Talking Snuff Box and British Comedy with The Mighty Boosh’s Rich Fulcher

The term used most often to describe cult British sketch show Snuff Box is dark. Very, very dark. That’s about right for a surreal comedy set in a social club for professional hangmen. The Guardian described the show as “about as profane as British television has ever got.”

The show, created by The Mighty Boosh’s Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry, was broadcast on BBC Three in 2006. Despite only airing once, the six episode series developed a massive following online, and has just been released on DVD in the US.

Rich Fulcher is best known as part of the world of The Mighty Boosh. He’s also been seen on The Sarah Silverman Program, Childrens Hospital, and Jon Benjamin Has a Van. I caught up with Rich in London, a week after he returned from the Snuff Box press tour in the States.

You recently did live events for the DVD in LA, Toronto, and New York. How did that go?

It all went really well. There were loads of fans that wanted to finally see it on DVD, because a lot of people in the US are only familiar with it online. Or bootleg. We actually wanted to release Snuff at Comic-Con, but it just didn’t get out in time. It’s basically the people that would love Snuff Box so we would have gotten a lot of buzz.

People who like that type of humor, they’re going be everywhere. Manhattan, Kansas, Duluth. It’s amazing how, no matter where you go, there are pockets of Snuff fans. And we haven’t been exposed since the show came out, so there was a buildup. People hadn’t seen us in a while. If we kept going over, it would probably whittle down to nothing.

Why did you decide to set the show in this morbid world of a hangman’s club?

Matt and I both wanted to do a kind of narrative. We wanted the sketches to come around in a way, and we were trying to figure out a place that we could come to in between sketches. We just started to develop this world. Initially, it was the idea of just talking, having a normal conversation while you’re hanging somebody. And then, an old mans’ club where everybody was a hangman. They’re all ex-hangmen and they hang out in this club.

Did you ever talk about doing another series?

We’ve talked, and we even tried to do it in the US. But it’s one of those things where, the person [who commissioned it] in the UK left. And then the new people would not take something like this on. It was too much of a hotbed of controversy.

And in the States, we’ve tried to push it as well, but I think for the most part, people love the show, but they say, “Well, let’s just take your characters and then do something with that.” And dispense with all the hanging and frontal nudity.

How did the show come about? Had you and Matt written together at all before this?

No. We had done The Boosh together, so we knew each other. Then we started pitching, anything but sketch shows, because that wasn’t really on our minds. But it was just sort of tossed in our laps. So we wrote one the way that we wanted to do it. And basically they just said, “Yeah, do it, go for it.”

The BBC sort of let you do whatever you wanted with the show?

Yeah. There was very, very little adult supervision.

BBC Three now is sort aimed at 16 to 34-year-olds. Snuff Box doesn’t seem like a show that would work on the network these days.

That wasn’t there when we were doing it. The idea of BBC Three originally was to do alternative shows. And then if they did well, to put them on BBC Two or BBC One, which is like the equivalent of going from MSNBC to NBC.

Now it’s all changed. They’re skewing young. 9-year-old directors, you’ve got to have a 3-year-old on the camera, 4-year-olds on the show. The younger and younger you go, the happier they are. But, yeah, it doesn’t necessarily make for better shows.

Also, they didn’t send The Boosh up to BBC Two because they wanted to maintain it as kind of a flagship for that younger demographic. Which ultimately I think hurt The Boosh, because there are loads of mainstream people would love the show, but didn’t get exposed to it because of that.

When you watch Snuff Box back now, are there any sketches that really stand out to you as favorites?

I love all the shop scenes with Matt getting beaten up. I watched some of it back when we screened it with people, and I’m impressed with the idea of it as an entire show. Loads of people come up and they recognize the show, and they might even recognize me from it, but they think it’s an Internet show, because there have been so many clips. And that’s one of the reasons why Matt and I wanted to get the show out in the States, to sort of dispel that idea. This is a complete show with an arc to it, and it’s a sketch show.

And I’m always impressed when it’s like, “Oh wow, we wrote that whole thing.” Because a lot of people said to us, when you do a sketch show, this is the way you do it, like there’s some kind of a book. “You write 15 sketches, and you film them all, and then you put in the 10 best, in the order that works in the editing.” And we wanted to write a script with every sketch in it. You wouldn’t cut an entire scene out of a sitcom if it didn’t work. You write the entire script. So that’s what we did

So you wrote it more like a sitcom, where you planned out all of the arcs, and then went back and filled them in?

Yeah, you had a lot of index cards on the board. Getting the first one was the most difficult, and then you tried to figure out what order to do things. And then, a sort of narrative just came out of it. Then you build on that into the next one.

It was just one of those weird things that worked. You each have different ideas and you combine them and it just comes out nice and crazy.

The music in the show is so central. (The show’s theme song, written and performed by Berry, is sung by the characters in every episode.) Where did that come from?

There was that Singing Detective type thing that was appealing to us, and Matt’s got a great background in music. He had just done the show AD/BC, which was kind of like a spoof on Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. I think it was another element that makes it unique, having the song just come out of nowhere when you’re not really expecting it.

It’s such a great song. Every time I hear it, it’ll be stuck in my head for days.

Yeah, it’s got that kind of haunting melody to it. It’s got all the music on the DVD. Matt did most of the music. I had some influence on some of the songs, but for the most part, all of the heavy music work was Matt.

Do you guys have any plans to work together again?

We’re trying to do an Adult Swim thing, which is not set in stone. We’re going to do a pilot. So we’re trying to write something now, which basically takes our dynamic and puts it in another environment.

And do you think it’ll be like Snuff Box, sketches but with a narrative?

No, it’s a straight narrative story. It’s kind of a detective Victorian thing. But I don’t want to say too much, because it might blow up in our faces. But we are definitely going do some more stuff.

I’ve noticed you’ve done a lot more American TV in the past few years.

There’s more going on in the US right now. Right now in the UK, they’re just starting to do more commissioning. But there was a long period where there was very little risk taking.

With Adult Swim and stuff like that, there’s just a lot more openings for what used to be done [in the UK, where] you could write and perform in a show. It wasn’t as open in the US for that, especially on a network show. But now there are a lot of shows where you can do that, on networks like IFC and FX.

I think that a lot of American comedy fans that watch British TV have shows that they love and they try to convert people to — Snuff Box and The Mighty Boosh are probably those shows for a lot of people. Do you have any shows that, when you go back to the US, you just want to tell everybody about?

Snuff Box. Oh well, Dean Learner is great. The thing is now, if you’re into British comedy, everybody knows Darkplace and The Boosh and even Snuff Box. So then you try to get even more into it with Dean Learner and Brass Eye and The Day Today.

Radio shows are great, because a lot of shows did radio series, which were like pilots. Little Britain was on the radio and Alan Partridge was on the radio. And The Boosh radio show, I try to turn people onto that, because I think that was some of our best stuff.

Do you ever feel self-conscious about being American on British TV, and playing to or against stereotypes of Americans?

Not so much. Well a little bit sometimes, when I’m asked to yell a lot. And I go, “Why am I yelling so much? Ah, I’m American.”

Snuff Box is available now on DVD in the US.

Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist and comedy nerd. She gets unreasonably excited when she gets a mention on Twitter.

Talking Snuff Box and British Comedy with The Mighty […]