Come with us now on a journey through time and space to the world of the Mighty Boosh.
A recent appearance by the English comedy team The Mighty Boosh at Hollywood’s Amoeba Records had a line went around corners; Rabid fans who knew their work from Adult Swim, YouTube, or bootleg DVDs waited for a chance to see its stars and creators, Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. The Boosh have finally landed in America.
Back in the late 90’s, Barratt (pictured right) and Fielding (left) were English stand up comics looking to shake things up in Britain’s comedy circuit. They came together to form a comedy duo, calling themselves “The Mighty Boosh” (apparently after something a childhood friend said about Fielding’s brother’s hair back they were kids), performing bizarre, sometimes surreal sketches in clubs. In the Boosh universe, Barratt plays Howard Moon, a tall, dorky know-it-all who loves free form jazz and scat singing and is the brunt of most everyone else’s jokes. Despite his Tom Selleck mustache and affinity for gaudy floral shirts, Howard’s closet chum is Fielding’s Vince Noir, a hip character who has transformed from the king of the Mods to a glam rock god to a Goth over the course of the Boosh’s time on earth. While Howard and Vince are the main characters, both actors also portray several other characters in the course of the show. In addition, they have three supporting cast mates to pitch in as well: Rich Fulcher, Dave Brown and Michael Fielding, Noel’s brother.
Their following earned them enough attention that they pitched a television series to the BBC; however, the series concept was deemed too expensive. Weighing their options, the boys decided to create a radio program, which became a big hit. The success of the radio show gave the BBC confidence to give the Boosh a chance on television. The show premiered in 2004 and became a huge success in the UK. If you are unfamiliar with The Mighty Boosh, you now have the chance to experience their fantastical, musical, bizarre, sometimes crude humor as all three series of their television show have been released on two-disc DVD sets by the BBC. If you are a fan of Monty Python, David Bowie and Frank Zappa, you must check out this show.
I first encountered the Boosh through a co-worker who owned PAL versions of the show. He screened them for our crew and raved about their conceptuality and creativeness. When Adult Swim began airing The Mighty Boosh this year, I happened to watch 10 minutes of the episode “Eels” from season 3. I was sucked in by the writing, the production values, and the music. In just 10 minutes I was laughing my ass off and picking my jaw uo off the floor when the Hitcher (one of Fielding’s many characters) urinated on Howard in one long uncomfortable moment. Disturbing, yes, but the scene was pretty damn funny. When I heard that the BBC was finally releasing all three seasons of The Mighty Boosh in the U.S., I leapt at the chance to review the show. I knew that this was the kind of show Popdose readers would be interested in.
Season 1 finds Howard and Vince as zookeepers in a run-down zoo where strange things happen. Among the cast of characters who carried over from the stage show to the series were Bob Fossil, played by the fearless Rich Fulcheris, who plays the manager of Zooniverse, an inept zoo where the guys work. There’s Naboo, a freelance Shaman and fortuneteller played by Michael Fielding; he’s a recreational drug user and his attitude toward most things is “whatever.” And there’s the talking ape, Bollo, played by show choreographer Dave Brown. Bollo and Vince have a close relationship. Another important character is Lord Dixon Bainbridge, owner of the zoo. He’s a world-traveling adventurer who seems to have some nefarious plots behind the scenes at the zoo. The hilarious Matt Berry, who should be familiar to those of you who know Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, plays Bainbridge.
The adventures in season 1 range from Howard’s trip to hell to save Bollo from death, to a trek to the frozen tundra of the north pole to search for a mystical egg, to a jungle adventure that actually takes place in the jungle land of the zoo. Using limited sets, along with clever makeup and costumes (with the actors playing numerous roles), season 1 is filled with plenty of delights and is the ideal place to begin the journey of the Boosh. In addition to the well honed back-and-forth between Barratt and Fielding, you also are treated to some wonderful visual entertainment that falls somewhere between the Banana Splits and a B-52s video. Moreover, each episode features a song written by Barratt that is not only catchy, but a joy to watch. I give you the Mod wolves:
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What I love about this clip, besides the bouncy music, are the subtle mannerisms of Howard reacting to Vince, as if to say, “Come on, really?” Then, moments later, he’s dancing along with Vince and the scene takes on the feel of a couple of friends dancing in their living room rather than in the middle of the forest with four wolves dressed in snazzy suits. Good stuff!
Season 2 is when the show takes off. Gone is the zoo setting and Bob Fossil (though Rich Fulcher is still a cast member, appearing as various crazy characters in every episode) and we find Vince and Howard now living with Naboo and Bollo, who is now referred to as Naboo’s familiar spirit. With more limited resources and fewer episodes, The Mighty Boosh created a series of episodes that stand near the top of English comedy and is some of the most inspired, insane television you’ll see for a long time. Two episodes stand out — the first is “The Priest and the Beast.” Howard and Neil are struggling to find a new musical direction to get a record deal. For inspiration, Naboo tells them the story of the Bongo Brothers, a couple of Hispanic rock stars roaming the desert searching for the “new sound.” Barrett is nearly unrecognizable as the guitar slinging Rudi, under a big Afro wig, fake teeth and brown makeup, while Fielding is hilarious as the salacious bongo player Spider. The music legends wind up in a small village populated by gorgeous women. The village is being tormented by the dreaded Beta beast, a monster composed of old Betamax tapes. Upon defeating the villain (because you knew they would) Rudi and Spider discover that in order to find the new sound, all they had to do was look inside themselves. The final musical number is a psychedelic masterpiece.
The other standout from season 2 is “The Legend of Old Gregg.” Howard and Vince travel to a seaport town and wind up on the Black Lake. While fishing alone in the light of a full moon, Howard meets Old Gregg (Fielding), a transsexual sea creature with a “mangina” that shoots out a beam of light when he shows it to people. Old Gregg takes Howard back to his sea cave for some Bailey’s and asks Howard to marry him. Howard agrees just to stay alive. Howard soon learns that Old Gregg has possession of “The Funk,” a “funky ball of tits” from outer space that was the source of Bootsy Collins and P-Funk’s funkiness. Gregg wants some loving and Howard’s playing hard to get. They then share a Rick James slinky duet.
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Old Gregg has since become one of the Boosh’s most beloved characters. At an L.A. Roxy gig to commemorate the DVD release, cars drove by with riders screaming, “I’m Old Gregg!” to the lucky patrons waiting in line, even though those drivers weren’t going to the show.
Regrettably, Season 3 isn’t as strong as the first two. A gap of two years fell between season 2 (2005) and season 3 (2007) and I’m not sure if that had an effect on the writing. Season 3 finds Howard and Vince working at Naboo’s second hand shop. This series of six episodes still has plenty of laughs, but the humor is more self referential and less consistent. Still, there are plenty of appearances by Fielding as the Moon, a strange, clueless take on the celestial being, and one episode features the first ever “crimp-off.” Nonetheless, The Mighty Boosh Season 3 is still much better than a lot of the crap that is sold to us as comedy. Moreover, just getting to watch Barrett and Fielding perform together is reason enough to check out these six episodes. The camaraderie and friendship these two men have comes through in their performances and the various facets of the show. The Mighty Boosh may be crude and gross, but beneath it all is a big old heart. This is not a cynical show.
As Adult Swim continues to promote The Mighty Boosh and hopefully draw in new fans with these DVDs, I hope that the comedy troupe will come to the States for a tour, bringing with them the stage show that has been a phenomenal success in the UK. Until then, my friends, check out the show when it’s on TV and definitely add these DVDs to your collection.