What’s Your Problem? Rik and Ade

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Martin Townsend for Vox, December 1993

The sons of school teachers, Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall met in 1975 when they were both reading for degrees in drama at Manchester University. Drawing inspiration from punk and from playwrights such as Samuel Beckett — “we thought he was funny whereas most people saw him as tragic” — the duo began writing and performing together, taking their anarchic slapstick to the Edinburgh Festival and later to London, where they became part of the Comedy Store/Comic Strip set.

Mayall has since made his name parodying the new Tory Right as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, while the “trousers down humour” of The Young Ones, Filthy, Rich and Catflap and Bottom — which has just been released on video — had something to say, they feel, about social disintegration in the ’80s and ’90s.

Now wealthy thirtysomethings with wives and children (Edmondson is married to comedienne Jennifer Saunders), the problem is: what to target their humour on next…

RIK: Everything is sinking… and, now, no one knows what the fuck is going on. If our work is a reflection, in any way, of the state of things — as The New Statesman and The Young Ones were — then that is what our next series would have to be about. It’s just total confusion. The BNP got voted in — in the East End!

Bottom is about the fact that everything is starting to sink. It’s tightly connected, in that way, to the attitudes in Absolutely Fabulous. A desperate thrashing around. Utterly desperate behaviour. Desperate emptiness. The critics said we were just repeating a successful formula, but that’s crap. It’s like saying to Elvis: ‘Well, you did “Heartbreak Hotel” — why do you want to do any more rock’n’roll?’

ADE: It’s all about a lack of anything in your life, so you fill it with stuff. In Bottom, we fill ours with lager and farting; Jennifer’s world is filled with ‘being fashionable’. Growing up, we never really had anything to rebel against. All the rebelling had been done in the ’60s. We were in this crap ’70s tradition, you know. I don’t look at it like that anymore historically, but I always felt like that. I thought: ‘Christ, everything’s just happened. And we’ve fucking missed out on all of it.’ So I think it was because there was nothing to rebel against, and we were — and still are — of a rebellious nature, that we found space to be funny and ironic in terms of philosophy and the kind of malaise of existence, instead of wailing against things The Guardian might wail against.

RIK: We were nice middle-class boys, and we just had a hankering for a bit more fun than is usual in those circumstances. We were both brought up in a tradition where you wanted to be a rock star.

ADE: We were also brought up in the tradition where our parents would rather we had become lawyers and doctors. When I was 15, I told my dad I wanted to be an actor and he said, after about a ten minute pause: “Adrian … you’ll never get a mortgage.” I think that’s an underlying middle-class obsession, with security and safety, and I think that’s the only thing we had to rebel against…

RIK: We were caught between this revolution in the ’60s and punk. We were bypassed all the time, which kind of fuels our indignation. But I really loved punk. I remember going to Malvern to see The Damned and The Coronas in 1976. The Damned were fantastic. Rat Scabies put his cymbals up the wrong ways filled them with lighter fuel and lit it. It came to a drum solo and he set himself on fire. That was real excitement for us.

We were always quite violent in our own work, always a lot of punching and kicking and grabbing goolies — but I don’t think we’d have been fulfilled quite so well as musicians.

ADE: I always wanted to be a rock star, but I was very glad I didn’t because we experienced it, slightly, with Bad News, and it’s a horrendous world. I mean we got a record deal, we went on tour-played at the Monsters Of Rock in Donnington, supported Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden at Hammersmith — but it made us a very selfish group of individuals. We never had such disharmonious relationships in the Comic Strip team as we did when we were doing that.

RIK: What I found frustrating was that there’s this sea of suits, who are all hiding the cash from you. As a comic, you go on, do your 20 minutes, get your cash and go. In the record world you’ve got to sign a contract, set up a company….

ADE: And the stories you read! What’s that twins act? Bros. Their story was like a Dickins quotation. Annual income: £4,000. Fat bloke’s fee: 75 grand a week. Result: unhappiness!

My professional life doesn’t matter to me that much. I tend to judge my private life first — and that’s sorted. If it all stopped tomorrow I would become a carpenter and be very happy. I’d say the drive to carry on working is about 30 per cent of me.

It’s great to be completely noisy. It’s great when we have stunts to do that are so much fun and so violent and so many things are destroyed, just for the sake of a little joke that made us snigger in front of a word processor. But on the other hand, it’s great to sit back in your chair in the garden and watch roses grow.

RIK: Ade’s about a year ahead of me..in everything. I think I’m searching for what he’s got. My drive to carry on working is about the same, but I’m toying with different things at the moment. I’m sort of thinking about my career, I’m sort of thinking about moving out of the city and into the country. Above all, I’m wondering where we go from here, what we do, what we hit out at. I really don’t know the answer.