Slapschtick

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By James Madden for The Weekend Australian, 22nd-23rd July 2000

It’s late afternoon and Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson are preparing for their umpteenth photo shoot of the day. They seem a little tired of all the attention. But as soon as the photographer starts snapping, it’s a different story. The performance begins.

Mayall. wearing a cowboy hat and a shirt so awful it would make Ken Done cringe, drops his pants. Edmondson draws the attention of bemused onlookers to his exposed friend.

Edmondson picks Mayall’s nose. Mayall jumps atop a pylon on the wharf and Edmondson does his best to push him into the harbour. Mayall tries to strangle Edmondson. Edmondson simulates giving Mayall oral sex.

And so it goes on. Sure. it could be a well-rehearsed routine but their reactions to each other’s fresh poses seem spontaneous. They’re like an old — albeit exhibitionist — couple who know what the other one is going to say before they’ve said it. Which is not surprising really, given that they have been writing, performing and directing together for more than 25 years.

Their marriage of violent slapstick and toilet humour has aged well and has continued into their new film, Guest House Paradiso.

Mayall and Edmondson play Richie and Eddie, proprietors of possibly the worst hotel in the world, a scenario that lends itself well to the kind of chaos that has been their fertile ground for the best part of their careers.

The film’s best scenes involve extreme violence, projectile vomit, burnt rubber undies and nipple abuse. It’s gross, totally over the top, gratuitous and… well, it’s pretty funny.

The plot is as ridiculous as you would expect but it does allow the two to do what they love best — that is, repeatedly beat each other up.

Over a very English snack of tea and biscuits, Mayall, 42, and Edmondson, 43, try to explain their unique brand of humour.

“Yeah, we do enjoy beating each other up,” says Edmondson, straightfaced. “The way we do it has never been done before, actually. Sure, people have always hit each other, but they’ve never done it with the same malice as we do.”

So there’s an art to the madness? “Oh yeah,” says Mayall. “We’ve got the beatings down to an art form. It’s a kind of dance and to get the timing right is a delicate thing. But that’s one of the great things about what we do we have the freedom to expunge all this frustration, onstage or on screen, in a way not many other humans do, except maybe a wrestler or a boxer.

“There may be a lady, for example, who might come up to me in Wool worth’s and say, ‘Oh, Mr Mayall, I saw you on the telly and I didn’t think you were very funny.’ And that may stay with me — the emotion it evokes inside for a year, until I get the chance to smash Ade around the face with a kettle or something. And then that negative emotion has gone,” he explains, only half-joking.

Edmondson agrees, although he paints a less violent metaphor. “Our performances are cathartic. It’s like a Greek tragedy in that sense.”

Tragedy of another kind almost struck just before the shooting of Guest House Paradiso was due to begin. Mayall was involved in a serious quadracycle accident and was in a coma for several days. The film was delayed for four months to allow him to recover, although the way the pair refer to the incident, you’d hardly know it was a near-death experience.

“The script was too long anyway, so my accident was kind of fortuitous,” Mayall says facetiously. “So while I was lying in hospital dying, the director himself [Edmondson] cut out most of my jokes, most of my lines!”

“I also set about recasting him,” Edmondson says, laughing.

“Yeah, Tom Cruise was on stand-by for the part, although I hear Mel Gibson was fighting hard for it,” retorts Mayall. “In fact,” he continues, “Ade’s written a script about my accident, but it’s mainly ‘ha ha ha, Rik’s dead, hooray hooray’. And then he dances off with all my birds.”

“All your birds?” queries Edmondson. “All right, all right — he dances off with my half can of lager and my porn mags — or my collection of vintage media, as I prefer them to be known.”

Mayall and Edmondson met at Manchester University in 1975, where they both went to study drama. (“We just clicked,” says Mayall of the first time they met.) There they formed Twentieth Century Coyote, a partnership that exists to this day.

It was their university share house in Manchester that spawned the cult hit The Young Ones, the worldwide success that launched their careers, in which Mayall and Edmondson played Rick and Vyvyan respectively.

Asked about their experiences in their true-to-life Manchester bachelor pad, Mayall thoughtfully sips on his tea before responding. “It was four blokes without any money and lots of masturbation,” he says, drawing laughter from Edmondson. “And definitely no birds. Which is exactly the same as how we live now, except we have wives and they have all our cash.

“Ade used to like to drive his motorbike up the staircase. [A scene that was later recreated in The Young Ones.] He’d come home, kick the door in, and drive upstairs. And of course the house was owned by a nice little old lady, so it didn’t really matter.”

Like many classics, it seems The Young Ones was around for longer than it actually was. In fact, only two series — comprising a total of 12 episodes — were made.

So does it bother them that 16 years after it ended, people still constantly refer to their first cult hit, despite the fact that they have been constantly working on other projects since?

Not at all, says Edmondson.

“In fact, it’s rather a refreshing change. Back home we don’t have it referred to much at all. It’s because in Australia I don’t think you got Bottom on the telly, which is what most people know us for in England,” he says.

“It’s like only knowing the Beatles for Twist And Shout— except we’re better than the Beatles,” Mayall boasts, with a broad grin.

“I think Bottom is our White Album,” says Edmondson.

“Which is their best work, in my opinion,” interjects Mayall, continuing the Fab Four analogy. So what’s Guest House Paradiso?

“Abbey Road?” offers Mayall.

“Oh, Abbey Road’s a bit sad though, isn’t it? That was their break-up record, so that can’t be us,” says Edmondson. “We’re not finished yet!”

Just before leaving, I ask them how they have managed to maintain such a successful professional partnership into a third decade, in an industry that generally doesn’t foster bonds of such longevity.

“We are each other’s other half,” says Mayall simply, and quite genuinely. “He’s everything I need, and I’m everything he needs.”

A brief silence hangs in the air, long enough for me to be surprised that an affectionate comment has been made from one of the halves without immediately drawing a quick put-down from the other.

I need not have been too surprised, though.

“I’d never ever have sex with him, of course,” Edmondson adds soon after.

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