How We Met Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Martyn Palmer for The Independant 20th February 1994

Comedian Rik Mayall, 36, was born in Droitwich and studied drama at Manchester University, where he formed a group called 20th Century Coyote. His TV work includes The Young Ones, The New Statesman and Bottom. He and his wife, Barbara, live in London with their two children.

Adrian Edmondson, 36, was born in Bradford, met Mayall at Manchester University and joined 20th Century Coyote. He has appeared on television in The Young Ones, Filthy Rich and Catflap, Snakes and Ladders and Bottom. He lives in London with his wife, Jennifer Saunders, and their family.

RIK MAYALL: How did we meet? Is he the one married to Dawn French? Ah yes, I remember. Manchester University from 1975 to 1978, the drama course which I nearly didn’t make. I was really looking forward to being a grown-up student, growing my hair and all sorts of things, when I messed up my A-levels. I got in on clearance – the results must have been particularly bad that year. I’m trying to remember the first time I saw Ade but there were so many odd people there, it’s difficult.

My impression now is that Ade had very long straggly blond hair and his outfit was much groovier than anyone else’s. He had a red corduroy jacket, with strategic rips in it, with little John Lennon glasses and really ripped trousers. He was totally cool as far as I was concerned – and he had a motorbike. But there wasn’t any big, dramatic, first meeting I can pinpoint now. There was so much happening. I was aware of Ade but I don’t think we spent a lot of time together at first.

There were about 30 people in each year. The third years were cool and in charge, the second years were really thrusting and waiting for their turn and the first years were wide- eyed and innocent. We really got to know each other at the start of the second year. A friend of ours, Lloyd Peters, went to this club in Manchester called The Band on the Wall and asked if we could do a residency on Thursday, Friday and Saturday lunchtimes. We formed a group called 20th Century Coyote, and the first thing we did was an improvised affair called ”Dead Funny”. The two other guys I was doing it with pulled out after a couple of shows, so I decided to ask Ade. He had a bit of a reputation in our year as the actor. He had done a couple of big roles and had lots of confidence. He said yes, and that’s how we started.

Fairly soon we were just doing stuff on our own. At college everyone was doing either real political material or heavy arts stuff and we kind of developed a don’t-give-a-toss philosophy. To take the piss, we used to sell the Morning Star on the steps of our department and do a ”Morning Star – morning, love . . .” routine.

We would perform lunchtimes at The Band on the Wall and Monday evenings at the Studio Theatre at the University. We would drink at a pub called the Ducie near the University and go to the Cavalcade Club. We used to go and watch jazz. I think the reason we both got on so well, and still do, is that we are very similar and share the same neuroses. And at that time we both wanted the same things – to have a great time and shag as many girls as possible.

We never actually lived together. In the first year I was in a hall of residence and in the second I shared a house called Lime Cottage in East Didsbury, which is what The Young Ones was based on. Ade used to come round and try to ride his motorbike up the stairs. I remember the first time I decided to go on the back of his motorbike, and thinking: ”I can either go along with this and probably die, or catch the bus.” I got on.

I think the characters we developed at that time are the basis for everything we have done since. After we left college, it was a bit of a bleak time for both of us. I did a Shakespeare tour in America for a few months but then was doing all sorts of odd jobs, like being a road-sweeper. We were both living in the Midlands, about 30 miles apart, and we used to get together about once a month and get pissed. It kept us going. And then we managed to get 20th Century Coyote on in Edinburgh.

I suppose our relationship is like a kind of marriage. It’s the longest relationship I’ve had with anyone apart from my parents. He is my closest friend. At the moment we are working out what to do next. We have never done more than two series of anything together, but maybe we will with Bottom. We have been together 17 years, and the Pythons didn’t last that long. Not that I am comparing us to them, but I am quite proud of that fact. I don’t think we have done our best work yet. That is still to come.

ADRIAN EDMONDSON: I had done Hamlet at school and always thought I was going to be a serious actor. I actually had an audition for Rada but I never went because I was too scared. Manchester University seemed easier. You just had to go and tell them you were clever. I must say, I’m glad that I did that now.

The first time I remember seeing Rik was when we were both getting off the same bus on the way to college. He had very, very long hair. This was 1975, and it was obviously still the thing to have long hair at public school in 1974. It was very greasy long hair which he obviously didn’t wash very much, and it looked to me as if he had been practising flicking it because he did it all the time. Some of the people at college seemed very grown- up; some were even smoking cannabis. One was almost 30 and he bought his own chair. Very cool. I had my motorbike: an MZ 150.

It was in the second year that we really got together. I can remember the seminar when Rik asked me if I would do some stuff with 20th Century Coyote. I said: ”Well, I’ll have to have a contract, luv.” And he wrote me out a contract during the seminar which said something like ”I promise it will be horrible and nothing will ever go right. La de da. Rik Mayall.” He was true to his word. One reason why we did The Band on the Wall was that we had heard that both the years above us had got Equity cards by playing there. But it didn’t work for us: it took years before Rik and I got our cards.

I do look back on my university days with great affection. Rik and I got on so well because we liked the same things, like drinking eight pints of lager, and found the same things funny. Rik makes me laugh more than anyone or anything. We still have the facility to amuse each other in a way that no one else can. Bottom is the projection of the kind of people we knew we could be if circumstances failed us. We have always had a vision of what we would be like in old age, sitting in a home, drinking pints of mild and pinching people’s bottoms.

When we were in the third year, Ben Elton joined our course and later co-wrote The Young Ones. The first time I was aware of him was when I was round at Rik’s house and he said: ”Quick, duck. Ben Elton is coming down the path.” Ben was incredibly prolific, he was putting on plays in his first week.

After college the future seemed extraordinarily bleak. There was real despair, but it was a time that really cemented our relationship. Rik had come back from America and was living with his Mum and Dad in Droitwich, and I was living with my first wife in Tamworth. I had all sorts of dull jobs like working in a warehouse, and in Birmingham tax office.

The only escape from the drudgery was getting together with Rik once a month. We would drink enormous amounts of Colt 45, cook chips – cooking chips is a wonderful thing to do – and just talk into a tape- recorder long into the night, working on ideas. We used to laugh ourselves to a standstill and get very drunk indeed. Those times kept us going. We hadn’t made the decision to work together in so many words, but that’s what we wanted to do. We used to send out little sheets of paper to venues all over the country saying ”20th Century Coyote – available for hire. pounds 35 for 15 minutes or pounds 50 for an hour.” I still have all the rejection slips. Then came Edinburgh in 1979, and I think that must have been the first time we made some money; after that we decided to move to London.

We still get together now and have these sessions where we just pour it all out on a tape-recorder. I find it strange that we can never be as funny on screen as we are in a writing room. There’s always the compromise between how funny things are in conception and what it turns out to be.

Our relationship is like a marriage, I suppose. That’s why it’s so difficult. We haven’t really talked about doing more Bottom. It’s a problem, because we have so much fun doing it but it gets critically lambasted. There again, we have been lambasted for everything we have ever done together. I know that shouldn’t be a problem, but everyone hates being called crap.