Sitting in a conference room on Sunset back in mid-January, Noel Fielding chuckled over the cup of tea that sat on a table in front of him. He joked that it looked more like chicken soup than a beverage.
“Americans don't understand tea, do they?” asked the British comedian, knowing full well the answer is no. It's a good-natured jab, more of a fish-out-of-water observation than a criticism. When he spends time in the States, he switches to coffee, and that's taking its toll. “I'm buzzing,” he says. “I can't sleep. I need to calm down.”
Fielding, who's best known to U.S. audiences as co-creator and co-star of the bizarro British comedy series The Mighty Boosh (and a member of the comedy troupe after which it's named), was visiting to generate buzz for his upcoming solo tour, which includes a five-date engagement at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood (March 29 through April 2).
“I had big ideas,” Fielding says of his stage show. Parts of An Evening With Noel Fielding evolved from stand-up gigs he's done in London, and other bits will be familiar to those who know his TV work. The live performance incorporates animation and includes some of his most beloved characters, including his dim-witted, anthropomorphized Moon, a longtime favorite of Fielding's followers (but expect the character to appear in a different form). Fielding will be joined by other performers as well, including his brother Michael Fielding, whom fans know as the shaman Naboo on The Mighty Boosh.
It's not typical comedy and Fielding isn't a typical comedian. He's an artist and a musician with an affinity for the surreal, which imbues all of his work. He looks more like a rock star than anything else. When we met, Fielding was wearing a fuzzy red coat and a multicolored T-shirt featuring David Bowie in Aladdin Sane–era makeup. Bowie had died little more than a week earlier, so it was only a matter of time until the musician became the topic of our conversation.
“In my lifetime, I don't think anyone has ever died where there has been such a big reaction,” Fielding says. “Maybe John Lennon,” he offers, but Fielding, who's 42, was just a kid then. He's one of many performers who've been unabashed in their Bowie worship over the years. In the first Mighty Boosh stage show, Fielding was kidnapped by the rock star (as played by American comedian Rich Fulcher). That year, 1998, they emerged as the “best newcomer” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Much later, Fielding posed as glam-era Bowie in a photo that became quite popular. “You could have had a day off in the world. They could have declared a Bowie Day,” he says. “I think they should have. Everyone was upset.”
Like many a Bowie disciple, Fielding embraces the unusual and the arty in a way that bridges the underground with the mainstream. “Weird,” he says, is the common thread among the people with whom he frequently works. “I don't really like straight stuff all that much. When people do it well, it's great. … I can't write that stuff. I'm always interested in freaks and people doing something different.”
The Mighty Boosh, which aired on BBC Three between 2004 and 2007, was a collaboration with fellow comedian Julian Barratt, and Fielding's breakout hit. As Vince Noir, Fielding was the flamboyant dreamer who latched on to various musical subcultures like punk and glam as he and Barratt's more sedate Howard Moon embarked on a series of fantastic adventures. The Mighty Boosh was strange, but it struck a chord and became an above-ground hit in the U.K., where the duo eventually took the show on an arena tour. Here, where the series aired on Adult Swim, it was perfect for late-night TV watchers and fans of British pop culture. At the height of Fielding and Barratt's stateside popularity, they did a handful of live performances, including a gig at the Roxy and one at San Diego Comic-Con.
Beyond Boosh, Fielding appeared on shows including The IT Crowd, a more conventional (but hysterical) sitcom that U.S. viewers can find on Netflix, and quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Then there's Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy, a two-season show that aired in the U.K. to mixed reception. “We just wanted to make something completely insane and free,” he says of the show, an art-and-animation explosion that reveled in surreal and psychedelic moments.
In a representative Luxury Comedy moment, Reality Man (Richard Ayoade) tries to turn the show into a reality series. Fielding responds, “We're fantasy people — we won't stand around while you shoot the place up with your reality bullets.” The whole show rebels against convention.
Salvador Dalí, Jim Henson and Ray Harryhausen have all left a mark on Fielding's aesthetic. He's collaborated with Sergio Pizzorno of the band Kasabian on the comedy-music project Loose Tapestries. And for the 2011 televised fundraiser Let's Dance for Comic Relief, he impersonated British singer Kate Bush. “I was doing it because I love her so much,” Fielding says. It was also difficult to try to master her dance from the video for the song “Wuthering Heights.” “It took me a month to learn two minutes of dancing — that's how rubbish I am — but I loved it.”
He paints, too, and has exhibited his work in the U.K. “It's really relaxing; comedy is really stressful and painful,” he says.
Fielding's five-show engagement at the Fonda is part of an eight-city tour of the United States and Canada. He says America's large indie-influenced culture has captivated him. “Cult here is a big deal,” he says, “whereas cult in England, you can barely make a living from. It's a small country. You always have to aim for the mainstream in England.”
Fielding has considered moving to the United States for a time but says, “You have to have a few opportunities before you pack up and come over.”
What Fielding will do after the tour is still up in the air. He explains in the vague terms of a creative whose brain is always working, “I've got nine things. I'm not sure which one to do. I think I just had an idea this morning that might be the one. If this is the one, then I might concentrate on that.”
AN EVENING WITH NOEL FIELDING | Tue.-Sat., March 29-April 2, 8 p.m. | The Fonda Theatre, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood | $41 | (323) 464-6269 | fondatheatre.com