Bedlam and Breakfast
by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog
Uncut, January 2000
This month, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson bring their anarchic brand of slapstick humour to the big screen with Guest House Paradiso. David Stubbs reports
Rik Mayall gesticulates extravagantly. “This is not a Bottom film,” he declares. He’s talking about Guest House Paradiso, the first big screen venture for him and his long-term comedy partner, Ade Edmondson. “I’m intensely fucking proud of this movie. We’re working on such a large palate now.”
Rik Mayall is an overwhelmingly charming man — like Kenneth Williams, his voice swoops from one dramatic extreme to another, form the intimate whisper to great, arcing noises of delight or exasperation. He’s also liable to launch off on great tangential digressions till both of us have forgotten what question prompted this mental wild goose chase in the first place.
“Film is such an intellectual sensual medium. No? Yes? I don’t know, why I started this rambling point I don’t fucking know. I’m sorry! Blab, blab blab, that’s me…”
There’s an alarming amount of his character, Richie, in Rik — not in personality but certain shared mannerisms, the smile, the narrowing of the eyes, the way he says “pants”. After all this time, he’s developed an attachment to his twisted creation. He recalls a scene in the film with Helene Mahieu (the Renault Clio ad girl)
“Richie has to undo her dress and she draws her finger across his face. You know, it’s the first time he’s ever been toughed lovingly, by anyone since his mum when he was about three. It makes my eyes water to think about it…”
Doesn’t she give his a blow job later?
“Well, yes,” snaps Rik. “But technically that’s not sex, he’s still a virgin…”
Ade Edmondson, by contrast, is a great deal more contained, less obviously striving for something up and out there. Like Eddie, his worldly alter-ego, he knows what he wants and what he’s about. Which is why Ade directed Guest House Paradiso.
Rik “It was amazing to see Ade having to cope with six tasks at once on the set, where the lights have got to come down, where everyone’s positioned and where the hell is Rik?”
Rik insists that Guest House PAradiso is not a Bottom film, but lets say that if you loved Bottom, you’ll love this. The names have been changed, thought — Richie is now Richie Twat (pronounced “Thwaite”), while Eddie Hitler has become Eddie Elizabeth Ndingombaba. Essentially, however, they are honing and expanding the same two characters they’ve played since 1975 when they conceived The Dangerous Brothers at Manchester University.
Guest House Paradiso is the cheapest, worst hotel in Britain, situated precariously on the coast next to a nuclear power station. With its dark corridors, disgusting kitchen, and wormholes and peepholes built into the architecture, it’s a house of pain, rudeness, perviness, violence and, of course, chortles. The dynamic between the central characters is subtly established as Richie spins Eddie around the kitchen by his nostrils with meat-hooks and Eddie rams a pencil up Richie’s anus. Richie is obnoxious to the guest (“Have you washed this morning?”) yet in his own twisted way is determined to keep up the proprieties of a “respectable” hotel (“no wine list at breakfast, Eddie”). Fate intervenes when Gina Carbonara (Helene Mahieu). An Italian movie star, arrives at the hotel to evade paparazzi having just left her fiance,.playboy Gino Bolognese (Vincent Cassell). All this plus a rubber underwear sub-plot and copious amounts of drinking, leching and vomiting. The Battleship Potemekin this definitely ain’t. But Ade Edmondson wishes the critics wouldn’t be so embarrassed by their own bodily function of laughter.
Critics actively dislike us,” he says. “They’re scared they’ll be seen as intellectually impoverished if they like Bottom. It rankles. I went to a screening the other night, full of press. They all laughed. Then when the film company rang around for remarks the next day form the critics, the response was bad. Which seems uncharitable. I mean, they laughed…”
Rik insists he and Ade have never been critical favourites. But what about The Young Ones? Wasn’t that feted?
“Not to begin with. They thought it was shit. It was only when they talked to their kids or met some young people that they changed their tunes.”
Critics miss the point. Firstly, they forget that Bottom, far from representing some comedic nadir, is the continuing aftershock of the punk blast that took place with The Young Ones et al against the unreconstructed sexism, even racism, of Seventies comedy, currently resurrected to a number of repeats. Anybody who misses the enormous inverted commas around Bottom’s humour is irretrievably obtuse. That said, if you’re looking for “content” in Bottom or Guest House Paradiso — satire, moral stings in the tail, social observation — you’ll come up empty.
“We’re aiming, for pure comedy, like Tommy Cooper. Just trying to make people laugh their bollocks off, that’s all,” says Ade.
The real business is in the strange chemistry between Richie and Eddie and the strict delineation of the seemingly anarchic zone of unreality in which they work. That’s why the film takes place principally in indoor locations. In this world the normal “rules” are suspended. There’s no attempt to explain how Richie and Eddie came to be running a hotel. Ade and Rik’s earliest, strongest influences were Samuel Beckett and the Wile E Coyote cartoons, both of which dealt in worlds of logical absurdity, where certain things were just given. In other words, while this film is unabashedly no more than a bunch of underpants jokes, it’s not just a bunch of underpants jokes.
“Anyway, the Europeans understand it. There they’ve always had better reviews,” says Ade. “Europeans share our sense of how funny crap is, how funny dereliction is. Europe’s got the Theatre of the Absurd, Ionesco, Beckett. People make jokes about despair. You don’t get that much in American comedy. Not even with Woody Allen. When you come to the point of looking into the sky and realising how vast everything is and how minuscule you are in the scheme of things. Some people despair at that but I find it’s…funny.”
Traditionally, the curse of the comedian is that they have a mid-career crisis and decide they ought to be doing something more serious with their talents, be it as a maverick detective on a BBC drama series or Steve Martin and Robin Williams making their egregious “adult-orientated” comedies. Such a crisis has apparently yet to afflict Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, in spite of accusations of “puerility”.
“People always use the word ‘purile’ as if it’s a plague to be avoided,” snorts Ade. “Like ‘Pathetic Sharks’, in Viz. Why ‘puerile’? Because it’s simply funny?”
As for Rik, the older he gets, the easier it is to be less adult orientated.
“Paradoxically, it would have taken more in the past to get me to put on a bra and pants and parade around the way I do in this film. But I’m an old man now. Who fucking cares? And when I got them on I thought, fuck it, it’s just me in a bra and pants and I’m a twat.”
But after that accident in April, 1998 when he crashed a quad-bike and suffered life threatening head injuries, haven’t his attitudes changed to comedy and life in general?
“No,” says Rik, without hesitation. “I mean, there’s a bit early on where Eddie has my head trapped in the fridge and he’s slamming the door on it repeatedly, which might make some people wonder, hmm, is this right? But it was tested and tested, there’s a woodblock, there was minimal danger of anything going wrong with the stunt.”
However, both Ade and Rik had qualms about scenes involving the children of the hapless Nice family. Eddie gets one of them drunk and idly pushes the other on a swing perched on the cliff’s edge, with inevitable consequences…
“What you see on the screen is about a quarter of what was written. There are certain things we consider to be correct,” says Rik. “We’re both parents and when we were writing the kids’ sequences, I thought, I wonder if I’m going soft?”
Hardly. Correctness, also went in to the details of the epic, climactic sequences involving enough gallons of vomit to sink the Titanic. It was important to get the puke just so.
It gets surreal, the serious meetings you have,” says Ade. “We’d have chaps coming to with 10 different pots of fake vomit and have to choose between green, red, Tandoori. We had a technician trying out different vomits, being sick into this pit he’s set up, checking for viscosity, the projectile effects.
“We’ve always hankered after doing a film, mainly so we could get the violence right. TV’s great but its about live entertainment, you never get the violence precisely shot, never get the nutcrackers right on the bollocks.”
They re already plannmg their next movie — set to space.
That’s what it’s about, really. Thinking up places where Richie and Eddie can have a fight,” says Ade.
“Zero-gravitational violence. Why not?”