For anyone who has watched the Mighty Boosh, talking to Rich Fulcher on the phone is a surreal experience. On the show, he plays a variety of characters, including, but not limited to, salacious gigolo-soliciting middle-aged women, green-skinned polo-bemonacled cockneys, and decrepit girdle-bound jazz fanatics. He’s best known as Bob Fossil, an overweight, sexually and mentally deranged zoo-keeper cum club-promoter, who exclusively wears skin-tight blue polyester.
Fulcher’s characters have been described as a “watered down version of himself”, so when I pick up the phone to call, anything seems possible. I’m half expecting to hear an elongated “hellloooo” à la Eleanor when he picks up.
“Is that Rich?” I ask. “This is he,” he replies, and we’re away. Rich has just written a book, in the character of Fossil, called “Tiny Acts of Rebellion“, which is, straightforwardly, a guide to minor acts of rebellious nature. The obvious question, as with virtually everything he does, is “Why?!”
The response is of mixed persuasiveness. “Edgar Allen Poe said there is an imp inside all of us. It’s more of an impish quality that we need to enact, because if we don’t, we turn into that Michael Douglas character in Falling Down. We just go nuts all at once.”
“I’m saving the world one fake vomit at a time.”
I’m tempted to suggest that not everyone is quite as close to the brink as Rich, but as I hold my tongue he continues:
“We can’t topple governments on a daily basis. Not all of us, we’re not all Ghandi. But we can be the last person to clap at a concert. I think it’s beneficial for society, so we don’t have looting in the streets. I’m saving the world one fake vomit at a time.”
The credo seems a little ad hoc, but I’ll buy it from a person who is unhinged enough to operate on a sliding scale from the collapse of Indian colonialism to rude clapping.
Does Rich have any favourite acts of civil disobedience? “I like to go have a transaction in a store like, say, Boots… let’s just say.” One gets the impression he isn’t just saying. “I finish, I get my change, and I walk away. Then I come right back and say, “by the way, I just farted.” I like to do that. They’re quite shocked by that. I like to go to storekeepers and say, “May I help you?” They don’t quite know what to do with that.”
The book is full of ideas like these. A quick glance reveals that it rather amusingly operates on a ratings system of one to four fingers, evenly distributed over two hands so as to ensure continuity of profanity.
“In the 13th century syphilitic squids ruled the earth.”
Fulcher also has a few rebellious suggestions for students: “Sometimes you never know if a professor has been reading your paper. Throw something totally random into the middle of a sentence, like, “In the 13th century syphilitic squids ruled the earth. Also, giving people the underbird – flipping people off when they can’t see you.”
Then he gets excited—”Oh! Greeting someone with a limp, well lotioned hand. That always works. Say you’re at a cocktail party and you’re meeting the faculty, just let your hand go totally limp.” And also lotion it? “If you care to.” At this point, I’m feeling quite relieved to be interviewing Rich by phone.
Bob Fossil, for those who don’t know him, is to say the least a visual character. To fans, something would be missing without the not-quite-tantalising flash of flesh provided by his six-sizes-too-small polyster button down shirt. How exactly does Fulcher translate his most famous character into prose?
His first answer is a despairing, “I can’t!” Then, perhaps remembering that he is promoting the book, he rethinks: “No, I have a great illustrator – Mr Bingo. And of course Dave Brown – Bollo – does the design layout. So I sent them words, and they made them into a niiice thiiing! [sic]
“It’s very difficult to find the Fossil outfit. That’s my rationale for no one doing it.”
While we’re talking visuals, I can’t help but ask where he buys his shirts. “You’ve gotta hunt these things down. If you go to a Boosh show, you’ll find everyone is dressed as Howard, or Vince, or Bollo. It’s very difficult to find the Fossil outfit. That’s my rationale for no one doing it. That colour is not known to humans.” Nothing to do with it revealing the wearers nipples? “That might also be something to do with it. But the polyster blend is really difficult to get hold of.” What are you wearing right now? (This is the first and last time I will ask this question on the phone.) “I’m in Jeans! In dungarees! A lot of people might find that disappointing. And a black shirt.” He says the last bit seductively. “It’s my little incognito outfit.”
Book aside, Fulcher is best known for the Boosh TV show, in which he stars alongside Noel Fielding and Julian Barrat. Getting to this point was less than straightforward – all appearances to the contrary, as a kid in Chicago, Rich always wanted to be a lawyer. So much so that he has actually passed the bar, a snippet of information which dramatically reduces my faith in the American legal system.
While at law school in Virginia, which he describes as “tremendously boring”, Rich signed up to a comedy class in Chicago. “It had trained Bill Murray, John Candy and John Bellushi… I keep mentioning the fat guys in comedy, but it was a spawning ground.” Turning to Rich’s other spawning ground, I ask him what his parents thought of his career change. It transpires that, at least until recently, they had no idea. “I’m writing a screenplay about it right now. It’s called, ‘Mom, I’m not a Lawyer.'”
“We started out with a weird scientific premise, like Czechoslovakia can be mailed“
Parental deception underway, Rich began his comedic career. Starting out in America, Fulcher toured internationally, eventually reaching the Edinburgh festival. “We improvised a university lecture. Basically, we started out with a weird scientific premise, like ‘Czechoslovakia can be mailed’, and all taught from the perspective of a Professor of something chosen by the audience. We got gynaecology a lot.” The show was a success, and Fulcher returned to the festival twice more.
Having grown roots in the UK, Fulcher met Fielding and Barret while filming sketch show Unnatural Acts, which was of dubious popularity. “Not many people have seen it,” he muses. “I think six people have seen it.” In a rare moment, Rich had found some people who could tolerate working with him for (what has now been) a decade, so he didn’t pass up the opportunity.
The rest is history – live acts, then a radio show. After a successful pilot, the Boosh finally hit the beeb’s televisual airwaves in 2004. There hasn’t been any new material since the third series aired some time ago, so I’m intrigued to hear Rich’s future plans.
“There are plans – there are so many plans, that’s the problem! It’s figuring out what to do next – there’s the film plan, the fourth series plan, the US tour plan…”
I hesitate for a second. The film plan?
“Yeah, that’s one of the options for the Boosh right now. It needs to get written and all of that”, he adds, casually.
“So you can promise me that there will definitely be a Boosh movie?”
“Definitely. Maybe. At some point.”
The answer just about sums up Fulcher, who, as Milton would definitely not have put it, is at all times a siege of contraries.