The Mighty Boosh on Why They Waited So Long to Conquer America: ‘We Weren’t Invited!’

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Photo: Mark Graham

Long before Flight of the Conchords landed themselves a series deal with HBO that would one day lead them to a scad of surprise Emmy nominations, the British cult comedy duo known as the Mighty Boosh had produced a couple of seasons' worth of highly acclaimed and utterly hilarious shows for the BBC. The show, which focuses on the wildly surrealistic adventures of the androgynous hipster Vince Noir (Noel Fielding) and the jazz-loving intellectual Howard Moon (Julian Barratt), has been a smash success in the U.K. since its premiere in 2004, but is only just now making its way to these shores. Not only does the program air at 1 a.m. — on Sunday nights during the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block — but the first three seasons were just released on DVD last week. Vulture sat down with the Mighty Boosh at the Soho Grand last week, on the eve of their first-ever United States performance, to discuss their plans to win over audiences Stateside, how their show might have been different had they launched it in the U.S., and what they're planning on doing next.

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You two have been huge comedy stars in England for the better part of the last decade. What took you so long to cross the Atlantic and conquer America?
Noel: We weren't invited! We always did want to come over here, but we're very English, so we have to be asked. We're not just gonna turn up. Well, at least not without wine and cake.
Julian: We find it slightly embarrassing to just turn up, and to sell yourself, as well. Over here, it's very understood that you have to sell yourself and we've always been a bit more, a bit more ...
Noel: Cool.
Julian: Yeah, we want to come to you like a summer breeze. A nice, summer, balmy breeze.
Noel: That light summer breeze you get on a hot beach that just gets you cool.

Do you have any ambitions to...
Noel: None at all.

...to do any of the live shows that you've famously put on overseas?
Noel: We have a lot of big shows that we do in England; we'd love to come and do that over here. It's a big old production, with trucks and a band and revolving sets. We'd love to come and do that here. Hopefully, if we can give people sort of a taste of what we do, they'll invite us back for a bit of a bigger-scale production.

One of the things that has always struck us about the show is that there's clearly such a great dynamic between you two as performers. But Howard and Vince have such a weird friendship; they just seem so different.
Noel: Well, I think that's true of a lot of your friends, isn't it? I've got a lot of friends who I'm like, "How am I friends with you?"
Julian: They've been around each other a lot, so they've got a lot of shorthand.
Noel: And they're terrible without each other.

So it's a yin-yang sort of thing?
Noel: Yeah, I think so. A bit like brothers, actually. I used to do that with my brother, who plays Naboo on the show. As soon as my mother would separate us, I'd be like, "Where's Michael gone? ... now I'm really bored."

The show seems to have a real surrealistic streak to it. Can you tell us a little bit about...
Noel: About surrealism?

No, more about the creative process and how you two come up with such bizarre settings and plotlines.
Noel: We start with the ideas, big ideas for the episodes sort of thing. Like, maybe Naboo turns Bollo back into a man, because that's the backstory of Bollo. He was maybe a man who was cursed, we were thinking about doing an episode about that. That gives you enough to start with.
Julian: We didn't start out sketching out whole seasons, arcs, or stories. We were just happy to get on TV, so we didn't really think too much, long-term, about what happens to the characters over the length of the show.
Noel: In England, it needs to work quite well straight away. You have to do fairly well in order to get another series.
Julian: We do things that are very personal to us. We thought if we were true to what makes us laugh, that would be a powerful thing that people could get into.

Do you think things might've been different had you originally done the show for U.S. television instead of the BBC?
Julian: Well, when we first went into it, we had producers telling us...
Noel: [In a producer voice] "You should get a woman in it!" [In his voice] "But I'm the woman! We already have a woman!" But here's what happened, because we actually thought about that. We thought, "Oh, actually, it would be really funny if there were a woman that Howard really fancied that didn't even know he existed." So if we think of a good idea that requires a funny woman in it, we're not against anything, really. As you can see, we have an ape in our show — we're not against anything!

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And then there's Tony Harrison. That's got to be the most bizarre character ever seen on television. What's going on with him?
Noel: Well, I guess he's an alien, isn't he? We thought that the shaman would be supernatural and sort of from different planets.
Julian: We thought of a spinoff series focusing on the shaman.
Noel: Like X-Files, only they never solve anything. We did think that something like that is more easy to understand because you know straight away that it's weird, whereas with our show, it creeps up on you.

You've already conquered radio, live shows, and television. Do you have any plans to take on Hollywood?
Noel: We're starting writing a film actually, soon. We've sort of got some backing to make a film; we just want to make sure we've got the right idea. That we've got an idea that will carry.
Julian: We want it to work for people who haven't seen the show on television.
Noel: Also, we've done a lot of narratives, haven't we? We've done like maybe 30 or 40 narratives...
Julian: We've done as much narrative as Shakespeare. Much more.
Noel: Slightly clunkier, though. We get drawn to stories when we work together. We were always obsessed with epic journeys, like Sinbad and Arabian Nights. So that's something we always thought would be nice, to take two idiots who just live in London — one thinks he's trendy and the other thinks he's intellectually supreme — and then they go out and actually get involved in quests.

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Another undercurrent that runs through the show is the use of drugs. Is that something that comes into play while you two are working through the creative process?
Noel: [In Tony Harrison's voice] "When I go, I go big!"
Julian: We just find it funny that these mythical beasts would do drugs, and what would happen to them when they did.
Noel: Tony Harrison, he's a bit like a dad, isn't he? When he goes on trips to France, he's got a flask, he's not "I'm off his face." He does love his poppers, though.

I've got a few questions about some of the show's most famous characters. Let's start with the Moon. Is he, um, mentally challenged?
Noel: He's retarded. No, he's very old, isn't he? He's very old and he's quite simple. I don't know where that voice came from, really; he sounds a little bit like an old Eastern European daft — a simpleton.

And how about Old Gregg?
Julian: Oh, you mean the transsexual sea creature? It came from a basket that we have in the basement. No, I mean, we have no idea where these things come from, we just talk and it all comes out.
Noel: Well, we thought it would be funny if it were a merman instead of a mermaid, and then we thought it'd be a bit funny if he were like Rick James, because we were really into Rick James, ODB, Wu-Tang Clan, and Little Richard at the time. And then we thought, "What if he had a vagina?" But seeing as how he's a man, we figured it should be a mangina. And he's a little bit like a serial killer as well. He genuinely loves Howard, but he's confused.

So what's next on the horizon for the Mighty Boosh? Is there a series four in the works?
Noel: We have to make a decision, don't we? We're either going to make an album, a film, or a season four. We've got offers to do a few things, we're just trying to decide what we should do next. In England, people are like "When's season four coming out?" and we go, "You're not in America; they're called series here." And then we slap them [laughs]. Who knows, maybe a dance piece?