Noel Fielding's 10 golden rules of musical comedy
Noel Fielding's 10 golden rules of musical comedy
It takes a brave man to smash the worlds of music and comedy together. Many have tried, few have raised anything greater among audiences than the occasional mild titter. Noel Fielding is a man that has most definitely got it right and as a result, the bafflingly surreal musical moments peppered throughout the Mighty Boosh and Noel's Luxury Comedy have become instant cult classics.
When we spoke with Noel he was preparing to take his An Evening With live show on the road. It's a show that features tunes both old and new, so we asked him to share the golden rules of merging music with comedy and not ending up with a cringeworthy disaster.
Think outside the box
"When me and Julian [Barratt] did our first show in Edinburgh back in the 18th century when we were children, we were going to do a stand-up show together where he did half an hour and then I did half an hour. Then we suddenly thought, 'Wow, we've got an hour to do a show, we can do whatever we like, why are we doing an hour of stand-up, this is bullshit.'
"We thought about what we'd like to do and Julian said that he had a song about a mammoth, Morgan the Mammoth.
"I said I'd rather play some characters and make some weird costumes. We did a bit of this on a sketch show for Paramount, we did these two zookeepers and thought we'd just do that.
"We were drinking a lot of smoothies at that time and one of our first set pieces was that we'd make a smoothie live on stage, but we would get a girl up on stage and use her tears to make the smoothie and then Julian would drink it and fall in love with her. To make her cry he had this sad song about a mammoth."
It was perfect.
"I had to make all the costumes. We had a man made of fruit; I bought loads of plastic fruit and had to sew it onto an all-in-one and it took about 70 hours.
"That's the thing about Fringe theatre, not only are you writing, performing and doing warm ups, you're sewing plastic avocados onto a pair of leggings. The visual thing was always there for me and the music thing was always there for Julian.
"We liked Dennis Potter and the idea you'd be in a scene and suddenly start singing. Whenever you see that kind of thing the music is very specific, and we thought, people don't tend to do that and do it as a Beastie Boys-type song.
"In the first show we had Tommy a zookeeper who we couldn't find and then we found him in a fusion guitarist's afro. We didn't know how to do that to music so we did a weird rap.
"We never wanted to rap in American because we thought that would be a parody so we rapped in English, which made it a bit weird."
Make the music 'quite good'!
"At the time music and comedy together wasn't really happening. Then maybe that year, or the year after, the Conchords were the only other people.
"They were doing it from a different angle as if they were a real band and the bits inbetween were funny, so it was the other way round to us.
"Now it's happening quite a lot. We stumbled upon something and brought it back for five minutes. It was mainly because Julian had been in bands and wanted to include music. But we never wanted to do that typical comedy song where it's, [singing] 'And then I went and me leg fell off.'
"We wanted to make the concepts funny and the characters singing the songs funny but then make the music quite good. We wanted people to like the songs."
Make it funny, not jokey
"You have to rehearse the songs. We did a lot of gigs as a band. We did one a year back in Santa Monica.
"It was a thing with all musical comedy bands, Tenacious D were headlining and we did it as the Boosh. It's a different thing, it's hard to come out of comedy and into music.
"Frank Zappa was always going on about whether music could be funny and do jokes belong in music. It's a tricky thing to get right.
"The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band did it really well. Their albums were like concept albums and the music held it together really well. It was funny as well but I wouldn't say it was a comedy album, you could listen to it like a music album and not get bored of it.
"With comedy albums a lot of the time you listen to it twice and then you're over it, the novelty has gone.
You can sometimes do a straight song but the outfit you're wearing or the situation is funny. For us it was appropriate to do a Rick James '80s funk song, but Love Games is a really good song as well, so that one works for it to be sung quite straight.
"If you like the Boosh then you'd hear that song and think of Howard doing the falsetto bit and it'd be quite funny but the song itself is good.
"We try to make the lyrics funny but not jokey, that is the key. Once the surprise has gone from a joke the next time you hear it you sigh and go, 'Yeah, I'm a bit sick of that.' In the Old Gregg song on the album that we never released there was a thing about being an underwater Fritzl.
"There was a line where Old Gregg has Howard in his cave and Howard says somebody will come and rescue him and he says back, 'They called off the search way back in June.'
"He's saying it's so bleak that the police have called off the search long ago, it's funny but it's not funny as a sentence that you'd get sick of. It sounds fine in a song but the notion of it is so dark that no one is looking for you. Howard is holding onto hope but nah mate, you're here forever."
Find a musical partner
"Writing the music is a real treat. I'm very lucky because I got to work with Julian who is a brilliant musician.
"I'd have concepts or ideas, like the Hitcher needs a song, or we needed a punk song, but Julian put them together more as he is really musical.
"When I stopped working with him and started working on Luxury, Serge from Kasabian wanted to do something so I swapped someone who is great at music for someone else who is great at music! We got so into it that we formed a band called Loose Tapestries.
"The Tapestries has taken on a life of its own now as we have two album's worth of stuff. We've got a Christmas song, we're doing a photo shoot tomorrow, we're threatening to go on tour, we think it'll be hilarious.
"It'll be a mixture of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Can. It'll be some insane Silver Apples meets Madonna thing. I go, 'I need a song that sounds like it was made for Studio 54 in 1977 that Andy Warhol would dance to,' and Serge will be buzzing over that."
Hit the audience with a 'nailbomb of ideas'
"We try to make them good songs in their own right, that's the key. Music has always been a part of what I do, I wouldn't like to do a show with no music in it. Even when I did a solo show I had songs in it. It gives the show another dimension.
"Stand up is great but there's so many other things you can do, like music and animation. We were always surprised that a lot of people didn't do more of it.
"It doesn't have to just be a man talking, it can be anything and musically is a great way to go. If you have the end of a show with music and a great visual bit then it's like a nail bomb of ideas.If you can tie everything up with those elements then it can blow the roof off the episode or the gig.
"Stand-up is amazing, people like Louis CK, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin are amazing, they don't need anything else, but those people are few and far between.
"I see a lot of standup that isn't as good as that and I think, 'Maybe you should have done a song!' I always buzz when people do stuff when you're not expecting it."
Don't force it
"For this show we needed a specific song so I called up Serge and he's so busy that he has no time but we had an afternoon to do this song quick. We got it and I'm so pleased with it.
"We wrote a song for the end of the second series which was like a Bugsy Malone, Chas and Dave singalong and that is a big, celebratory end song and I might use that in the live show because it just fits, but we try not to squeeze songs in unless they fit with the vibe and the situation. It's better to write a song if you have a good concept."
Push your own boundaries
"There's a nod to Die Antwoord in one of the songs on the live show. I'm quite pleased about it.
"It's great because if you love something like Rick James or Die Antwoord if you have a character where it feels appropriate you can do your own version, or something like Barry White.
"You can explore the music and enjoy it and think, 'Wow, I can't believe we did a weird Barry White song, where did that come from?!'
"With comedy there isn't an emphasis of having your own sound and having to stick to that.
"Sometimes the concepts are so ludicrous that it's funnier if you sing a straight song. Howard was always good at doing a love song or a ballad about loneliness.
"Isolation was a good song because it was the idea that Howard was on a desert island and all the things he would now never do which is sort of funny because he was singing a song called Isolation but I was there as well."
Use your influences
"With Vince he always wanted to be in a pop band so it was quite easy to fall into Mick Jagger.
"Electro Boy was taking the piss out of our mates because at the time all of our mates were in electro bands.
"In The Punk Song we were hanging out with people like Towers of London, so it was a little bit of a piss take of that but not in a horrible way.
"We had to come up with that song in about four seconds so the line, 'I did a shit on your mum', seemed quite funny. The idea of doing a shit on people seemed like the most punk thing you could do.
"We wrote it in the spirit of punk – how about this, 'I did a shit in your mum, I did a shit on your dad and he rather liked it,' that's it, we're done!
"When you have a love for that music it's fun because you're not taking the piss out of it, you're slightly parodying it and slightly emulating it and trying to make it a proper version in its own right.
"There was always a love of music from us, we love Rick James, we love punk, we buzz off the styles of music that we're doing."
"Sometimes, as two white blokes in a comedy show we start rapping. It's ridiculous but we were really big fans of the Wu-Tang Clan and the Beastie Boys, so we listened to a lot of hip hop and we were buzzing off it.
"We were trying to do a version of it that wasn't too cheesy. With the Ice Flow rap we were stuck in the arctic and it was easier to do it because we were stranded there in big furs and we used rapping to express how we were feeling.
"On that one we were in the Tundra and that was good for rapping, there was a lot to rap about and also we were influenced by the Frank Zappa album Apostrophe which starts in the Tundra, so it was a nod to that. It took us about a week to write that minute-long rap."
An Evening with Noel Fielding kicks off on 20 October at Guilford G Live. Tickets available at www.ticketmaster.co.uk.