Comedy radio series written and performed by Julian and Noel Fielding
6 episodes first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2001.
Gosh, where do you start to describe the Mighty Boosh? Some random samples of dialogue should give you an idea.
“I talk to the animals .I’ve got the gift. I’m like Mowgli in flares”
“Your logic is making me look like a dick”
“Do you want to visit the lions little boy? Come over here and put on this meat suit”
“The loneliness, the emptiness, the endless-ness”
“The written word is like a drug. If you cut me, I bleed ink.”
It’s the only show that makes Monty Python and Spike Milligan appear normal and is probably the spiritual successor of The Goodies or the Goon Show. And it’s so good, Boosh sits comfortably among those loft comparisons.
The series follows zoo keepers Howard Moon, a jazz obsessed virgin and Vince Noir an ultra vein mod with ridiculous hair. The two must deal with the bizarre mood swings of their boss Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher) who runs the Zoo. Their adventures include a journey into the forbidden areas of the zoo, an encounter (and possession) with the ghost of jazz, and a memorable run in with the zoo’s newest innovation – mutants.
The Boosh originated at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998 and from there built up a cult following, but it was these six radio episodes that proved popular enough for BBC Three to commission 7 episodes three years later. Three series and two sell-out UK tours later, the Boosh became a genuine UK phenomenon cracking the mainstream and tapping in to the cultural zeitgeist of the time.
I’ve been familiar with the TV series since 2006 but this is my first time listening to the radio version, mainly because I wrongly assumed the first TV series was a rehash of their predecessors. Whilst anyone familiar with the TV episodes will easily recognise many of the routines, skits, jokes and songs, these radio versions are structured differently, with at least one episode (Taken) almost completely unrecognizable from it’s nearest television counterpart. Where things had to be cut, presumably for reasons of expense (such as a helicopter rescue in Taken and large crowd scenes in Mutants), all the best jokes are here, in their original form. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the radio series offers us more of the classic Vince and Howard interactions. These bits often play identically to those in the TV series but because almost everything else is different you get a different feel, and many of the plot twists you might be familiar with are passed over in favor of something less flashy and, it has to be said, less funny. Although Dave Brown was already on hand his familiar character, the gorilla Bollo is absent. Some other characters are also missing such as shaman Naboo and the recurring series one characters Harvey Bainbridge and Miss Gideon. The small casts make these episodes fairly intimate and puts greater onus on the plots and jokes.
It’s really easy to see why this series quickly moved on to telly, this was mold breaking stuff in 2001 with plenty of improvisation from the leads. I’m not sure what the contemporary, fairly conservative Radio 4 audience made if this at the turn of the century. There are three two taboos in radio; dead air, characters talking to themselves to describe things we can’t see and people talking over each other. The last of those taboos is extremely prevalent here, turned into something of an art form every time Howard and Vince argue like stick insects in trousers, frequently talking over and interrupting one another when their discussion/ arguments get more heated (and silly). It really works. The only other comedy troupe that used unfinished, interrupted and tripped up sentences to comic effect was Not the Nine O Clock News. Their sketch characters could often be heard interrupting each other, hesitating and mispronouncing words, just to serve the act. All of which lends a pleasing naturalistic element, often missing in scripted comedy but used to great effect here to juxtapose bizarre conversations, and even stranger situations.
Barrett and Fielding aren’t mentioned in the same breath as Cook and Moore, Vic and Bob or Armstrong and Miller but they should be. The two may not have clocked up as many comedy hours as those just mentioned but they are in complete and perfect sync with each other throughout these episodes. Their comedy timing is always bang on. Like the greats Cook and Moore before them, it’s their bickering and hollow bragging that is often the highlight of the episodes.
The Mighty Boosh is very original, but the concept is twenty years old now. What was once new and cutting edge looks almost old hat, but this series has an ace up it’s sleeve; the meandering plots are odd and unpredictable, serving the originality of the comedy just as effectively now as it did in 2001.
If you think you know The Boosh but never experienced these radio episodes you really should listen to this series. If you know nothing about it and only know Noel Fielding from Bake Off and panel shows, this is a great place to start. A passing coyote might even take pity and lend you his headphones (or sun glasses).
The Mighty Boosh Radio is available on vinyl or CD, and can be found on YouTube.
Copyright Martin Gregory