Basing a comedy series in an alternative-reality coffee shop on top of an active volcano is as far removed from primetime TV as it’s possible to imagine, yet the exotic aroma of Noel Fielding’s latest Luxury Comedy is this year’s richest brew, says Lee Gale
British comedy is in a mess. On television, stand-up behemoths bound about the stage sweating, while audiences on work nights out from financial institutions roar like old toilets. Comedy has been hijacked by the kinds of people who’d traditionally find gainful employment in marketing or sales, so when a new comedy appears that has you chortling from the opening credits onwards, you have to grasp it with both hands and spread the message.
Make no doubt, the second series of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy is in the premier league, easily outstripping 2012’s experimental first outing, with the ever-glam, perma-1973 Fielding now in charge of a coffee shop above a volcano in Hawaii. His staff includes a mixed-race anteater/human and Andy Warhol, and although this sounds impregnable, at no point will you ever feel confused or excluded. It’s brighter than the Wizard Of Oz, as sharp as Father Ted, but operates in a multi-platform fantasy existence that, at times, mixes Don Quixote, Bestival and Tron. Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy 2: Tales From Painted Hawaii is the funniest show of 2014 thus far. In the future, it will rightly be regarded as a cult classic.
Caffeine: Are you in reality?
Noel Fielding: Are you in reality? What a question! What an opener! Are you in reality? That’s fantastic! No, I’m not, actually!
That isn’t the full question. Are you in reality a coffee or tea person?
Aaah! That could have been the best start to an interview ever! Well, I love the idea of coffee because my dad’s side of the family are French. My favourite coffee is when you go to France. You can get coffee anywhere in France and it’s all good, even on trains. If I lived in France, that’s all I would drink. I love tea as well, don’t you?
It’s a superb beverage, yes.
Where are the best coffee places? Australia? Italy? I went to Costa Rica this year and that was good coffee. It’s strong and it blows your mind. You have one and the rest of the day you’re buzzing.
Do you dunk biscuits in hot drinks?
I do, actually. It’s disgusting, isn’t it? I’m really into biscuits. I like Jammie Dodgers; Bourbons, too. When I was growing up, my nan had a biscuit barrel, but she used to mix all the biscuits together. She used to put ginger nuts in there and they’d make all the other biscuits smell. It used to freak me out. Years ago, I did a sketch about ginger-nut biscuits being the Ginger Army, like Dad’s Army: “Right then, men, let’s go and make all the other biscuits smell like us.” And they’d put ginger on all the other biscuits. The sketch just went on and on. I’ve got an affection for the biscuit barrel.
The new show is brilliant. There’s not a slack moment.
The first series was like Marmite – some people hated it. But for the second series, we took all the best elements and now there’s a bit of a story in there. I think it’s stronger.
Quite a lot of comedy shows don’t hit their stride until the second series – that was certainly the case with The IT Crowd.
It takes a long time to get the setting right. In The [Mighty] Boosh, it took us three series. What happens is, you do it, and then you think, “I’m not sure this is right.” You’re trapped and you’re locked in and you have to make the best of it. Then you just change it and you don’t mention why. So in the first episode, we move to Hawaii in the coffee shop, and that was quite tricky. It’s weird, because Luxury isn’t any different to what I’ve ever done; it just isn’t The Boosh.
Fantasy Man is a hugely likeable character, moving, as he does, between numerous fantasy zones and reality. We totally believe in him.
I’d love to do a Fantasy Man series or a film. He’s a funny straight man, which is sometimes what you need for the basis of a TV show. With Fantasy Man, we wanted to do a modern Don Quixote. There’s something solid about Fantasy Man that people just get, yet he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.
And then there’s a new character, a Bestival casualty dressed as a Native American.
We’re trying to work out what Big Chief is. We’re thinking he’s a rave Indian. He basically ran Raindance in the Nineties. He’s a tragic figure. He used to have a record label, now he just goes to raves. He’s lost it, he lives in a caravan. He’s not cool, but in the Fantasy World, he is. In the real world, he’s just one of those mental guys.
If you think too much about the levels of universes that are interlinked in Luxury Comedy, you’d go insane.
Writing it is horrific, because we get caught in these loops. It’s madness. Because Fantasy Man is in the real world, and then he’s got his own fantasy world, and then, how do you get him into my [character’s] world, which is almost not a real world either? And it’s like, “This is killing me.” What happens with us is that we get way too conceptual. We get caught in these conceptual, logical nightmares. We buzz off the concepts and then we go, “It’s impossible!” There’s a great joke on The Goon Show, which I love, where it says, “As I swam to shore, I dried myself off to save time.” That’s mindbending! Wow! I loved it. But imagine trying to do that joke on television. It’s a whole other dream world! So which episodes have you seen?
The first two.
Those two, OK. They’re the best two. No, actually, there are four that I like. We did five; one’s a bit wonky, but that’s alright. In the fifth, basically the whole island explodes. But I can’t give too much away!
Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy 2: Tales From Painted Hawaii is on E4 now.