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The International Writers Magazine: Comment

'Howard Loves Vince'; The Queer subtext of The Mighty Boosh
Jodie Corney

Howard: That’s what this is all about – me and you – the arguing, the bitching – it’s all because of the sexual tension, the deep, powerful, molten, sexual tension that has been brewing up between us…
(From Party, episode 5, series 3)

What other possible explanation other than ‘the deep, molten, sexual tension’ could be the reason for two characters as wildly different as Vince and Howard to stay together? The various episodes of The Mighty Boosh are a twisted courtship between the two of bickering, sniping, and sometimes just plain cruelty, yet always underneath this is a very real affection and tenderness for one another.

If one of them is in trouble (often through their own fault) the other will come to the rescue. This complex relationship dynamic is recognised by peripheral characters, the running joke being that Vince is always referred to as being Howard’s ‘wife’, and often has to avoid the advances of amorous male characters. In many episodes Howard and Vince pursue women, frequently unsuccessfully, so that at the end of the story the status quo is maintained. The story finishes with Howard and Vince being reunited, any women often long forgotten.

The writers Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding explored the Queer facet of Howard and Vince’s relationship in the episode Party. In a complicated plot ploy to save Vince being killed by the Head Shaman, Vince kisses Howard. After the kiss Howard declares his love for Vince, and that he now embraces ‘gaydom’. Vince initially brushes off Howard’s advances, it is only when Howard ‘dumps’ Vince in favour of a woman, that Vince decides to stake his claim on Howard. On the surface Vince’s sudden possessiveness of Howard seems to be motivated by jealously, however it is also about control. Frequently it is Vince who chooses a possible sexual partner for Howard. Vince will often be the one to initiate contact between Howard and the woman he has ‘found’ for him (Electro, Nanageddon). Ironically the woman that Howard ‘dumps’ Vince for is the same woman that Vince paid earlier in the episode to flirt with Howard and encourage him to have a birthday party in the first instance. Vince only backs down on his claim to Howard when another woman appears. However, even though Howard and Vince end the episode by finding women the viewer expects that the situation will be resolved so that by the time the next episode airs the status quo will be reinstated, and the Howard/Vince relationship will once maintained. This device of returning to the status quo also allows the couple to go back to their arguing and bitching, safe in the knowledge that their verbal sparring is their way of showing each other affection, an affection which they do not want to acknowledge.

In the programme much is often made of Vince’s androgynous dress sense and he is often mistaken to be a woman by other characters. As well as being androgynous, there is also a question mark over his sexuality, Vince’s ability to ‘swing both ways’ being confessed by Vince’s brain cell in Journey to the Centre of a Punk. Vince revels in these sexual and gender ambiguities; he describes himself as ‘the confuser’ because of his ability to make men desire him, and confuse men about his gender identity. If we take Queer to mean the blurring of gender and sexual boundaries, then in this sense Vince is a very Queer character. Queer is celebrated in The Mighty Boosh and is a recurrent theme – just look at Old Gregg who appears in The Legend of Old Gregg – he is part fish/part human, part man/part woman, he dresses in a pink tutu, has a ‘mangina’ and is hopelessly in love with Howard. Old Gregg appreciates Howard’s ‘strong arms’ and other masculine traits that Old Gregg believes Howard possesses. But Old Gregg’s ‘downstairs mix-up’ repulses Howard, although in the 2006 Live show Howard and Old Gregg are caught in a clinch. Old Gregg’s Queer is a more extreme version of Vince’s Queer – Vince’s androgyny is only surface deep, whereas Old Gregg is a true hermaphrodite. Like Vince, Old Gregg is a mish-mash of gender and sexuality, neither gay nor straight, neither man nor woman. And, as always, it is Vince who rescues Howard from the advances of Old Gregg, Vince resplendent in a silver glitter scarf and lavender paisley suit.

The Boosh’s version of Queer is about blurred gender and sexuality, make-up and smudged eyeliner. Vince would not fit into a small town gay bar, perhaps he would not fit into any gay bar, and because of his Queer outlook he has more in common with a sexually confused teenager who listens to pseudo-gay indie music while pouting into a mirror.
Queer is The Mighty Boosh.
© Jodie Corney Jan 2008

Jodie is a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth and is currenly in training to be a teacher.

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