I’m More Famous than Tony Blair

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

Western Mail, 27th April 2007

Rik Mayall is in the bar of the New Theatre in Cardiff greeting a small group of journalists.

The funnyman, who has appeared in such classics as The Young Ones, Blackadder and Bottom, is in town to promote the stage version of his popular late ’80s sitcom, The New Statesman.

But trying to get answers out of Mayall is no easy feat.

Firstly, rather than do the usual one-to-one interviews, Mayall wants to conduct his question and answer session en-masse.

Within minutes it becomes clear that the reason for this is so that he can spend almost the entire time in character as the scurrilous MP Alan B’Stard.

Maybe this is because he doesn’t like being quizzed by journalists. However, I suspect that it’s due to the fact that he likes being the centre of attention too much to let any opportunity to hold court slip by.

When asked how he feels to be bringing the satire to the stage, Mayall quips, “I wish I could say I was scared. A lesser performer would be terrified. When you are a global light entertainment phenomenon there’s no fear.”

And while it may be a tongue-in-cheek remark, you get the distinct impression that he’s only half joking.

For those not familiar with The New Statesman, the TV comedy was penned by legendary writing duo Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who were also behind series like Birds Of A Feather and Shine On Harvey Moon.

Set in May 1987, Alan B’Stard (Mayall) had just been elected Tory MP for a constituency in North Yorkshire. He turned out to be one of the most unscrupulous politicians of all time.

Fast forward two decades and the stage show finds that B’Stard has defected to New Labour where he is one of the party’s kingpins and is still as wicked as ever.

“Politicians have always been bad,” says Mayall. “Alan is probably the most immoral character I have ever created.”

While audiences will no doubt be looking for elements of Tony Blair in the character, Mayall says B’Stard is his own man.

“When we originally did the series, Michael Portillo was the MP for one of the writers,” he says. “They would ask him questions like, ‘Where do you go to the toilet?’ Because of that he was constantly being accused of being the template for Alan B’Stard. Of course he wasn’t. I merely used my genius.”

So is there anything of Mayall himself in B’Stard?

“The characters you do best always have something about yourself in them – aspects of yourself you have always tried not to be, like vain. God knows I am not vain – modesty has always been my achilles heel.”

The New Statesmanis constantly updated to reflect the current political climate and the cities the stage show visits. And with the local elections just a week away, after which Blair is expected to announce his resignation as Prime Minister, the writers have more to contend with then usual. But Mayall says they’re prepared.

“We’re touring until July and if Tony loses his job in May we’ll be alright as we have a warehouse full of gags. But we’ll have to throw the scripts together really fast.”

As far as Cardiff itself is concerned, B’Stard has plenty of ideas about what he wants for the capital city. He would like to see £24m of lottery money destined for Welsh charities and sports diverted to pay for the 2012 London Olympics.

“I am in charge of the budget for the 2012 Olympics and I don’t want decent English money wasted on these little Welsh things,” he says in B’Stard mode once again.

He also wants to see a London-style congestion charge implemented in Cardiff city centre. “We must do whatever we can to keep poor people out of Cardiff.”

The stage version has already visited a number of towns and cities, including Bristol, but Mayall – or is that B’Stard? – says it will be unrecognisable when it reaches Wales due to the constant script changes.

“If you saw it in Bristol you would only recognise about a fifth of the Cardiff show.”

But Mayall says that those who were a fan of the TV sitcom will enjoy it as it’s similar to the original series but “you are allowed to say jokes you are not allowed to say on the telly”.

He adds, “The BBC would not allow you to tell a Tony Blair joke on the telly – it’s just a Tony Blair mouthpiece.”

The stage show has already been performed in London in a venue near the Commons and many MPs caught it – although Mr Blair wasn’t spotted in the audience.

“I’m more famous than Tony. I’m more important than Tony,” says Mayall/B’Stard.

As if to push the point, the comic continues, “There was a really flattering programme about me called Comedy Connections. There was footage of a Tory MP in Parliament at Prime Minister’s Question Time saying, ‘Prime Minister how do you feel about Alan B’Stard joining the Labour Party?’ Yes Elvis was famous, yes Jesus was famous, but Rik? A question has been asked about him at Prime Minister’s Question Time.”

While Mayall is not shy in praising his talents, he is keen to point out that Marks and Gran are the real brains behind The New Statesman.

“I will offer my thoughts on lines and gags but it’s important for them to get credit as it’s their baby,” he says.

So, in his opinion, what makes great comedy?

“People should come and see the show – that’s where they’ll find the answer to what great comedy is.”

Of course.