by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog
The Hill, May 2007
Cathy Levy meets the Ladbroke Grove comedian
Rik Mayall likes to tell rude jokes, swear a lot, and talk incessantly about himself. He laughs, and says he loves, in fact, to talk about himself and how “bloody marvellous” he is. Actually, he uses a stronger expletive than bloody. Really, he does swear like a trooper; effing this and effing that, but it’s all part of being funny and being a comedy great (comedy genius, he would say).
Ever since he played Sociology student Rik in The Young Ones back in 1982, his career scaled to skyscraper heights, as did those of his fellow comedy actors. Mayall, along with Nigel Planer, best friend Ade Edmondson and the other one (Christopher Ryan), plus Alexei Sayle, all brought a new alternative comedy to our screens and hearts. It was utterly unique, quickly reaching cult status. “I’m still honoured and flattered by the way people come up and talk to me about The Young Ones. Don’t forget it was last effing century, man! It’s a long time ago,” he shouts.
But the Ladbroke Grove resident is now here to promote a stage tour of one of his most favoured “evil” characters, Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, Episode 2007. Rik has played B’Stard in four series on TV and its original writers, the award-winning and very talented Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, have penned this new version for the stage, currently doing well on tour. “So I saw the script and thought, great, I will go against one of my basic laws of pan-global entertainment, which is ‘you don’t go back’. You don’t say, ‘hey let’s do another series of The Young Onesnow all the others are aged 50 and I’m in my late twenties,'” he laughs. “I thought, ‘no, Alan isn’t merely a yuppie from the 80s he’s a permanently evil, nasty bastard, as British politicians are’.”
For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s set at 9 Downing Street, where Alan works and where he invented New Labour, consisting of a flurry of ex-Tories who’ve all crossed the floor. “I thought it was a very good idea because the Labour party in reality has become so right wing that it’s virtually what the Conservative party used to be – but, understand, God knows I’m not a politician.”
It’s quite hard to keep up with Mayall. He jumps wildly from story to story, interrupting himself with a string of asides – “remind me of Margaret Thatcher” or, “remind me of Little Richard” – constantly going off on tangents and then scrabbling to come back again. The Little Richard story gets him very animated indeed. There are four of us around a table and Mayall holds court, relishing our undivided attention. “Little Richard was one of the greats of rock and roll and I saw him live on stage and he was fantastic,” he begins. “But also, when Ben Elton and I were in a club in Soho, we actually met Little Richard! And I talked with him about being on stage. He always had his band to warm up the audience first: “Get ’em high”” shouts Mayall in a southern US accent, imitating Little Richard. “And then he’d come on and he’d take them “higher and higher!” until “they can’t get no higher!”. And that’s when you get off that stage. And that’s what the show is about – once you’ve done a joke, you don’t do it again. So this is not the same joke, this is the nastier, uglier relative of that joke,” he says, getting to the point of the story, about why it’s really OK to bring back B’stard.
The truth is, it’s a tightly written, very clever and witty political satire with a cast of excellent comedic actors. With Marks and Gran delivering “fistfuls of fresh jokes” each week, the show is able to stay totally current, keeping up to date with Blair’s announcement to retire and Brown’s inching closer to takeover. When the play launched in the West End last year, it wasn’t just theatre critics who came to meet Mayall, but major political journalists too. He says that was very flattering and modestly attributes it to the writing. As well as his being “incredibly famous”, he belts out with a laugh.
His career has indeed been prolific so far, including a string of television series (Bottom, Blackadder, The Comic Strip Presents…) and theatre (Waiting For Godot, The Common Pursuit and The Government Inspector). “The characters I do best are the ones that have some of myself in them,” he says, “like Rick from The Young Ones who is a selfish little twat, and then you have Richie from Bottomwho is a selfish big twat. With Alan, perhaps it’s vanity and self-obsession, but Alan has no morality at all, he walks freely though life doing whatever he likes.” Is this supposed to be some kind of serious insight into Mayall then? But, no, he’s off onto another topic immediately.
The New Statesman has been touring since March, also featuring Lysette Anthony as Alan’s wife, Garry Cooper, Helen Baker, Alexandra Gunn (as Condoleeza Rice) and Kamaal Hussein. The final dates take them to Bromley, Richmond and ending in Milton Keynes in July. Is it hard work being on stage through a long tour? “Theatre is the hardest job in the world because you work almost two hours a day. So, some days you have to get out of bed at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, you really do. And you have to make your own way to the theatre, well, sometimes they send you a car, but I have to find my own way from my bed to the car. Then they’ve got to drive you to the theatre and I have to get out of the car and into my dressing room and take all my clothes off and I’ve only just put them on, can you believe it? And it goes on and on. It’s hell. Sometimes you have to do it twice a day – matinees, in front of three pensioners. Can you imagine?” he says in a soft, deadpan voice.
It’s clear that there’s little chance of seeing the real man behind the comedian. Married to Barbara and with three children, he once told journalist Lynn Barber: “I don’t want people to know who I am”. Even when he talks about the near-fatal quad bike accident he had in 1998 at his Devon farm, suffering two brain haemorrhages and a fractured skull, he still makes a big joke of it. “Yes, they tried to assassinate me with a quad bike, but they failed. I was dead for five days, don’t forget that – it was the day before Good Friday. I went down that Thursday and Jesus went up on the Friday. On Sunday, Jesus comes back to life, Easter Day. On Monday, bank holiday Monday, that’s when I was not dead. Five-three, I beat Jesus, 2000 years later!”
A serious conversation with Rik Mayall? As his Young Ones alter-ego would say while sticking two fingers up: “Not bloody likely, matie!”