Onion Talking: Nigel Coan

Right now there’s no shortage of information about Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. Noel himself is currently in the midst of a pretty comprehensive TV, radio and press tour, providing further fascinating slices of insight in every interview. But what does the show look like to someone who sees it from a different angle? We were lucky enough to spend some time with Luxury Comedy director and animator, Nigel Coan, who gave us glimpse through a different window. Velveteer Mog reports:

© Dave Brown

© Dave Brown

Talking to Nigel Coan about Luxury Comedy feels a bit like finding the missing piece of a jigsaw and finally being able to tell what the picture is. Nigel is the link between Noel Fielding and his Luxury Comedy, the one who made it possible. But what does that actually mean – how do they work together? “I guess I’m his interpreter in way,” Nigel explains. “The way Noel writes is like performance, so he’ll wander around and while he’s talking I’m visualising it, literally, as a real time image. Anything I can’t see in my head I can’t make; I have to be able to see it. It’s a very immediate process – although we haven’t really made it by the time we’ve finished writing it, it’s sort of already made in a way, because it’s already there, visually. Then the storyboard, filming and edit are all the same thing, in different forms.”

Nigel and Noel’s friendship was formed years ago when they met at art college. Later, he often accompanied Noel to his early stand-up shows when they would discuss his material on train journeys home. In fact, one of Nigel’s first forays into animation was for Noel’s Voodoo Hedgehog show. He explains, “I think it had the Jellyfox in it, and Noel said ‘Can we film it?’ but it would have looked rubbish because we would have been trying to do too much. So I said to him ‘Why don’t we try to animate it, sort of in the style of King Rollo? You do the paintings and I’ll animate them.’ It was the best solution for filming what Noel imagined in his head.”

© BBC

This approach continued through to the animation sequences on the Boosh: “Noel would write it, I’d go away and storyboard it, then I’d give him a list of paintings to do: ‘I need this one with the leg out, and then one with it moved a bit’…then as we progressed Ivana (Ivana Zorn, Nigel’s partner) took over because he simply didn’t have time to do it.”

It’s a working partnership that has seen them right through to their latest project together, Luxury Comedy: “We sort of see in the same way, our sensibilities are the same. We both like beautiful things; we wanted to make something as beautiful as it is funny – even the ideas as well. We both like nice ideas.” By way of illustration, he describes one of their new characters, the cleverly-named Daran C’Ache, inventor of crayons. C’Ache smokes a coloured crayon and the ash that falls from it is pencil shavings. It’s a playful visual idea to make your mind smile. “They’re not really jokes, they’re just little moments that fill the show,” he adds.

© Channel 4

I ask Nigel how he thinks people will respond to Luxury Comedy; he answers with a laugh, as if aware that reactions (both positive and negative) could be fairly extreme: He says he’ll try not to look at the comments on twitter on the launch night, but admits that he probably will. He’s aware that the show is very experimental, and adds, “We haven’t held back at all. It moves quite fast and every show has so much in it you do have to invest, you can’t watch it in the background. It’s full-on and it’s dense. It won’t be for everybody, but we accept that; TV needs something like this because no one’s making things that aren’t for everybody. It’s important that this isn’t for everybody in a way.”

He describes the moment that he and Noel first watched a full episode and surprised themselves by finding new things in it: “We laughed, and we said we shouldn’t still be laughing like this because we know it back to front. But there’s something weird about it – it’s so dense you can’t hold it all in your head. Even when I’m watching it now I can’t tell you what’s going to come next. We should know, but there’s so much in it you can’t remember it all.”

He hopes that audiences will give Noel the chance to plough his own furrow with this project: “Understandably this comes off the back of the Boosh and there will always be comparisons made. I just hope Noel’s allowed to make his own thing. This is pure Noel, it’s closer to his stand-up. I hope the reaction isn’t just ‘It’s not the Boosh’ and that’s it.” Nigel clearly has a huge amount of respect for Noel as an artist, and credits his performances in Luxury Comedy with imbuing the characters with their own identity and emotional meaning, “I’ve been looking at Noel’s face constantly for three years, and even I watch them and say ‘There’s NY Cop’. I don’t say ‘There’s Noel doing NY Cop’. You’re not looking at Noel, you’re looking at the character. It’s pretty incredible because he’s got such a pointy, distinctive face – it’s bizarre he can morph between characters.”

© Channel 4

Nigel explains that a great deal of the performances were improvised, something he feels is important to the show and yet audiences won’t be aware of: “There’s a bit where Richard (Ayoade) is playing the Hammerhead Shark and Noel’s playing Tony Reason, and there’s something about the raw footage which is almost hypnotic. It’s just two men improvising. So much of the show is improvised, and you want people to appreciate it.”

Something that he learned during the editing process was how each sketch influences the the others which sit around it, very like an album: “If you’ve got the sketches in slightly the wrong order it’ll make the next one less funny or darker than it really is, which fascinates me. You can’t control that when you’re writing it, it’s only when you get the visuals in that you see it as a whole.”

One of the many notable facts about Luxury Comedy is that the music for the show was co-created by Kasabian’s Serge Pizzorno. Nigel is full of admiration for his input: “Serge has done amazing things in so little time, it’s incredible. Watching Serge work is amazing, because he puts the same detail into the music that Noel puts into the jokes and visuals and I put into the animation and production. It really works that way. What he did was incredible, and he and Noel just work well together.”

Nigel’s emotional investment in and excitement about the show is clear to see; as he talks about one of the jokes in the first episode the smile on his face betrays that he’s barely holding in a belly-laugh. I find it heartwarming that he still finds it genuinely funny, having seen it so many times. He also talks with affection about the production process and the team who pulled it off: “It was like a small factory, everyone was there, everyone was involved and everyone mucked in, which was the original ethos. I couldn’t bear the idea of being on set with fifty people because everything moves much slower. We achieved so much by running a small crew.” He explains that the crew now feel like they’ve been spoiled for other jobs because working on Luxury Comedy was so much fun.

© Channel 4

It sounds perfect; but was there a downside? “I’ve never worked so hard in my life!” He laughs, “It’s been absolutely relentless and it takes over your life completely. I’m not really complaining, because I enjoyed it, but it takes its toll.” He looks thoughtful for a moment, then adds, “But when it’s done, it exists forever – so we might as well do our absolute best. And we have done our best.”

Many thanks to Nigel for taking time out of his busy post-production schedule to talk to us.

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