Bottoms Up

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

For Inpress, 2nd August 2000

Josh Kinal got to meet his comedy heroes, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson. He was very excited…

To sit in a room with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson is awe inspiring and humbling (without wanting to seem too sycophantic). They do not look like two people who make a living out of hitting each other with various implements, or making school yard level fart jokes. But then again, what are two people with those qualifications supposed to look like? The truth is, they have taken what could be considered base level comedy (which, according to the trends of comedy fashions, probably should not have lasted this long), and they still manage to make it seem like it is something new.

Something new, however, it definitely is not. Rik and Adrian have been playing characters named Riche and Eddie for almost 20 years (except in The Young Ones when the characters stayed very much the same, but the names changed to Rick and Vyvyan). It is quite a remarkable career, which has finally led to the creation of a Richie and Eddie film, written by both of them and directed by Edmondson: Guest House Paradiso.

The dynamic between the pair is quite amazing to watch. The conversation moves back and forth between them at a tremendous pace and mixture of anecdotes, information and gags. Having been friends for so long, they have a little bit of that thing that couples have when they finish each other’s sentences. This amazing relationship is, no doubt, the secret to their synergy. This is why, despite numerous works on their own, they always return to Richie and Eddie.

“I think our individual efforts are quite good,” says Adrian, “we’re quite competent. But we’re never really brilliant. But between us — unfortunately, because we really hate each other — there’s a sort of something that works. We make something better together than when we do it alone. They are, sort of, extensions of ourselves. We know each other incredibly well. I’ll fill in the bits he can’t do and he’ll fill in the bits I can’t do. So it makes one thing, not really two comedians.”

Mayall and Edmondson are so revered in the comedy community because they were part of a seminal group in Britain. There was no live comedy scene to speak of, except for a group who were called “The Comedians”. Adrian describes this group as “working men’s club people in tuxedos and frilly shirts who were overtly sexist and racist.” In the mid-70s the future of comedy was not looking very bright for Britain.

“I think we grew out of punk,” says Adrian. “There was an idea that you don’t have to do what the old people do any more. We had no interest in going to a working men’s club, because we were middle class wankers. We’d have been kicked out anyway. We started doing lunchtime theatre and fringe theatre in Edinburgh. People like Viv Stanshall in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, they were in the sixties, really, but they had these sat of sketches within their songs, so their shows were kind of theatrical.”

Rik continues the line of thought which soon turns into the sort of bouncing back and forth of conversation which gives some insight into the way they work together:

Rik: “But, Viv Stanshall, particularly has always been a big hero of ours. There’s something about him that is non-general. Ade and I come from an area where we’re both sort of middle class boys. Not upper, not lower, but middle middle-class. We come from a sort of blank zone where we wouldn’t fit in to anything.”

Adrian: “There was no culture.”

Rik: “We were born uncool. Ade wanted to be a rockstar”

Adrian: “Should we pretend to be working class this week?”

Rik: “Well, let’s try.”

Adrian: “Ooh, let’s.”

Rik: “We were all incapable of fitting in and being groovy. So when there was a lot of political stuff going on. And then punk came along, and they couldn’t even play their guitars, so we thought, fuck it all’.”

Adrian: “We know we can only play three chords, but we can play them fucking loud. When we went to university, there was lots of people setting up theatre-work-sweat-shops, overtly political, intellectual, Edward The Second in the nude sort of thing. We actually just found it very funny. At the same time we found Waiting For Godot very funny. So we were in a kind of strange other world.”

Rik: “It’s impossible to understand, for us. But we knew what we wanted.”

Adrian: “We knew we wanted to laugh.”

Rik: “And because where we come from, we happened to be on stage doing stuff that made people laugh. We like laughing and making people laugh. (to himself) It sounds so crass and pathetic. See, I’m still trying to sound cool.”

A possible reason the Edmandson/Mayall team have stayed so strong throughout the changing trends of comedy, is because they keep it interesting for themselves. Despite having done television since the early ’80s, they both continued to perform live, most recently with the very successful Bottom  Livetours. Adrian describes it as the ultimate challenge to all aspects of being a comedian

“Touring’s kind of hell,” he says. “It’s very enjoyable for about six weeks, I find, then I get completely bored. I usually get bored of the process of touring. Sort of staying in a hotel room all day and not drinking, until you get on stage.”

“Untill you get off stage,” corrects Rik.

Adrian laughs at his somewhat Freudian Slip. “I’m always getting that one wrong,” he says. “But once the show has started, it’s fantastic. Comedy’s all about laughs. If no one’s laughing it’s not comedy. It’s a very simple business to be in because the results are instantly judged. There’s no half way house like in tragedy: ‘Did they cry, or did they just sought of look rather wry.’ YOU have to get people to laugh their bollocks off. Also, it takes a lot to get up there. It takes a lot to get two hours of material together and the nerves of finding out on the first night of whether you’ve still got any humour left in you at all, which you doubt nearly every night you go on.”

For the pair to make the move to the big screen is not as awkward as it first seems. In answer to the question many people seem to have been asking them (Why make a feature film?) Adrian replies with the very simple: “The money came along, eventually.”

“We wanted to make something kind of relentlessly jokey and funny,” he says, “which is what we always do. We were looking forward to kind of nailing physical comedy down and getting shots that we couldn’t get on TV. So that when we have a fight we get two or three days to shoot a fight rather than half an hour. So you can really inflict proper pain and get down to a cartoon beauty of violence.

“In a sitcom you’ve got a week’s rehearsal,’ says Rik, continuing the thought process, as he so often does. “But you have only got two and a bit hours in front of the studio audience. You’ve got time to keep shooting something until you’ve got exactly what you want. I fucking love the playback as well. So you can do a punch and go and look at it”

“And you can see it needs to be an inch to the left,” says Adrian.

Rik follows on, imitating Adrian as director. “Yeah, an inch to the left, or perhaps if I actually hit you Rik,” he says. “We’re very goad at it, but it is nice to be able to perfect it.”

Perfection is an appropriate goal for a pair who have achieved as much as Rik and Adrian. It fits in line with their maintenance of characters, but the change and evolution of their different projects. It is what sets apart Guest House Paradiso, from what it would have been it it was Hotel Bottom instead.

“We’ve got quite a good discipline, history wise, of stopping things,” says Rik. “We’ve kind of done it and we can’t do any better.

Adrian tries to explain the difference between this film, and having done a Bottom spin-off series. “I know it’s a knockabout film,” he says, “and the plot is merely an excuse for some routines. But everything in the frame is germane to what you want to happen, and that’s what we concentrated on. It doesn’t look like the TV spin-offs of On The Buses or Steptoe And Son.”

The mention of this concepts leads into a discussion of Tony Hancock and his foray into film, drink and suicide, which somehow brings Rik back to the initial thread of conversation. “That’s why, the point I was trying to come to, that’s why we tried not to make a Bottom film. But it is a Richie and Eddie film. That’s what we do.”

Guest House Paradiso is currently screening at selected cinemas.