Interview: Mike Fielding
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN FEBRUARY 2012 FOR THE VELVET ONION
Naboo The Enigma. That’s what they called him. A mysterious shaman, either in a drug-fuelled trance or listening to Fleetwood Mac. For three television series and two mammoth live tours, Mike Fielding was Naboo, and ultimately, he remained the real enigma throughout. Whereas Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt projected hyper-real versions of themselves into Vince and Howard, Mike was a mystery: the dvd extras revealing the persona of just about everyone else working on the show except him. Sure, we got the odd little wisecrack here and there, but only a few interviews had ever really hinted at the real man underneath the turban.
Meeting Mike again, away from the madness of the Boosh Tours was an experience – not just because our meeting occurred whilst he and his cohorts were knee deep in filming for Luxury Comedy in a North London studio. Here was an instantly likeable man, every bit as charming as his sibling – but in a subtler, more relaxing manner than the star of the show who, quite understandably, was feeling the pressure a lot more when we spoke. Perhaps it helped that Mike is less than three years my elder, so our frame of reference was undoubtedly similar. When he wasn’t needed on set, he was keen to mingle with The Velvet Onion team, ensuring we felt at home, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in our crew by appreciating him a lot more after that hot weekend in July.
Catching up not long after his thirtieth birthday, I find Mike in a reflective, but positive mood – open, honest, and as per usual, downright hilarious. We’ve been talking less than thirty seconds and he apologises for not sending his private jet to Manchester to pick me up, only for us to have an impromptu discussion about how it would resemble a hard-boiled, hollowed-out egg, complete with plasma screens and pick ‘n’ mix. With Mike, there’s always pick ‘n’ mix – and it’s clear that he shares his brother’s childlike sense of wonderment with the world – something he pegs on the Boosh itself.
“Before Boosh, I was the shyest person in the world,” he tells me. “I was scared of my own shadow, I wouldn’t talk to anyone that I didn’t know. Boosh has made me who I am now. It’s given me an animated, childish confidence. People say that when you’re thirty, you can’t be stupid like that anymore, but who says? There’s no rules!”
He is quick to agree that the show gave him something of a Peter Pan complex: “I think its important to feel young and stay a bit young. If you get bogged down with the reality of it all, you’d just sit in a hole moaning about bills and cats… …cats? I’ve haven’t got cats, but a lot of old people get cats when they get old. ‘Oh, I’ve got cats, it’s all over for me!’” I suggest, cynically, that you never really grow old, but simply get childish about more boring things – a suggestion that seems to ring true. ““Yeah, it’s important to laugh every day,” he explains. “Not a lot of people do. They get in their office and they go: ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly let myself go for five minutes and laugh at something.’ I never want to be like that.
“People follow the trend, and think they have to act in a certain way when you turn 30. You don’t. It’s ridiculous. Can you imagine me and Noel ever fully growing up? That’s weirder than anything we’ve ever done, I think.” I wonder out loud if the two of them ever discuss insurance or mortgage finance? “You never know,” he says, “I might be the face of Admiral or something one day. That’s when you know your young days are over.”
Still, not many people can say they’ve sold out the O2 Arena, or become a regular in the NME despite not being a musician! At its peak, the Boosh became an intense roller-coaster ride, before Noel and Julian took a step back and decided to put their partnership into a temporary hiatus. In the past, Noel has explained that he and Barratt spent fifteen years working solidly together, and they had started to become one entity – but how did it feel for those around the duo when the dream came to an end?
“It was a big shock to the system,” he reveals. “First off, I figured I needed to get a job, now!” He bursts out laughing, then stops to consider the implications of those manic times. “It was weird,” he confesses, “but me and Noel both started having flashbacks, like we’d been in Vietnam or something. Our answer to that was to just keep on partying, because deep down we didn’t want it to end. We just kept trying to go out, and keep that energy alive a bit. Noel got out of it a bit earlier on, but I was left spiralling for a while longer.” He thinks for a moment. “It’s a weird feeling when you’re playing the o2, and then the next year… I mean, it was all life changing and mind boggling. It was like being in The Twilight Zone. You can’t explain it to anyone unless they’ve been there.”
Mike’s answer to this was to travel the world, performing dj sets wherever he could, usually to a happy-go-lucky crowd of Boosh fans. For much of 2009 and 2010, he was heavily active on the scene, gigging two or three times a week, which he reveals didn’t exactly help his attempts to quit the party lifestyle, but last year he made an important decision to turn his life around and concentrate on fresh work. “I did one gig at the end of last year,” he explains, “and it wasn’t a very good gig. I got put in a different room to where I should have been, and loads of people paid to see me and thought I hadn’t turned up. It was the first time I did a dj gig and thought: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ It was fun at the time, but I think its run its course.”
Since then, he’s been writing heavily with his writing partner Max, working on scripts and treatments for the many ideas pouring out of his head. “I’ve been writing my own show four days a week, and that’s been part of the big wake-up call. It’s fallen on me to finally start doing things for myself, you know? Boosh was given to me on a plate…” He stops for a moment, then laughs: “Even though no-one else could’ve played Naboo!”
“It’s nice to be doing something for myself.” he continues. “Production companies love our treatments, and are going to pitch them… and that’s not even the idea we’re writing at the moment!”
That idea was something we spoke about back in July, when Mike was knee deep in Luxury Comedy. A planned six-part mockumentary, the series would see Mike creating a show within the show all about the unexplained. Ghosts, werewolves, vampires, things that go bump in the night and are the stuff of legends – all fantastical creatures which he is fascinated by. Since then, the idea has continued to take shape, and has gained a notable script-editor:
“We finished the first draft just before Christmas and got Noel to script-edit it. Now we’ve started the second draft and we’re making the changes he’s suggested,” he explains. “It’s actually harder making changes than it is just starting from scratch. It’s all there, but we’re just having to change bits. In the end we just started a blank page and used the first draft and the notes as a basis. I think it was just the thought that it was there, on the bottom of the page. But Noel’s been really helpful.”
We certainly look forward to seeing the results of these various ideas – if that is, the commissioners take to them in this difficult period for comedy. I mention some of the casualties of the last few years to him – from Lifespam and Penelope: Princess Of Pets through to How Not To Live Your Life and Mongrels. Alternative comedy, so recently the height of mainstream, appears to have finally become alternative once again. “I think The Boosh opened the door for a lot of weird shows,” he opines. “At some point down the line, things changed. Comedy has gone so samey: safe and commercial. Sitcoms, panel shows, stand-up… it’s all the same people, and the weird shows have disappeared. What’s mad, is that it’s come back around again, and the show that’s going to herald the change is Noel’s show.”
Yes, Luxury Comedy. The oddest of the odd – a call to arms for the terminally surreal. A candy-coloured, psychedelic children’s show for adults where mash pours into The Audience’s head to produce revolvers, mantarays are record producers and New York cops have talking wounds. It’s a truly unique vision, and one that Mike was keen to be involved with. “I came in after it was written, but I was in rehearsals pretty much every day so we could hone the scripts. When we did Boosh, I was only in bits and pieces, but now I’m a main character, I think I only had one or two days off throughout the whole shoot.”
There has always been talk of how funny Mike can be, and having spent time with him, I can certainly understand why. Whilst Naboo was a glorious gift of a character, the real Michael Fielding was, and is, capable of so much more – and now at last it seems everyone else is realising that, particularly Mike himself. “It was good for me,” he reveals, with startling honesty. “I had a lot to prove to myself, and to Noel and the crew. I’d only ever played one character before. The fact I was playing six proper characters in this meant I had to step up. And I did it, and I’m proud of myself because of it. It’s been good being part of that, and throwing ideas into the mix. I wasn’t really in the mindset to do that when we did The Boosh. I was younger and far less confident. Now, I’m chipping in and Noel’s really encouraged it.”
I ask if there was a conscious effort from both Fielding brothers to ensure Mike wasn’t seen just as Noel’s sibling: “Yeah. I always felt like that anyway,” he tells me, “but Noel would tell me all the time that he put me in the show because he finds me funny, and he wants people to see that, and he wants me to believe it. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve started to accept that. Before, when I was in the Boosh, people would come up to me and tell me I made them laugh, but I couldn’t quite believe it. I grew up not thinking I was good at anything. Noel was always the comedian, and then the artist, so I had a lot to prove to myself. I’m starting to accept it now, and I’m approaching the whole process of making the show and its aftermath differently, and I guess a bit more grown-up. Funny, how we were saying about me being childish earlier… in my own way I’ve had to grow up a lot in the last couple of years.”
Somewhat surprised by his candour, I tell him that I’m confident fans will be suitably impressed by his work on the show – and indeed, everyone’s work on the show. It may take a while for people to realise just how great the show is, I suggest, but it’s something that will nestle inside people’s brains and make them love it. Mike is keen to agree, but this raises a thorn in his side about initial reactions to the show from certain corners of Boosh fandom: “I think its so magical, but it’s a real shame that some people are shouting about how they won’t watch it because Julian isn’t in it. I really hope people are willing to give it a chance in its own right. The Boosh will always be there,” he states, firmly. “There will be a comeback, but it will be when they’re ready. It’d be wrong to do it right now, but it will happen… and people can’t force that to happen any sooner. They can’t expect Noel and Julian not to do other things in the meantime… and I really hope people will give the show a go instead of dismissing it. “
I reveal that it took TVO a few viewings to really appreciate the subtleties of the show, and again, Mike is keen to agree that with Luxury Comedy, it may only truly sink in on repeat viewings. “It is so different,” he suggests. “I think it’ll go down well… or people will start throwing rocks at us on the street. A show like this gives people the opportunity to think differently to how the world is today for a while… to have that little bit of time away from reality. Not to watch it seriously, but just let it sink in.”
“I think the reason people won’t get it, is the reason people might not have got The Boosh. They didn’t allow themselves to fully immerse themselves inside that world. They’d just go: ‘Oh, I don’t understand it!’ and get annoyed at themselves and feel inferior because the people around them did get it. That just makes them feel less intelligent.” He pauses for a moment, perhaps to consider if he’s going too far… “If they just forget all that – and relax for a minute, they’ll see it. They’ll get it. It’ll be like a light bulb going off in their heads.” He laughs: “People would watch Boosh once, and tell me they didn’t like it, then I’d get them to watch it a second time and they’d go: ‘Oh, yeah I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t ready the first time!’”
And if the show were to get a second series, what would Mike like to accomplish with another shot at making the show? “What would I like to see? Oh god…” He thinks for a moment, stalling with the first thoughts that pop into his semi-subconscious. “I’d like to see a macaroon… and a viscount. I’m gonna pen that in.” Is he thinking seriously, or has his mind wandered to his shopping? “Oh yeah,” he realises, “I just named two biscuits! What the fuck am I doing?” He bursts into laughter. “Not the chocolate bar, an actual viscount. You’re just thinking: ‘He’s just naming biscuits? What’s going on?’”
Still drawing something of a blank, it seems he’s either keeping his guard up on new ideas, or he’s happy to let Noel lead, and for him to follow… with a little bit of added influence along the way: “Who knows what else is in Noel’s brain? Who knows what’s gonna come out of there for a second series? It’s funny though, I had a discussion with Noel about this, and I said I’d love to write a character in, or help him write some of it. I’ve never had the confidence to ever suggest that to him before. Now, after this, I feel like I could do that. “
Now a true Fielding & Fielding collaboration – that would be a sight to see – especially as Mike has a somewhat off-kilter influence: “I really love Victoria Wood, actually. It would be amazing to work with her on something, but I’m sure it would never happen. I really admire her writing, and would love to work with her in whatever context I could.”
“She’s the only person I’ve ever gone starstruck at,” he reveals. “She came backstage at one of our shows and I wanted to tell her how much I loved her work, but I just sounded like Beaker from The Muppets!” I ask if his being starstruck himself made it easier to understand fan reactions to The Boosh? “Yeah, I totally know how it feels,” he explains. “Sometimes, I just put my hand on their shoulder and try to tell them to relax. Try and give them a cuddle. It’s mad sometimes, but you can’t control it when it takes over you like that.”
The Boosh taught me a lot about ‘famous people’ in a very short space of time – their natural charms made me realise quite quickly that the best way to talk to a ‘celebrity’ is to treat them like a normal person. Mike agrees, especially when I suggest that fear is the only possible reaction when someone comes running up to you screaming about wanting your babies. “Yeah. It’s not like I’m gonna go: ‘Well, actually, it’s funny you should say that. I’ve got a little pot of spunk in my pocket.‘”
I immediately erupt into laughter so loud that for once I’m glad we’re not meeting up in person. I’d deafen the poor chap – but still he keeps on going: “Imagine that? ‘Here’s the contract. I’m not paying maintenance.’ Then when the kid turns up on my doorstep saying: ‘I want some money’, I can go: ‘Well, I’ve got a contract here, sir…’”
It seems that any demons Mike may have had in the past are either excised, or have been put very much on the back burner. More than ever before, he seems ready to take on the world. “I’m really enjoying things at the moment.” he tells me. “I’m in a good place mentally. Me and Noel both know how to approach it now if things get big again, and its good to do my own thing at last too.”
So Luxury Comedy has been a rewarding experience, and it seems that the biggest luxury Mike has discovered along the way has not been a wild party, but simple respect and admiration given and received by those around him. “It’s been really good for me to get to know Tom and Dolly,” he explains, candidly. “I knew them before, but whenever I’d see them we’d be out and I’d be crazy drunk or something, and I never really stuck to them and had conversations with them. I can appreciate now how much of a bubble I was in. I got a bit selfish, I stopped talking to a lot of my friends, and you don’t see it at the time…” No longer trapped in the turban, Mike finally appears to have found acceptance from his friends, his colleagues and most important, himself. “Spending every day with Noel and Tom and Dolly and everyone else has been great. We’ve really bonded, and I miss seeing them all every day. It’s like one big happy family.”