Sitting next to me on a big leather sofa in the plush surroundings of the De Vere hotel bar in historic Cambridge is Rich Fulcher, co-writer and co-star of the forthcoming BBC Three hit 'Snuff Box'. The local townsfolk have just been treated to a performance of The Mighty Boosh, live at the Corn Exchange and the post-show shenanigans are going on around us.
After eight years of running this website it seems ridiculous that the most integral member of the Boosh (other than Noel and Julian) and I haven't previously managed to squeeze in an interview but it's only relatively recently that the popularity of the Boosh has sky-rocketed bringing with it the phenomenon that is soon to hit our screens - Snuff Box. Lazy journalism in the national press has meant that every review that the show has got so far has compared the show to The Mighty Boosh and hasn't been too sure how to express its appeal to the masses. Most resorted to plain descriptions of the show rather than conveying just how much it will make you laugh. "Dancing, fights, pleasure and it's like, that's not how you define our show. You define our show as brilliant, twisted, surreal and very, very funny like you did." What can I say? Some of us are just more eloquent than others but all I was doing was telling the truth.
Despite Matt also having performed during the live Boosh shows of the Hen and Chickens era back in the late 90s, it wasn't until the first television series of The Mighty Boosh that they actually met. During the development of Arctic Boosh in 1999 Rich had to go back to America so the Fulcher/Berry paths didn't have a chance to cross until they took up the roles of Bob Fossil and Dixon Bainbridge in 2004. This meeting of minds still may never have happened had Caroline Leddy (Comedy Commissioner at Channel 4 and producer of Brass Eye and Big Train and one time performer) hadn't pulled the plug on Richard Ayoade reprising his role of Dixon Bainbridge once a series had been commissioned by BBC Three. Rumour has it that it was around the time that Graham Norton had just deserted Channel 4 to go over to the BBC (who don't really seem to have been able to replicate the success he'd had with Channel 4) so Leddy wasn't in the most sharing of moods. Whatever Leddy's reasons, her decision meant that a new Dixon Bainbridge had to be found and so the Boosh turned to their stable of comedy chums and Berry seemed like the obvious choice. "So Matt wound up doing it and that's where I first met him and we just sort of like you know sort of hit it off. I know its crazy,"
The second series of the Boosh saw the absence of Bob Fossil. A brave decision. Axing one of the main characters, one of people's favourites couldn't have been an easy one. "It [the second series] was a different venue so Bob was no longer. Bob was outsourced. I liked the Blue Rebel leader because the day off we totally made up that song, 'I Am The Chosen One' and it worked out really well. It's a very fun role, I seem to specialise doing characters on my knees. Tommy was one of my favourites too. My knees were like a banshee. The Tommy thing took two days and the Blue Rebel was almost every day. It would still hurt even though you have all this padding, you'd be red by the end of the day, not that I'm complaining."
And who would have thought that Snuff Box, Bob Fossil and the Blue Rebel would come from the mind of a trained lawyer? Rich spent three years at university and then a further three years at Law School in America, taking the bar in Pennsylvania. "I just wanted to take that as a fall back in case the comedy didn't work out." I am going to stick my neck out and say that that should never happen but if I was in trouble with the law I don't think I could think of anyone else I'd rather represent me. So when did the leap from Law to comedy happen? "I kind of always wanted to be doing making people laugh, I guess the problem was making it a viable career. When I was in law school my girlfriend at the time said, 'have you heard about this place called Second City in Chicago.' It's like a comedy school and because I'd always gone to school, I understood the concept of school. I'll do that and when I graduate I'll be a successful comedian. It didn't work that way but it makes it a logical way of dealing with it." As well as Rich a few lesser-known comedians studied at Second City. You may have heard of some of them. John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Joan Rivers. I wonder whatever became of them. "So many people that came out of Second City that now its become an institution." While Rich was studying law he always had the need to perform and while he was there put on a show making fun of the Law School. "It was so popular, I mean there is still talk about it."
In 2001 in Edinburgh, a year which was poorer for the lack of a live Boosh and after the transfer to radio had been made, Rich took the next logical step and embarked on a solo trip to the Assembly Rooms with a comedy show based on his life, specifically the part where he reveals his true vocation to his parents who still thought he was a dedicated lawyer. 2006 might also see a Fulcher offering at the biggest arts festival in the world. "I need to decide by March. The thing about it is this is just speculative, if we get a second series I won't be able to do it. Hopefully we'll find out fairly soon. When the whole series is played out."
Rich: Yeah, its like rohypnol
Noel: What are you doing, boring the shit out of Susan? I'll tell you about Rich Fulcher, he tried to kill Mike last night. He's a fucking killer.
Snuff Box wasn't the first idea that Rich and Matt pitched to the TV execs. "Everything we pitched, they would just go, 'ok, alright', and then they came back to us and said why don't you do a sketch show cos it was that time when Little Britain went to BBC1." And it's certainly no ordinary sketch show. "It's a sketch-com if you will. Or a sitch. It's more than that, cos as Matt will tell you, we didn't want to do a sketch show, we wanted to do something else so we made the sketch show our own and we didn't want to be like any other sketch show." They've certainly succeeded in that. And given the quality and blandness of the current crop, thank god that they have. With the broadcast of Spoons, Swinging and Man Stroke Woman, I'm not sure there's anything about relationships or indeed the differences between men and women that remains uncharted territory. "Its funny that there are a lot of relationship sketch shows but it's like when you get one sort of theme going on it gets all very samey and we didn't want to be samey, we wanted to be insamey. No we came to it with different things and we just wanted to do something that we found funny, just silly stuff."
Are Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry a double-act for the new millennium? Not really, no despite them being like chalk and cheese (a good foundation for a double-act relationship). This may be due to the US/UK divide, which they play on so well, especially in the opening credits which themselves will make you laugh and how many opening credits can boast that. "I think that's what's good about both me and Matt is that we both come to it from different angles." Which is lucky because initially they had no idea that they would be able to work well together. Some things they write on their own and for some they bash their heads together. "It's a combination, some things we already sort of wrote on our own and we told each other we were going to do those and other stuff we combined we wrote together and just sort of improved, so there's a lot of different things that went on but we would always be changing and improving on it." Constant improvement is the sign of a dedicated writer and something that doesn't often happen in current UK comedies, which in this current lull of British comedy is quite apparent. Maybe that's what makes Snuff Box and The Mighty Boosh quite so brilliant. Even when the shows are being filmed, after a few takes of the same shot Rich, Noel and Julian will change the joke to something equally funny a skill which Rich has honed from years of improv in America and being such an integral part of the Boosh. "In the first series, they'd say 'we wrote this part for you' and its like, 'Hi how are you', you know how those guys are. And in a way it's a compliment cos they said we know you're gonna add your own stuff." There were more general ideas that Rich would send into the mix for the Boosh but mainly he would concentrating on writing for his own characters, which explains why most of them are so delightfully silly. And involve a lot of nipple tweaking.
The producer of Snuff Box is none other than Sir Charlie of Hanson. He has produced some of the most top notch comedy of recent years and is also a very lovely man indeed. Having produced 'This Morning With Richard Not Judy, The Sketch Show, Darkplace and Extras', Snuff Box seems comparatively low key. So what drew him to work with Rich and Matt? "He worked on Garth Marenghi so Matt knew him and obviously they got along and he wanted to do it, he loved the script. It's funny cos most of the people we sent our scruipt to really liked it so we didn't have problems finding directors and stuff. We did have to turn Spielberg down but he's not funny." If, no, when a second series is commissioned they are hoping to get the same team back on board. "That would be gret cos everybody gets it, they know what it is and we can just move on. I always feel weird, even on the Boosh it takes a couple of weeks before the crew starts to get. Even with the stage show I could tell when we were doing the songs that they were not into it at all but now they're quoting lines."
So come on folks, it's time for a revolution, and Rich and Matt are leading it. Throw out the notion that sketch shows have to have the same characters every week, saying the same words and replace that with the idea that the two lead characters, despite sharing a ghastly occupation, can pave the way for some great recurring sits and join the whole six episodes together meaning that you'll want to watch them all and if you miss one, there'll be a small chunk of narrative missing. "I've noticed in some sitcoms like Seinfeld, it's basically a narrative but its scenes are very short and they are almost like little sketches. So why not do the opposite and start out with sketches and make a narrative from those sketches? Also another goal we had was like when you look at the show in DVD you will wanna watch all of them as opposed to say, you know how some sketch shows you go, 'I only wanna watch Borat,' like you skip over sketches cos they're just piecemeal. The fact that a lot of it is linked together makes you want to keep seeing." The obvious comparison for this being Monty Python, which is a much more welcome comparison to Rich and Matt than that of Little Britain or Catherine Tate. "I can watch Monty Python at any point and I'll want to watch the whole thing whereas - I won't name it - some traditional sketch shows you're just waiting for the punch line."
The last thing I want to do is spoil the show for you so as the series goes out, week by week episode guides will be added to the site but in the meantime, to tide you over, here are a couple of Rich's favourite characters from Snuff Box. "Well there's two. One is of Matt where he teaches someone to play the guitar and then each time you cut to him something's different, like he has an extra long finger which is very bizarre. I also liked doing the incidental items man when I steal items which are very like a paperclip or I steal money or something. I liked doing that just because it's so stupid and a lot of times when you're told you're doing a sketch show and you're thinking of ideas, it's just the silliest things that I like. Once you see them done and if they work, that's the most rewarding thing I think. Just silly stuff that you like. You'll cut some of that, I'm sure." Erm. Most of the characters which Rich plays are very silly indeed. Silly is a great word to describe them, and funny. I imagine that there's a lot of Rich in his characters, certainly the way they are performed. And despite some of the characters being fundamentally a bit mean, such as the hangmen, Rich can't help but give them an adorable side. He truly is the nicest man in showbiz.
Snuff Box really is a breath of fresh air in a comedy world saturated with catchphrase-filled sketch shows with cartoon like characters who audiences become so familiar with that they can see the punch lines coming a mile off. I'd challenge anyone to guess the end of a Snuff Box sketch or find a catch phrase to repeat parrot-style over and over in the office the next day. "No, in fact maybe that's our downfall, if it's too obscure. Though hopefully not, I mean my philosophy is that if you find it funny, somebody else is going to find it funny cos that's where some of the best stuff comes from. As opposed to trying to please and saying 'people are going to like this are age 20-35', you can't think like that."
Meanwhile, the live show is going from strength to strength. Originally a two month tour, with extra dates seemingly added all the time, it's now spanning four and culminates in the almost 3,000 seater, rock n roll venue that is the Brixton Academy in London. Compared to the days of the original Mighty Boosh and Arctic Boosh which toured the arts centres of the UK, this tour is immense and signals a real coming of age of the Boosh. "Some are 2000 some are 58,000," I suggest they're on a par with Bon Jovi who are supposedly playing the opening gig of the newly (still being) built Wembley Stadium, "Boosh Jovi?! You know Newman and Baddiel sold out Wembley Arena, but you know how they did it? They didn't do many dates before Wembley. It was strategic that they didn't play very many dates close to London." The same is certainly not true of the Boosh. With numerous London dates and even more pencilled in, the Boosh could easily fill Wembley Arena with their ever-swelling legion of dedicated fans. Fans who will all soon be applying for bankruptcy. And London fans could expect to be in the audience of a show filmed for a live DVD release.
Now off you go, set your video for Snuff Box and get writing your letter of adoration to Julian Bellamy, the new Controller of BBC Three. Let's get a second series...
Snuff Box starts on Monday 27th February 2006 at 11pm on BBC Three.
You can see The Mighty Boosh live in a theatre in the UK near you now!