it. Serge from Kasabian is doing the music with me, and Nige who did all the animation and the Moon stuff in the Boosh is directing it. It looks beautiful and really cool, and its just a really strange and unusual show.
Are you able to keep it close to your own vision?
E4 have paid for it, though hopefully it’ll be on Channel 4 as well, and they’re just letting me do what I want. We made it ourselves ,and they just went: “Yeah, great! Do more of them!” So we’ve got our own studio where we can film green screen stuff, and have costume designers and make-up, and the editors and animators are in there so we’re all in one place like a little factory. It’s like Warhol’s factory – it’s amazing.
We do a little bit in the studio as well, because you have to build some sets but we can mainly do it all in one place. We’re sort of bypassing the usual tv thing, and the way that people usually make tv with a big massive crew of fifty people. It gives us much more leeway to make stuff and then go back in and re-film stuff or do some extra animation. We keep layering it, whereas usually once you do it in the studio that’s it – the next time you see it is in the edit. It seems to be going really well.
I’ve always wanted to do this animation thing with Nige. I wanted to a more freaky show with weirder stuff in it, like being able to play a chocolate finger. I’m playing this character called Roy Circle, who is a chocolate finger, but he’s a P.E. teacher and used to be a Queen’s Guard, so he wears one of those hats. He’s in a packet of chocolate fingers, and that stuff is quite hard to do, but Nige, who’s an animator, knows how to do those things.
It sounds great, and is obviously keeping you busy. I have to ask you about the Boosh…
Julian’s doing some avant garde theatre, which is hilarious! [He laughs heartily!] He’s working with this guy called Richard Jones. I saw Julian’s mum walking down the street and she said he’s having some voice coaching lessons, because I guess you don’t use mics in the theatre so you have to really project, so he’s really excited about that. And we’ve still got our album thing which we haven’t put out yet, and we’ve written half a film, so I’m sure we’ll come back together and do something soon. At the moment we’re both quite enjoying doing separate things.
It seems like you’re both going off to reassert your own personalities a little. The things you’re both doing are a world away from the Boosh and are very much ‘you’. Was this a conscious decision?
Well, you do kind of morph into one. We’d worked together for fifteen years, so there was a little bit of that, when we started turning into each other. We were ‘The Boosh’, just like Morecambe & Wise and we were like: “Jesus!” It was like we could only be viewed as this sort of double act, so I think its quite nice to be able to do some separate things, then when we come back we’ll be stronger.
What can we expect when that happens?
It’ll just be a bit fresher. There’s still the idea of doing America. Jack Black wants us to make the Boosh in America, and he wants to produce it, which is great. That would be amazing, but its just getting the timing right.
The album’s surely the next thing we’ll see, or rather hear. Any ideas when that’s going to come out now its pretty much ready?
Yeah, it’s done, but it’s a case of trying to find a release date. The problem is, if you’re not doing anything, if you’re not performing together or doing things as the Boosh, and you just bring an album out cold, it’s quite hard to promote it and stuff.
It’d be better if it came out on the back of something else we were doing like a film or another show or something. Then people would be more excited. We’re not sure, but if that doesn’t happen soon I think we’ll just stick it out and do another one soon.
We really enjoyed doing it. It was really good fun going to Jimi Hendrix’s studio in New York. Julian was absolutely buzzing, and we just flew everyone over in stages like Dave Brown and Rich Fulcher and Naboo and got them to do some stuff. We just improvised loads.
We came up with an idea for a weird zombie band called The Mummy Ball and performed some of the stuff live in the studio, and it was really frightening! Julian had tights over his face and a dress on, and looked absolutely terrifying. We thought that’d be a good way to do it, and really different for the Boosh.
There has been a lot of speculation about the future of the Boosh, as you’re all off doing your own things and very little seems to be happening that people can get a sense of. Can you see it winding down or could the Boosh go on indefinitely?
We’ve still got loads of ideas. I think its quite good for Julian to go and do some avant-garde theatre. He’ll appreciate me more then. It’s like an affair! He’ll come back… he’ll come back eventually!
It could go on forever, though. I don’t know. We spent such a long time together. We did three Edinburgh shows, a radio show, three tv shows, two big tours… we have worked consistently together for fifteen years, so there was going to have to be a point where we had a little bit of a break. I hope it can be a bit like Blur, where they can go off and do their own thing but they can come back if they want to.
In comedy terms, there’s no reason why we can’t go off and do some things separately and then come back fresher, and a bit stronger, you know? I think you can get a bit stale if you do three tv series in a row, really.
The second live show was so big, and it was very much out of our control in a way. It sold out a year in advance and we knew it was going to be in these massive venues that are quite hard to play comedy in. When you start off in a fifty seat theatre like we did, with all the little nuances and the home-made props, and then you end up in the 02… Well, you can’t have any home-made props in there. It’s a different thing entirely. You have to put on a big show.
Did the last tour go a bit too far in that direction?
It was getting out of our hands a little bit. Everyone was saying we should do this now, or this is the next stage, or we should crack America or something. We’ve never really worked like that. We always just did our own thing. When we made a tv show we made a pilot first and then tried to see if the BBC would put it on. We didn’t go: “Right, the next stage is this!” It feels quite weird when you’re working in that way, and go: “Right, now we have to go and do America.”
If we had a really good idea to do a show in America, that would’ve been the way round to do it. It felt like it was going the other way round, like: “We’re this big now, and now we have to go and do this, and make it bigger and more insane!” We were just stuck in this. There were too many people involved, and it was like a big machine. It became like Pink Floyd or something, and it had never been that. It had always been about me and Julian, so we really needed a break from that.
The Boosh had always been quite home made and a bit wonky. It was quite anti-showbiz in a way. It was always a bit more cult like Flight of the Conchords or something. It was never meant to be a big showbiz event in the O2 Arena. It’s great that all happened… they were some of the best nights ever for us, but in another way it happened almost by accident. It was a bit out of control, really.
It certainly felt weird seeing you repeatedly slapped on the front cover of the NME…
Yeah, that wasn’t supposed to happen to us! [He erupts into laughter, his tone one of retrospective disbelief…]
We do jokes about transsexual mermen with lights coming from their manginas. We were never really supposed to be mainstream. I think that was quite weird for Julian as well. Julian’s really not into that whole celebrity thing. He doesn’t want to be involved with any of that shit. He hates all that stuff. He’s not one of those people who’ll just go on a show because he’s semi-famous. He doesn’t know who any of those people are, either. Julian just likes making stuff. He doesn’t mind promoting his own thing, but he doesn’t want to be a face or a celebrity so I think he was struggling with it a bit.
There were other things I wanted to do as well. I wanted to do some standup, and I wanted to this animation thing with Nige. I went to art college with him, and we’ve been talking about it for years. I felt that I had to try and do it, because its more my vision than what I get to do in the Boosh. I thought that if I didn’t do it soon I’d never get on with it.
I’m really excited by it as well, because its all new characters and all new things. And Julian’s quite excited by this theatre stint because it’s a big acting challenge for him. I think we knew we could do the Boosh, and we’ve been doing that a lot. We needed a break to go in different directions and then come back to it.
I have to ask… after all these years, have you got any regrets? Is there anything you’d have done differently, or are you happy to keep going down the road?
I don’t know really. I don’t think so. You can only do what you can do at the time. But maybe if I’d known… I got caught up in it a little. You know when you get famous, and you get invited to all sorts of parties and you hang out with a lot of people getting drunk and partying? I got a bit carried away with all of that side of it, and I got bitten by that. Julian didn’t really do any of that, so it was a very different experience for him.
I’ve toned down that side of it a lot now, and I’m enjoying the work again. I think its quite good to that, though. It’s quite exciting to think: “Oh, I can go to parties with Amy Winehouse and Rhys Ifans and stuff and hang out.” You just want to have a look at this strange night-time world that you read about in papers, and then afterwards you’re in it, and you’re the idiot falling out onto the floor outside The Groucho. [laughs] Down in the gutter with Winehouse, you know?
In a way, it’s kind of fun to do that for a bit, but then you see the end of it quite quickly. I get bored if I’m not making stuff. This new show I’m doing has got a bit of everything in it. There’s a lot of painting, there’s a lot of animation and I’m writing it all with my mate, and I’m also getting to work with some other people that we didn’t really get to work with much on the Boosh. I’m doing some more stuff with Tom Meeten on the show, and we’ve got Dolly Wells [Methusula in the Party episode] in there, and my brother’s in there too. I want to get Paul Foot in to do some stuff as well. It’ll be interesting.
It’s great that there are people out there like Tom Meeten and Paul Foot who, because of that connection with you and the Boosh, have opened up a whole world of talent to explore.
Yeah, I know. From working on this show myself, and it’s taken me two years to get to this stage with it. We’ve made a pilot ourselves, as a sort of demo in our flats and houses and such about two years ago. Then we made a proper pilot which took most of last year to do around other things, and now we’re doing a series, so it’s been over two years in the making.
The world’s looking more and more complete but its taken us that long to get it looking so good, and its made me realise just how good the Boosh was at creating a brand new world. With the Boosh you just knew the whole universe, knew exactly who everyone was, knew exactly what everyone did. It was so complete. It’s made me realise how much work we all did on the Boosh. It wasn’t just one room in an office. We went on adventures and there were lots of other people involved.
We worked with some really good people, so I’ve met lots of people I could use in a different way. Especially Tom, who’s brilliant. Physically, he’s just amazing. Dolly Wells is really good verbally, and my brother… I always put him in every show, cos he’s my brother, but also because he’s hilarious and he doesn’t know it, which I love.