Comedy: The men who like to say `Boosh'

Like you, James Rampton gets tired of the Edinburgh hype. But Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding just might be all they're cracked up to be

THAT SOUND you can hear coming over the horizon is not an enraged swarm of bees, but the buzz already surrounding comedians Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. "Awards ... zzz ... commissioning editors ... zzz ... hottest ticket in town ... zzz ... TV pilots ... zzz ... Perrier ... zzz ... Channel 4 are interested ... zzz". The Daily Telegraph dubbed them "the best new comedians to emerge in years", and The List described them as "brilliantly original and intriguing". The Sunday Times, meanwhile, went for the more straightforward "Excellent!" What's all the fuss about? Aren't we in danger of falling for the Edinburgh obsession with discovering the Next Big Thing? Are our critical faculties just being engulfed by the Festival's lava-flow of hype?

I don't think so. The main reason Barratt and Fielding are attracting attention is because they are like nothing you've ever seen before. The Mighty Boosh, their show, seems to have been conceived by a card-carrying Dadaist. It opens with two men dashing rapidly on and off stage to the sound of tinny Hammond-organ music. Grinning cheesily, they are wrapped in gold curtains, their faces caked with shaving-foam and their hair festooned with cotton-wool balls.

The plot - for what it's worth - revolves around two zoo keepers, tetchy Howard Moon (Barratt) and innocent abroad Vince Noir (Fielding), who crash- land in the middle of an enchanted forest. In various adventures and flashbacks, they encounter such deranged characters as Bob Fossil, the evil safari-suited zoo boss who trounces Moon in a fight and dresses him up as a small Latvian princess, and Mr Susan, a man whose fingers are bananas, which he donates to Smoothie Time, a cookery programme about milk shakes. Are you still with me?

At one stage, Moon gets Noir to don Russian peasant's garb to act out a drama he's written called Pies. "Last time you gave me a pie," chants Noir in a dirge, "I cut into it and birds flew out of it into my chin and eyes. I was confused. It was a trick pie." Later, they both fall in love with the same volunteer from the audience: "She's got Christmas eyes, like satsumas ... She's got chocolate ankles that all the villagers come out and lick." It's the sort of acquired-taste comedy that looks stupid in cold print and which you are obliged to justify with the phrase: "you had to be there."

The Mighty Boosh is Spike Milligan meets Harry Hill at Salvador Dali's house, which is located in Weird Street, just round the corner from Bizarre Boulevard ... Sorry, it's catching. But if you give yourself to it, it's oddly mesmerising. According to Cal McCrystal, the director, "We get drawn into their universe because they are, in the best sense of the word, charming. They're not smarmy, but when the audience see them, they think, I like them. It's that which makes this strange world so endearing."

Barratt, 30, and Fielding, 25, sit on a restaurant terrace sipping tea in shirts with matching trendy epaulettes. Like any good double act, they have contrasting looks: Barratt is tall and gangly, while Fielding is shorter, with the puckish good looks of a young Bryan Ferry. The stage act depends on contrasts, too. "We're both idiots," says Fielding, "but Julian is an idiot who thinks he's in control, and I'm a naive idiot who sometimes says something profound. It's a universal dynamic, like Laurel and Hardy."

In person, they genuinely seem to find each other funny, topping each other's jokes and egging each other on to ever more ludicrous comic conceits. When I ask them where they hope to take the act, Barratt replies with an admirably straight face: "All over France in a small van with weird paintings on the side. We'll have adventures and solve crime while we're there."

They've both had their periods of avant-garde artiness. After Reading University, Barratt was in an experimental acid-jazz band and, at Brunel University, Fielding developed a cabaret act as Jesus doing the can-can on the Cross. "We didn't want to be like lots of other comedians," says Barratt, "so what we're doing is a reaction. We're trying to subvert comedy. We're not crazy revolutionaries; we're just reacting against that general approach of, 'Hey, where are you from? Have you ever noticed?' Most stand- up is incredibly boring. It's time for people to do something else."

Fielding chips in. "At Jongleurs, it's all 35-year-old men in suits talking about getting pissed and their girlfriends. People want to hear about different things. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Someone called Peter Cook the last great British amateur comedian - he'd amble out and score a century. We want to be like that. We're not into to being tight; we like baggy. Our stuff comes from a long line of nonsense - Edward Lear, Alice in Wonderland, Spike Milligan, Cook. That has seeped into people's lives. People like nonsense."

That's not universally true. "Last year in Edinburgh, some people got angry with me," Fielding recalls, "not because the show is offensive, but because it's frivolous nonsense. One table made a big thing of walking out, and a couple of them waited for me outside. Security warned me not to go out there. People feel excluded - it even divides some friends. If people don't find it funny, they can't in their brains decide why not. They get confused and scared."

The Mighty Boosh has a cult following that threatens to grow to Rocky Horror proportions; regulars delight in shouting out things like "ginger biscuits!" Barratt reckons that the fans relish the unpredictability of the act. "Most comedy is about surprise. You put together two things that don't go together. It's disconnected. I like random."

"In surrealist films," Fielding adds, "they use absurd juxtapositions and you laugh. There's a reaction in your brain because you're expecting something else. In a Dali film, a man falls out of a window, and in the next shot he's got a donkey's head on. There's this Magritte painting we really like, which has a man standing on a balcony with wings coming out of his suit opposite a lion facing the other way. It's called Homesickness. That's incredibly funny, because your brain doesn't expect it.

"It sounds wanky, but Andre Breton said that a lot of the automatic writing in the Surrealist Manifesto was funny. They'd read it back and it was so strange, they'd laugh. We call it the 'snot-bubble laugh' because it's so unexpected. A lot of Vic and Bob is like that."

The young comedians both acknowledge the influence of Reeves and Mortimer on their act. But how do they feel about the tag of "the new Vic and Bob"? "I don't mind," says Fielding. "There are worse things, like being called 'the new Little and Large'."

! `Boosh': Edinburgh Pleasance Above (0131 556 6550), to 31 August.

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...