The Bottom Line on Comedy’s Wildest Cult Heroes

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Ross Wynne-Jones for The Daily Mirror, 4th October 2001

RIK Mayall pauses to reflect on his 26-year relationship with Adrian Edmondson.

“The main difference between us,” he says, “is that the woman Ade married makes money. The woman I married spends money.”

Mayall and Edmondson are an odd couple. They have been together longer than most marriages. Longer than Adrian’s marriage to comedy genius Jennifer Saunders and Rik’s to Barbara Mayall, a former makeup artist.

Their friendship has matured from Rick and Vivian in BBC’s The Young Ones through Rich and Catflap in Filthy, Rich and Catflap, to Richie and Eddie in Bottom.

Their material, in contrast, remains reassuringly immature.

“At the age of 43, we’ve passed the stage of lighting our farts,” says Rik, seriously. “But this show is still pretty concerned with floaters.”

For all its student humour, Bottom, their newest stage play from the BBC2 series of the same name, is a serious matter.

Three years ago, Rik came off a quad bike on his Devon farm, and nearly died when his brain haemorrhaged in two places. He recovered, but it was possible he would never have the memory to learn another script.

‘That’s just an excuse, of course,” says Adrian, in a stage whisper. “Rik forgets his lines and says it’s because of the accident. In fact, he could never remember any lines and he was always mental.”

Interviewed together they are a comic double-act, bantering as brutally as schoolboys. But separated, Rik softens when he talks privately about his oldest friend. “I’ve never thought about not having met Ade,” says Rik, briefly lost for words. “It’s quite a chilling thought, actually. I’ve never had to do anything on my own.

“I suppose I would have tried to be an actor, but I would have been a failure —I wouldn’t have had anyone to share everything I think and feel.

“Without him I would have been a frustrated sad comedian and drunk myself to death. Or become an accountant.”

Adrian is visibly embarrassed when I tell him this later.

“‘Rik’s become all soppy in his old age,” he says, quickly. “A soppy bimbo. Since the bump on his head, he has got more emotional, which I find difficult. I’m a northern bloke from Bradford!”

WTH a shudder, Adrian says: “A year or two after Rik had bumped his head he actually rang me and said, ‘I thought I’d come round for a hug’. I said, ‘What the f*** are you talking about? You are not!'”

He shrugs his narrow shoulders. “Look, normally we don’t want to say anthing nice about each other, because the other one will use it against you. So, I hate him. Write that down.”

Adrian is not fooling anyone and he scratches his head as he looks across the Birmingham skyline. In an hour he and Rik will be on stage in Wolverhampton.

“When Rik’s wife Barbara rang me after the accident it was very traumatic and emotional because it sounded like he was going to die.”

This is his first wholly serious statement and Adrian studies the glass coffee table for a moment, before recovering his composure.

“Of course, about ten minutes later I rang Harry Enfield up and said, ‘I need a new partner’.” He shrugs. “Then, as bad luck would have it Rik came round. Selfish bastard.”

Adrian says he’s sick of seeing Rik treated with kid gloves. “The thing Rik feels worst about is everyone thinks he’s touched — he’s not. Everyone he meets treats him as if he’s some kind of retard.

“He’s exactly the same as he ever was. There’s only me and Barbara still treat him the same, and it’s not good for him. So I still slap him about a bit.” Last week it was Rik who had Adrian literally in stitches — after whacking him with a frying pan in rehearsal.

“I had to be glued back together,” says Adrian, touching a scar below his eyebrow. “We’ve hit each other before, but it’s the first time I’ve ever needed stitches.”

Rik, however, says he doesn’t know whether he’s changed since the quad bike accident. “I don’t have a good memory of what I was like before,” he says. “The greatest tragedy of my life is that I’ve been to the edge and looked over and I cant remember what I saw.

“In fact I’d advise people to fall off a quad bike because you suddenly discover that very ordinary things are great. Even getting on a bus is great compared to lying in a pit unable to move.”

He grins suddenly. “But I’m not grateful to be alive. I deserve to be alive because I’m great.”

Rik and Ade met in 1976 in the drama department of Manchester University. “The very first time I met Ade, he was sitting with his feet on the desk, very long hair and ripped jeans, smoking a cigarette.

“And there I am thinking, ‘That bloke’s smoking in lessons! He’s going to get into trouble! He’s for it!'”

When the lecturer came in, Rik stood up, hands by his sides, as he had been taught to at The King’s School, Worcester. Adrian sniggered at him.

“That’s the first thing I remember about him,” Rik says. “He was sneering at me for being such a square.”

Adrian laughs. “When we first met I was trying to be cool. He was trying to be cool. We were trying to be the same person really. We’d been to very similar schools, both sets of our parents were teachers. We had the same record collections and we’d been given the same dressing gowns by our mums.

“All the other drama students were very pretentious, doing nude versions of Edward II. That’s where it started — taking the Mickey out of drama students.”

The pair of them are so close that you wonder whether their wives are ever jealous.

“I think that Adrian’s basically attracted to people who are more tal ented than him,” says Rik, earnestly. “Which is why he married Jennifer and why he works with me.”

Adrian admits to having had a “huge crush” on Jennifer for years before they ever got together.

“I met her at the Comic Strip Club when she turned up with Dawn French. I was with someone else, but I had a huge crush on Jennifer. It took a very long time, but I always had a burning desire.” Rik was his best man.

Jennifer understood her husband’s friendship because she had a comic partner in Dawn. Rik, meanwhile, says the key to his happy marriage was marrying a former makeup artist.

“Actors should always marry make up ladies because they love actors which is a very rare thing. Actors are only really interested in themselves.”

He says there is no clash of relationship, but he talks about Adrian in the way a lot of people might talk about the love of their life.

The truth is that Ade does something to me that no one else can,” he says. “He makes me a better performer, he enables me to write, he makes me laugh. Like, I’m one half and he the other half. Stan and Olly, Eric and Ernie. I’m only half a human and he’s only half a human, but together we add up.”

“I know Rik thinks it’s like a marriage,” says Adrian. Keen to set the record straight, Rik says: “But it’s really more like brothers. He doesn’t want anyone to think there’s any funny business.

“We do lads’ things. The way I see it, you should only talk , about feelings when you’re trying to get off with a girl.”

But then he pauses. and almost despite himself, he says the sweetest thing.

“The truth is neither of us is particularly funny without the other. On our own we’re like a pas de deax with only one person.”

Rik bounds into the room like a schoolboy. “What are you saying about me? What are you saying about me?”

Adrian eyes him coolly. “I’m saying what a complete bastard you are,” he says. Rik grins. “Good. That’s what I said about you.