The Bottom Line on Mayall Going Straight; Rik Turns Straight Man

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Jill Parsons for Daily Mail, 15th May 1993

RIK MAYALL is going straight after more than a decade playing overgrown schoolboys with decaying clothes, personal hygiene problems and a fine line in lavatorial jokes. He admits to worrying that the joke could have been on him.

‘I was nervous because I’m largely two-dimensional, at least most of the stuff I’ve done is,’ he says in an unexpectedly refined, gentle voice. ‘I’ve always stopped doing one thing and started doing another — “The Young Ones” to “Filthy Rich and Catflap”, to “The New Statesman”, to the American film “Drop Dead Fred”, to “Bottom”. I’m looking for things that stimulate me. What I don’t want is for it to look like Rik’s decided he’s grown up and he’s gone straight.’

The result is “Rik Mayall Presents”, three one-hour films which are more poignant drama than light-hearted comedy. In the savagely funny “Mickey Love”, which goes out on ITV at 9:00 pm on Thursday , Mayall plays an ageing gameshow host consumed with paranoia and hell-bent on personal destruction, despite the best efforts of his besotted researcher, played by Camomile Lawn star Jennifer Ehle.

The second, “Briefest Encounter”, sees him planning a night of seduction with Amanda Donohoe which runs far from smoothly. In “Dancing Queen”, he plays a man stranded in Scarborough on his wedding day with no trousers, no money and accompanied by stripper Helena Bonham Carter after a stag night goes horribly wrong.

Mayall says he has come to rely on the support of others to help him take on more diverse work. Adrian Edmondson, a friend since student days at Manchester University, is his comic partner in “The Young Ones” and “Bottom”, a new series of which begins later in the year on BBC2 and which is currently enjoying a successful stage tour. Even with his venture into more-or-less straight acting, he has surrounded himself with familiar faces.

‘I almost always work in tandem. I don’t work alone, I don’t really enjoy it. I work with Ade if I’m writing “Bottom”, or Marks and Gran if I’m doing Alan B’stard in “The New Statesman”. For “Rik Mayall Presents”, the director, Nick Hamm, was a friend from university and I trusted him. I need someone else to bounce off, really.’

Mayall says that he and Adrian Edmondson may adopt set roles on stage and screen, but their personal relationship is very different. ‘Everyone knows what to expect when they see us performing together. He’s violent, I’m a bit of a wimp and we both get very loud.

‘Off stage it is very different. Our relationship is far more finely balanced. He brings me up if I’m feeling down and if he’s low, I bring him up.

‘When we write together, if he laughs at something, I know it’s funny and if I laugh at something, he understands the same. We are very much an equal partnership.’

Although he adds with only half a note of humour in his voice : ‘Except for the fact that I’m much funnier than he is.’

Growing up in Droitwich in Worcestershire, he arrived at Manchester University at the tender age of 17. ‘I was put early to get a free place. Mum and Dad were both teachers so they knew how to work the system. ‘I was out the other side and in London by the time I was twenty. It was fantastic fun. We lived in Limes Cottage, and we based “The Young Ones” on that. It was a hole. Boys straight out of home have no idea how to do anything. We couldn’t cook, couldn’t do any washing and we burnt all the furniture.

‘A friend rode a motorbike up the staircase and we couldn’t get it down for two months. And we used to go down to the laundrette and look sad in front of the little old lady to get our washing done for us.’

With a drama degree completed, he became involved with the fledgling Comedy Store on his arrival in London.

At 22 he had his first television break, as Midlander Kevin Turvey in the BBC2 series “A Kick Up The Eighties”, closely followed by the series that was to make him famous, “The Young Ones”, which he wrote with university friend Ben Elton and his then girlfriend Lise Mayer.

Mayall, 35, says that he has never recognised the difference between acting and comedy. ‘At school we did “Waiting For Godot” and “Rosencrantz And Gildenstern Are Dead”, plays which had laughs in and had a significance to teenage boys.

‘It was great making “The Young Ones”. They were good days. But then they’ve all been good days.’

Mayall acknowledges that he has calmed down considerably, following marriage to Barbara and the arrival of two children, Rosie, six and Sidney, four. ‘You become more conscious of everything when you have kids of your own. ‘Some things are not so funny any more, particularly when you see things like Bosnia and you tend to think there are more important things than making people laugh. Rosie and Sid are quite sophisticated televisually because they’ve seen daddy being hit by Uncle Adrian and they know it’s not true, they know that everything they see is people acting.

‘But I wouldn’t let them watch the news, because what you see is real and you don’t know what you might see next.’