Goodbye Yellow Rick Toad!

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

For Number One, September 1987

Rik Mayall talk to Karen Swayne about his new political venture — not one farty bottosn joke in earshot

John Cleese has his funny walk. Rowan Atkinson has his funnyface. And Rik Mayall has his yellow-dungareed, pain-in-the-bum radical student Rick.

Shaking off famous telly creations isn’t easy — particularly when a series like The Young Ones achieves the kind of cult status that it did. How many bores did you hear reciting entire episodes word perfect? But Rik Mayall aims to prove there’s more to him than bottom jokes with a new comedy series called The New Statesman. Set in the cut-throat world of politics, the show (described by Rik as a “sicker, less genteel Yes Minister”) sees him taking on the role of Tory politician Alan Bastard, a ruthless careerist who’s determined to make his way to the top no matter what.

“I wanted to play a character who didn’t have to shout,” says Rik, “because I can do other things. Alan is completely smooth, selfish, arrogant and horrible — across between J.R., Flashman and Goebbels — but I didn’t want to make him too grotesque. He had to be very plausible and charming too.”

Rik wrote the series with Shine On Harvey Moon authors Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, and there are no other Comic Strip members involved. Which makes a change…

“I think you have a different sense of humour depending on who you’re working with,” says Rik, “and these two are, for want of a better phrase, more grown up. Their humour is more black, and much more cynical. The New Statesman is also more acted than things I’ve done in the post. Before, the most important thing has been the joke or the moment, and this is more to do with telling a story.”

Anyone expecting the real life Rik Mayall to be like any one of his screen characters is going to be seriously disappointed. In the flesh he’s polite, well-spoken and thoughtful — and reluctant to do interviews.

“I don’t think it’s very productive if people see what a normal boring bloke I am,” he says self depreciatingly.

But Rik does reckon characters like Kevin Turvey and The Young Ones’ Rick came from his fears about himself.

“Kevin comes from some of the characteristics of people in the part of the country I used to live in — Redditch. They do like to talk and get worked up about things. I find Rick hander to do, because I am like him, but I hide it because it’s so embarrassing. If I allowed it to come out I’d get beaten up all the time! He’s a mass of all the things I repressed when I was at school, the deep feelings of inadequacy I had because I thought I was a bit of a farty wanker who couldn’t get a girl!”

Emerging from this adolescent trauma, Rik got a place at Manchester University in 1975, where he met Adrian Edmondson. It was the start of a 12 year friendship and working relationship.

“I was deeply impressed by Ade when I met him,” remembers Rik. “He was the second coolest guy there — Tom Watt (who now plays Lofty in EastEnders) was the coolest! Ade was very hip though — he had blonde hair and blue eyes and as I was Mr Farty I thought I’d be friends with Mr Cool. Then we went onstage together and all he did was punch me all night!”

Another now-famous face prowling the university halls was Ben Elton.

“Ade couldn’t stand the sight of Ben,” recalls Rik. “He’s spot him, go ‘there’s that bloody Elton’, chase him down the corridor and bop him!”

This childish pursuit soon stopped when people realised that they had a bit of a prolific author in their midst.

“Ben used to be able to write a play a day, and produce them onstage. So he soon became Mr Cool because he gave people parts in them.”

Does he feel that the Comic Strip crowd have become rather incestuous?

“We’ve spent so long together we’re all best mates,’ admits Rik. “And because we’ve known each other years it’s very cliquey.”

The team are all branching out individually, some into films like Eat The Rich (which opens soon) and Supergrass, and some into one-off music projects. There’s the Bad News album — with the single version of Bohemian Rhapsody, with a video directed by Ade Edmondson.

“I never realised that The Young Ones would have such longevity anyway. People still ask if we’re going to do another series, but we won’t because that joke’s been done. There was talk of doing a Christmas special, but I think people might be disappointed because it wouldn’t be as good as their imagination.”

So if the rest of the nation is still curled up watching their videos of The Young Ones, what makes Rik Mayall laugh?

“I tend to laugh at reality more than comedies, but I do love people like Billy Connolly, Steve Martin and Laurel and Hardy. Adrian is the funniest man I’ve everseen though he can make me laugh just by raising his eyebrows.

“Itsounds terrible, but I’ve made my living out of the rest of British comedy being crap. As long as Bobby Davro and Tardy keep working I know I can make a crust”

The New Statesman starts a seven week run on September 13. It’s screened at 10pm on ITV.

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