The Fart of Boys
by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog
Edited by Gavin Martin for NME, 8th May 1993
Ham-fisted, moronic, tasteless, cheap crap – and humungously popular. That’s Richie and Eddie, aka Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, in the touring stage version of their as-seen-on-TV pathetic bachelor saddoes sitcom Bottom. “Fnarr, fnarr,” snorts Johnny Cigarettes, while harshly disciplining his rectal muscles…
If comedy is the new rock, as this very publication claimed last year, then Adrian Edmonson and Rik Mayall, as two of it’s slightly-elder statesmen, would surely be selling out Wembley and being ferried around in limos. But no, they’ve chosen instead a daunting schedule of bed and breakfasts and insalubrious Victorian theatres in towns such as Kidderminster, Doncaster, Southend and, tonight, that mecca of Opportunity Knocks runners-up of the world over, Sunderland Empire. This ain’t rock’n’roll – this is Wearside!
But let’s test that dodgy theory a little further. What hot, hip, and happening sounds do Rik’n’Ade (not quite Mike’n’Keef, eh, readers?) frug out to after a hard night’s toilet humour?
“Er…well, on the bus coming here we listened to some early Fleetwood Mac,” stammers an ashen-faced and ashamed Rik Mayall, “The White Album‚ Exile On Main Street, and, oh, Dr Feelgood! We love them! You’ll have to mention them – it’ll be their first mention in NME for at least 15 years!”
Hmmm. Passable, but severly stuck in pop world not venturing past 1974. But we can still akwardly ram that into our theory, since to some people (90 percent of them London critics) Rik and Adrian in Bottom with fart and knob gags a-go-go, would be roughly equivalent to Gary Glitter – ham-fisted, crude, moronic, tasteless stuff appealing to the bad old lowest common denominator (and, incidentally, hugely enjoyable and massively popular with all sections of the public, the philistines). Explain yourselves, you charlatans – speak now, or forever hold your rectal muscles!
“We just love really cheap, crap gags, basically!” asserts Adrian proudly. “Simple, base, crude, uncalculated jokes hitting hard where it’s most naturally funny. People say it’s childish, but childish humour, to me, is Sooty. OK, it’s the oposite of, say, Oscar Wilde, but then Oscar Wilde actually wasn’t that funny! The Importance of Being Earnest has a few crackers, but it’s hartly three woofers a minute all the way, is it?!”
“You have to surrender to our stuff,” says Rik. “You can’t come in with any intellectual snobbery – you’ve got to allow yourself to enjoy it. But we only really get a problem with being sneered or frowned upon in London – because of all the pretentious media types basically.”
Bottom isn’t about trading witty one-liners (though it has it’s fair share popping up along the way) or making sly cultural references, or laughing at the cool comedian, or at the sad foibles of others. It essentially takes clowning and slapstick and the pathetic-ness of bachelor saddoes like Eddie and Richie, and you laugh at it – and laugh all the more because of that. It’s basic, traditional comedy taken to taboo-breaking extremes, and in that sense (if we can update our dodgy comparisons) it’s like the Sex Pistols of comedy to Mary Whitehouse Experience’s witty, intelligent Indie pop version.
Sure, it had it’s weaknesses, and they’re more noticable in this stage-play version, since in the theatre it relies totally on two characters and one setting, meaning that even the incredible amount of good laughs they usually get from the apparently limited model aren’t quite enough for a two-hour play. An outside character or context would certainly add sufficient extra fuel to prevent them relying too much on a limited plot.
But that’s a minor quibble, rendered insignificant by the riotous comedy which most of the play sustains brilliantly.
Moreover, Bottom works as a sit-com for many reasons other than the slapstick and cheap gags.
One of the reasons it was unmissable telly – while more mainstream sit-coms like 2 Point Four Children or May To December are dismal, brain-in-neutral affairs which you might vegetate in front of for want of something better to do – was it’s almost total nihilism and cynical look at it’s subject matter.
Someone once said that comedy is ‘tragedy plus time’ (though I don’t remember The Towering Inferno being much of a gasser) and, like most of the best sitcom-charakters have been, Eddie and Richie are terminally tragic, 24-carat losers, trapped in their situation and taking it out on people and things around them when their attempts to improve their dismal lot invariably fail. It’s no coincidence that Mayall and Edmondson’s previous venture in the theatre was a comic version of Samuel Beckett’s spectacularly bleak classic, Waiting For Godot.
“That’s essentially a British comedy thing,” says Rik, “because as a nation I think we look at ourselves as losers, but with delusions of grandeur, pomposity, and a feeling that we should be up there when we are in reality down here, serving and having to deal politely with conventions and people we despise.
“That’s so British. Modern American comedies are far more into wise-cracking and laughing at someone else all the time, and it’s usually got a sentimental edge, whereas we’re far more cynical. Just compare Basil Fawlty and Reggie Perrin, or even Blackadder, to Cheers or the Golden Girls.”
There are also some very British taboos which Mayall and Edmondson gleefully piss on for their humour.
“Sure, we go against the social convention to get laughs,” admits Adrian. “A fart is funny, because people aren’t supposed to fart: the same goes for wanking, or extreme violence – they’re things you don’t like to face up to – you’re cringing while you laugh.”
And that’s a ridiculous fact in itself, which is another strand of Bottom’s humour. When Richie and Eddie use words like ‘knockers’, it’s laughing at the same thing as Finbarr Saunders in Viz – the absurdity of the fact that we find such innocuous words remotely naughty or funny.
But enough of such weighty analysis. What you really want to know, probably, is whether Rik and Adrian are just (hey!) ordinary, regular blokes or horrible, ruthless, driven egomaniac smack-crazed depressive geniuses who dress up as goats for filthy sex kicks and regularly suck angel dust from the webbed toes of rubber-bound rent boys.
They’re giving nothing away, though, and the most you can tell is that Rik is more naturally showy, slightly smarmy and eager to impress, but also more affable and, dare I say it, charismatic. Adrian seems more unassuming, thoughtful and down to earth. Hardly scandalous stuff.
But we can’t let them off the hook completely. Don’t they think they’re treading water and milking the same old formula for the characters and situations in Bottom as they’ve always used in the past?
“Yes, we are doing the same thing as we’ve always done in the past, ” spits Adrian in exasperation. “We’re making jokes for people to laugh at. That’s our job, for f—‘s sake, not to keep being different characters – we’re a double act, essentially, who just happen to be comedy actors in our own right.”
To give them their due, the criticism that their act hasn’t developed isn’t really fair if you look at them as a double act. No-one criticised Morecambe & Wise or French & Saunders for being the same comic characters all the time, but because Rik and Adrian’s partnership has been relatively irregular – often appearing as part of a bigger team – and they’ve each done solo projects, they’re not perceived as such. In fact, plans are afoot to continue the theme in different theatrical plays, which should establish their double act more in their own right.
But we still want to know what they’re really like, don’t we, kids? For example, are the characters they play – Rik as the vain pretentious hypocritical twat with with embarrassing personal habits and Adrian as the simple slob with insane, violent tendencies – reflective of the traits in their own personalities that they try to suppress?
Rik, are you a hypocritical twat?
“Er, I suppose I can be on a bad day,” he muses modestly.
“Richie is generally reflective of all the things I try to suppress to be, er, acceptable to others, I guess.”
“And I’m insame and extremely violent”, adds Adrian helpfully. “No, it’s mainly just being everything we’re not supposed to be – it’s basically a schoolboyish indulgence in horribleness!”
Fair enough, but how about some real dirt? You’re both funny, successful men of not inconsiderable sex appeal, and humour is a well-known aphrodisiac – so how many groupies do you shag in the average hour on the road?
“Ha, ha! No, we never get groupies, I’m afraid,” moans Rik. “We get spotty gits asking politely for autographs, but that’s all. We don’t get those rock audiences these days – We did when we did The Young Ones, but now we make a point of not including pop culture in our material. Try The Mary Whitehouse Experience, they’re pretty young men – and bloody good in bed, too, I can assure you.”
“No, you’ll have to give up on us, I’m afraid,” admits Adrian, “we’re not really NME material – we’re too old to rock’n’roll…”
“…and too young to stop doing fart gags!” concludes Rik.
There’s no getting around the fact – comedy for Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson isn’t the new rock, nor is it a Renoir painting, nor is it about being smart or a wise-cracking wit. It’s about being funny: that means making people laugh a lot, and in British comedy today, they’re second to none at it.