Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Category: 1984

The Bachelor Boy

By Dave Dickinson for Kerrang Extra, 1984

The Bachelor Boy Rik Mayall, Kevin Turvey and Dave Dickson all discuss their latest best-sellers and explain why everyone should vote for Mrs Thatcher next time around.

Few issues of the regular, fortnightly Kerrang! back Howard Johnson dallied with the name of Friedrich Nietzsche (a decidedly dangerous course) and then added the disclaimer that he wasn’t me (a statement I can heartily endorse) and that he wasn’t about to embark on a lengthy tangential diatribe on the birthplace of Nazi philosophy.

Well, that’s as may be, but an occasional saunter along the back-alleys of rumination can unearth some interesting, hitherto unseen, facets of this dark world. Average rock’n’rollers we might well be, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ignorant cretins too, does it?

OK, brief diversion coming up: ever heard of a guy called Steven Berkoff? No? Well he’s a playwright, director and actor very much on the ‘fringe’ of British theatre. His view on life is through the eyes of extreme socialism — you might even call it Marxism — very caustic and very violent. Recently his stageplay West — again, an extreme, violent appraisal of the macho image, set in East London and delivered in a neo-Shakespearean tongue that served to intensify the drama was broadcast on Channel 4, and more recently still I watched him being interviewed on the same channel on a teatime chat-show.

What impressed me then and kept me rivetted to the screen was his obvious love and passion for his work and his cause. This man, I thought, knows what he is talking about in his curious lilting articulation and excitable mannersims. I was impressed, and few people can ever do that for me.

Ever heard of a guy called Rik Mayall? Of course you have. So where’s the connection? Rik Mayall and Steven Berkoff share a socialist vision of Britain, both are writers, both are actors; the difference is that while Berkoff may perform his bloody rites to an audience of a few thousand (even at peak Alternative TV viewing time) Mayall exacts his anarchic bufoonery before an estimated audience of six million (the viewing figures at the close of the Young Ones second series).

So who is the more effective anarchist? Steven Berkoff is doomed to eke out a voluble but diminished existence on the fringe whereas Rik Mayall is already being touted as Britain’s foremost comic, to him are slipping the rewards of fame and wealth and social status, Why? Because Rick is considered nice, relatively safe if slightly risque comedy, whereas Berkoff is obviously a raving loony leftist. When Rick announces that tonight he is going to bring down the State before some ten million people on the Terry Wogan show, everyone laughs; even my mother likes Rick.

What isn’t immediately obvious is the more serious side to Rik Mayall, the fact that an edited (read ‘censored’) part of that largely embarrassing Wogan appearance “Where I said Mrs Thatcher was a Nazi!” and that all the invectives on the Police State, rampant Fascism in the Government and the dehumanising processes of the Tory policies are born out of this kernel of true socialist belief at the core of May all’s writing.

Mayall and Berkoff’s visions may be the same, but their means to that end are worlds apart. Where Berkoffs is proselytising and confrontational, Mayall’s is altogether more subtle and therefore all the more effective.

Rik Mayall chips delicately away at the foundations of conformity hoping that one day they will collapse, Berkoff tends to storm the barricades in what is liable to be a brave but ultimately futile gesture.

For instance there came a time in the second Young Ones series where in order to foil the BBC censors (the self-appointed guardians of our morals!) “We put in a really horrible bit just before a slightly censorable bit.”

Now, bear in mind that “it was mainly ‘w* *ks’ they (the BBC) didn’t like,” so Mayall and his co-writer Lise Mayer employed a diversionary tactic. This is the scene: desperate for money, the Young Ones swallow their moral and ethical qualms and decide to enlist Neil in the Army to earn some quick money. Down at the Army Recruitment Office Neil is forcibly ejected on to the street for telling them he is a pacifist. Out on the pavement Rick, Vyvyan and Mike are thereto meet him.

This is what the original script read:

Rick: You complete w* *ker, Neil!

Neil: What?

Rick: You complete w* *ker, Neil!

Neil: Oh, I thought that’s what you said. I didn’t know you were allowed to say w* *ker on the TV!

Vyvyan: No, it’s ‘Stop f * * king that dead dog up the arse and come over here and eat my s* *t, Mrs Thatcher!’, that you can’t say on the television!

Subtle eh? But remember, this is just the decoy, the real catch came over the page. “And so they said, ‘Well, that’s OUT!’ and of course they missed the ‘w* *k’ on the next page ‘cos they were too busy tearing out that page!”

And that is the art of getting past the BBC censors and slipping in another snippet of anarchy on to the TV screens, another small battle won in the war against TV censorship.

But this was as a mere nothing compared to the wars raged over the screening of the Comic Strip’s Eddie Monsoon. Eddie Monsoon  was scripted by Ade Edmondson and was “a pretty wild swipe” at the whole TV industry, based very loosely around the career of sixties BBC TV whiz-kid Simon Dee (a kind of smutty Terry Wogan, for all you too young to remember).

“The first (version) was banned! explains Mayall, “the one you saw was well toned down!”

The revised script had Eddie (Ade Edmondson) giving Jeremy Isaacs (Channel 4’s chief executive) a blow-job but in the final screened version his part was taken by Michael White, C4’s executive producer.

Monsoon’s tirade of obscenities, too, came under the hammer as well as his more explicit acts of violence. But the second series of the Comic Strip lacked the discipline of either its own first series or either of the two Young Ones series. Only the Mayall/Edmondson-penned Dirty Movie scaled the comic heights of the wildly hilarious pilot, Five Go Mad In Dorset, or the perversity and blackness of War.

Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall have been writing and performing together since 1978 when they teamed up under the morucker ’20th Century Coyote’ and unleashed their cataclysmic act on the world at the Edinburgh Festival (at least, the ‘Fringe’ part of the Festival). It was there that Rick was first born.

“In ’79 I was in a play with Ade called Death On The Toilet and we used to go on in Fringe club cabaret (at the Festival) in the evening and there were a lot of poets there who weren’t very good. So I put some poems together and pretended to be a real person, a real poet reading this crap poetry. And then when people started to laugh I shouted at them to shut up! I just wanted to be as w* *ky as I could, so the character just developed over that run. And then I did him at the Comedy Store (a club in Soho that spawned many of the so-called ‘alternative’ comedians around the turn of the decade) as well and gradually various aspects of him developed.”

Like his obsessions: “He used to be obsessed with Vanessa Redgrave!”

But why? “Because I was moving in much more theatrical circles then, whereas now it’s more cabaret.” And now Vanessa Redgrave has become Cliff Richard, because: “The character has to have an obsession, that kind of person, and Cliff Richard wasn’t very fashionable amongst the congnoscenti at the time, and still isn’t. And that’s how you make people laugh.”

The object with the Young Ones was always to make people laugh by giving the audience “the kind of stuff we’d really like to see on the telly, the kind of stuff that made us laugh.”

According to Mayall, Fringe Theatre (the stuff of Steven Berkoff, remember him?) died because it became too ‘Agitprop’ (short for Agitation & Propaganda) cutting its own throat by becoming more interested in experimentation than entertainment. And that Mayall has always tried to avoid.

Neither the Young Ones nor the Comic Strip, according to Mayall, set out to be ‘violent or disgusting’ (of which they were often accused) but rather they were trying “to make people laugh.” And in that they certainly succeeded, mainly because “the idea was funny!” And that funny idea a lot of people then took to their hearts. “It’s very funny, isn’t it?” quips Lise Mayer, “we tried to make the characters as unpleasant as possible and people still liked them! There’s something in people that they try and see their good qualities no matter how awful you make someone.”

“I think that says a lot for humanity,” offers Mayall.

Whether the mums and dads who took their six year old Ricks and Vyvyans to see the Kevin Turvey And The bastard Squad tour (essentially the Young Ones on the road) thought Rik Mayall and friends were doing a lot for humanity is rather more open to doubt.

“Everywhere on that tour was packed!” exclaims Mayall. Hardly surprising coming hot on the heels of the Young Ones’ initial success, but: “There were a lot of really young people, kids coming with their parents! And Ade does this bit with ‘Adrian Bastard And His Talking Penis’ where I’m offstage with this microphone and he’s putting a mike down his trousers… and it’s just like horrible, dirty gags! And little six year old kids are going: ‘What’s a knob, Mum?”‘

The audience, it transpires, was very much a rock audience, “particularly when Ade came on playing guitar, it was like going to see a band. He comes on as Vyv: ‘Wooargh!!’ And he just shouts, F* *K OFF, YOU BASTARDS!!’ and they all go: ‘Yeaahh!!”‘

But what was odd,” remembers Ms Mayer, “was all the little 13 year old Vyvyans! You know, do they realise that the studs are stuck on his head with glue? You can imagine these kids trying to hammer them in!!”

But rock obviously plays an important part in the Young Ones’ comedy (Neil is a hippy, Vyvyan a punk, Rick a Cliff Richard fan!) — indeed Lise and Rik had attended the W.A.S.P. gig at the Lyceum a few weeks before the interview.

“I thought it had a slightly sexist slant, the act, slightly male-orientated,” Rik comments with much understatement, but then adds, “but I like that kind of thing, I enjoyed it.”

Remember, this is the man who also has the fetish (and who can blame him?) about Felicity Kendall — one of the features of the show being the regular appearance of a rock band. The point of all this was to “combine the three elements of TV comedy that had worked best in the past: sit-com, revue shows and variety. The sit-com was represented by the boys living in the house and the plot; revue was represented by the sketches that we’d just fly off; and the variety element was provided by Alexei (Sayle) doing a stand-up comic’s piece every week, and a band.” Those bands were chosen either for a particular song, as in the case of Motorhead and the Damned, or because they just liked them.

“Motorhead we wanted for their single, Ace Of Spades, ‘cos there’s great lines in it: ‘That’s the way I like it, baby, I don’t wanna live forever!’ And that contrasts quite nicely with four twatty students going on University Challenge — which is hardly gambling for your life!”

“And we wanted the Damned in it,” continues Lise, “so everyone was trying to reach them but they hadn’t got a label or a management or anything so no-one could find them. Then there was this call to the production office saying, ‘Hello, we’ve heard you’re looking for The Damned!’ That’s right. ‘This is RAT!!’ Err, hello Mr Scabies!

“And they wrote a song specially for us!” The song, incidentally, appears on the B-side of the Thanks For The Night single and is titled after the show, Nasty, the one about video-nasties which also starred Python’s Terry Jones and was probably the best episode of the second series as a whole.

The Pythons not surprisingly, have proved major influences on Rik Mayall, and in particular John Cleese. “I’ve got tremendous respect for him because he pulled out of the Pythons when he thought they weren’t being as sharp as they should. And the last series of Python lacked Cleese (as an essential ingredient). And again with Fawlty Towers he didn’t rush into a second series, and that’s been an inspiration, seeing him being cool about wanted to do stuff at its best.”

And now Rik Mayall has applied that same philosophy to the Young Ones. The BBC, naturally, wanted a third series but Rik has declined because, “I think all the jokes have been told in that context, all the things we wanted to say have been said and, like you said earlier (I did, honest!), the second series wasn’t as effective as the first because you’d seen (it done already). I think, inevitably, you’d keep going down levels if you kept on doing more episodes. And we want to give ourselves the time to write something new… and probably come up with better work.”

By way of consolation we have The Young Ones, the book of the TV series (kind of), whereby “the basic joke is that the four boys have been given a book by Sphere (the publishers) to write. So it’s a lot of different books in one and they keep starting different things so it has the effect, in the end, of being a different gag on every page. You’ve got Vyv’s ‘History Of The World’, which breaks down in the end — it’s basically the history of HM anyway! — ‘How To Swear Properly’, a photostory where you’ve got to spot who farted!, Rick’s ‘Great Games To Play In The Lavatory’, ‘How To Write Poetry’…”

And how does Rick write poetry?

“Well, he’s got his rhyming dictionary,” explains Lise, “you know, what rhymes with ‘socialism? What rhymes with ‘Trotskyism’? And you see his work in action; he’s written a poem to Felicity Kendall and he shows it through all the stages, all the corrections. It starts out quite obscene but he tones it down.”

“What we were trying to do,” continues Rik, “was for the book to have the same effect as the TV show does when it’s at its best. When the plot’s absurdist you really don’t know what to expect next, which makes it exciting, so hopefully the book will be the same because it’s completely out of control. It’s like Sphere’s actually given them a lot of money and they’ve done it all nicely, they’ve made the book beautiful… but if you actually read it it’s pure bollocks!”

Mayall has taken as much care over this final Young Ones project as he did the first. He didn’t want it to be just another spin-off in the same way that the Comic Strip script books, the Python script books and the Neil output have all been, although he falls shy of outwardly criticising Nigel Planer’s milking of the Neil character for all it is worth (and then some). To my mind this has done nothing but discredit a brilliantly drawn comic character. What Planer has done through the abysmal Neil’s Book Of The Dead, those absurd singles and his continual, extremely unfunny TV appearances under the guise of Neil (I had the misfortune to see the hapless Frank Bough try to interview Neil for five minutes on Breakfast TV. After two minutes Neil had run out of things to say and was reduced to tearing up the newspapers in a desperate attempt to get laughs. Unfortunately the Breakfast TV people were too polite not to) seem, to me, akin to plundering an open grave. But Mayall will not be drawn — “Because Nigel is a good mate of mine, Nigel is a nice man!” — but it isn’t hard to scratch beneath the diplomatic veneer to reveal a tacit disapproval.

“Hopefully this book is a book in its own right (independent of the TV series), it’s a funny book. I think it’ll be tough for people who’ve never seen the show (and presumably there are some people out there who haven’t seen it!) to understand the sense of humour, I think it’s for people who enjoyed the show, so in a sense it is the third series!”

To this end he has succeeded remarkably — and, indeed, far beyond his own limited expectations for the book and the series. While I was actually conducting the interview his publicity agent came into the room to announce that the Bachelor Boys had just reached the Number One position in the Sunday Times bestseller list!

“Congratulations, Dave,” beamed Rik, thrusting out his hand, “well done!” And at this stage — well before Christmas, it’s taken the bastards up at AKE (Almighty Kerrang! Editorial) all this time run the f* *king piece but don’t worry, Rik, I’ll get them back, the complete and utter bastards! — the book hadn’t been out a fortnight!!

Alright, alright, that’s all very well and hunky dory and you’ve had your little piece of invective about socialism and Nigel Planer — BUT WHAT IS RIK MAYALL ACTUALLY LIKE??

Rik Mayall is a shy, rather serious man. He isn’t a natural comic, he simply uses comedy to mask what he might consider the inadequacies of his personal make-up. He doesn’t look like his characters — which saves him from the harassment of being recognised in public — but then he isn’t really like his charcters, they are rather more extensions of the bits of himself he doesn’t like (the pseudointellectual bore of Kevin Turvey, investigative journalist, and the wet-wimp-pansypseudo-anarchist of Rick) coupled with sharp observations of other people.

And because he’s not a ‘natural’ he is now pushing himself harder to learn his craft. I suspect Rik Mayall as performer will want to seek fame and credibility as a ‘straight’ actor and content himself with writing comedy once he has honed his acting skills — and there can be no tougher audience than around the clubs of Britain for that.

As this goes out Rik Mayall will be trying his hand at some more traditional comedy, The Government Inspector by the Russian playwright Nikolai Gogol at the National Theatre, before taking to the road again in the Spring with Young Ones co-writer and fellow stand-up comedian Ben Elton alongside Ade Edmondson’s Raw Sex!

He spent the latter part of 1984 doing a mini club tour of the UK with just himself, Ben Elton and a microphone, becoming “a proper stand-up.” And after that there’ll be more TV and more books. And as the champagne arrives to celebrate Mayall’s new stature as best-selling author isn’t this, I accuse, really becoming part of the Establishment?

“Well, that’s what I always wanted to do!” he parries. “Go and entertain the troops… be on the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium!”

And maybe Rik Mayall will become a respected member of the Establishment… but will you or I or anyone else for that matter ever be able to honestly say we’re positive he’s not just playing at being someone else?

I very much doubt it.

 

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The Comic Strip Presents… Press Release

1984

THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS Transmission: Saturdays late from 7 January

The critics rave: “BITINGLY FUNNY” — Standard

“MY TOP TITTER AWARD FOR 1982″/”HORRIBLY FUNNY” — Daily Mirror “BRILLIANT” — Sunday Mirror

“SHOCKING BAD TASTE”/”UPROARIOUSLY FUNNY” — Daily Express

“GOD I LAUGHED” — Time Out

“IRONIC, EXTRAVAGANT, SELF-CONSCIOUS. THE COMBINATION IS UNBEATABLE AND THIS SERIES MUST RANK AS THE FUNNIEST ON BRITISH TELEVISION” — The Times

“YOU WILL EITHER HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR ITS FUNNINESS OR WATCH FOR YOURSELF NEXT WEEK” — The Guardian

The first series of The Comic Strip Presents won all these epithets in Channel 4’s early days – indeed their first show Five Go Mad in Dorset on the channel’s opening night won the Broadcasting Press Guild’s award as the best TV comedy of 1982. And in the guise of the infamous five they returned to go mad on mescalin on C4’s anniversary night.

On 7 January 1984 this group – embracing many of Britain’s brightest young comedians – returned with six new half-hour comedy films, all different spoofs but all exhibiting the anarchic humour that won cult status for the first series. (And these shows are followed on Channel 4 by repeats of their earlier six.)

The group was brought together by Peter Richardson in October 1980 and made its first live appearance in a seedy strip theatre belonging to Paul Raymond (hence the title). The show, compered by Alexei Sayle, featured some of the best stand-up comics in London. After a successful nine months in this venue, followed by tours of the UK and Australia, The Comic Strip were commissioned to write and produce their first series for C4.

Some of those writing and performing in this group remain best known on TV for this series, in particular PETER RICHARDSON and ADRIAN EDMONDSON. Others are now gaining fame elsewhere on TV, notably RIK MAYALL in The Young Ones on Another Channel. NIGEL PLANER is also in The Young Ones.

And DAWN FRENCH and JENNIFER SAUNDERS have won acclaim for their two-person revue at Edinburgh, also seen on C4, and regularly gatecrash on C4’s Tube.

But only in The Comic Strip Presents do they have the scope and the film resources – well marshalled by directors Bob Spiers and Sandy Johnson – to boldly step where few TV comedians have trod before – right in it…

The six new films are:

1. DIRTY MOVIE: Terry Toadstool – a desperate man and manager of a local cinema – is frustrated in his plan to watch a dirty movie all by himself.

2. SUSIE: A cosy sexual triangle in a quiet Norfolk village is disturbed by the arrival of a newcomer, Gary – an ageing new wave pop star who buys the village.

3. A FISTFULL OF TRAVELLER’S CHEQUES: Miguel and Carlos, two mean, ugly, gunslingers are on their holidays from the Polytechnic. They are in Spain to do ‘the whole spagetti thing’. On their search for cowboy adventure they run into a series of desperate characters leading to a violent climax in a hacienda/wine bar in the burning desert.

4. GINO: The story of Gina the delinquent and Angie the party girl who, after a series of adventures, make their stand against the media and the police in a seedy Essex hotel.

5. EDDIE MONSOON, A LIFE: A television biography of the most offensive TV star South Africa has ever produced, in which Eddie reveals his mental anguish at having his chat show banned by C4 last year (on the grounds of overwhelming bad taste) and argues his case in quite the most distressing interview of TV journalist Peter Woods’ distinguished career.

6. SLAGS: The story of a bizarre gang of mavericks led by the terrible female duo, Passion and Little Sister, set in a futuristic landscape.

 

The Young Ones

By Mark Ellen for Smash Hits, 25th October – 7th November 1984

Rick, Vyvyan, Mike and Neil have got a book coming out on October 25. It’s called Batchelor Boys and it’s very funny. It’s also, according to Rik Mayall, the last thing they’ll ever do.

“It’s smut and I’m proud of it!” declares Rik Mayall. “It’s as though the publishers have given the four boys a lot of money to produce a book and this,” he chuckles, “is the crap they’ve come up with.”

It’s the sort of comment you’d expect from someone lounging in a swivel chair in his publishers’ plush London basement, smoking fags, picking his teeth and occasionally doodling on the brand new boardroom table with a biro. The two of us are flicking through a copy of Bachelor Boys, a book featuring the absurd antics of a rather camp poetry reading twerp called Rick, a gormless lentil-loving hippy called Neil, a smarmy Jack-The-Lad character called Mike, and a demented punk medical student called Vyvyan. In TV terms they’re better known as The Young Ones and the book’s therefore very silly, very funny, very childish and very full of pathetic scribblings, unmentionably stains and words like “bottoms”, “snot-face” and “complete and utter bastard”.

It’s also the last thing The Young Ones will ever do, which seems a good enough reason to discover how they got to be doing it in the first place. Apart from a quite expensive looking overcoat, “and the fact that I’m losing my hair and putting on weight”, I doubt that Rik — now 26 — is very different from the Rik Mayall that was studying drama at Manchester University in’75. He wanted to branch out into comedy and realised that the only way to make a start was “to be attacking something”. He’d met Ade Edmondson (who plays the part of Vyv) — “very long hair at the time, torn flares, into Jimi Hendrix” — and they’d formed an act called 20th Century Coyote aimed at deflating the Oxford & Cambridge review-type sketches that were terribly trendy at the time.

Also involved were Lise Mayer (now Rik’s girlfriend) and Ben Elton (both of whom helped Rik write The Young Ones).

Ade and Rik soon began doing double-acts, short plays with ludicrous titles like Death On The Toilet– “I was Death and Ade was a man called Edwyn”. There was also My Lungs Don’t Work and a graveyard thriller called The Church Bazaar — A Fete Worse Than Death. While performing Death On The Toilet to packed pubs at the Edinburgh Festival in `78, Rik, sick of watching “crap poets” perform their horribly pretentious verse, scribbled down some old rubbish on the back of an envelope, got up, read it really badly and was greeted with rapturous applause. “And that’s how the Rick character started.”

Two years later, the pair of them were playing at London’s Comic Strip club doing various new routines like The Dangerous Brothers — “about two very angry guys. Ade did a character called Adrian Dangerous and the character Vyvyan is a toned-down version of that.”

Sharing the same stage was another double-act called The Outer Limits: one of them was Nigel Planer, who sometimes did an act as a hippy in the audience called Neil who came up on stage and made a total nerd of himself; the other was Peter Richardson who’s now in charge of the TV series The Comic Strip Presents. The four of them decided to do a ‘sitcom’ (situation comedy) about four students who lived in a house with Alexei Sayle playing the part of the landlord. Peter sketched out an idea for the Mike character, but then fell out with the TV producer, so actor Chris Ryan was roped in to play the part.

And that — pretty briefly — is how The Young Ones began.

“When we all started out,” Rik explains, “it was at the same time as punk. And there was the same spirit — getting up on stage and shouting and attacking everything that was sacred. And the one thing we really wanted to attack was the whole idea of ‘youth’ that had been built up at the time, the idea of everything being OK when you’re young’ that they always foster in youth programmes. When I was young I was a complete bastard — utterly selfish, most young people are — so I wanted all the characters to be really selfish.

“The four boys are rather like a traditional sitcom family: Mike is the Dad — he’s smooth and a real prat; Nell is the Mum — he’s selfish in a passive sort of way, he moans at people rather than shout at them; Rick Is the daughter — really childish and self-obsessed; and Vyv Is the son — you can’t say he’s a complete bastard ‘cos he’s just got no morals at all.”

They recorded one show, then had to present their BBC producers with an essay on why they thought the programme was funny in order to be allowed to make an entire series. And once they’d started screening the first six programmes, The Young Ones began to take off in a big way, mainly because there was something in it for everyone.

“That’s right, it had a very broad appeal. We didn’t want the four boys to be Young People On The Dole, we wanted them to be students ‘cos everyone hates students. Young people don’t like students, students don’t like themselves, parents don’t like students ‘cos most of them have got a son who’s like one of The Young Ones and really young people liked the cartoon quality, the slapstick. Not clowns with red noses pretending to fall over but real Laurel & Hardy-type violence. In the end, all the characters are horrible but lovable at the same time.

“I remember,” he says, “going to a Channel 4 party not long after the series started. People kept coming up to me and telling me it was brilliant and I suddenly felt, wow, we’ve got something on our hands here!

“Yeuccch!” There’s a Rick-like snort of embarrassment. “That sounds really showbiz!”

Rik seems quite convinced, though, that there’ll be no more offerings from these horrible but lovable characters. He’s done two lots of The Young Ones, he says, two lots of Kevin Turvey (repeated on the the recent A Kick Up The Eighties series), he’s doing his third lot of The Comic Strip Presents for Channel 4, he doesn’t want to put a record out (as ‘Neil’ did) and he’d like to try something new.

“I was very tempted to try a one-off Young Ones for Christmas Day — imagine it, the Queen’s speech and all that, killing Santa Claus! — but no, we’re not going to do any more. I want to do something — I hesitate to say it — but more grown up though that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘serious’ or ‘important’. I got a lot of letters from people saying, ‘You bastard! How come you can’t be bothered to do any more Young Ones? Do you know how many people you’re disappointing?’ But we don’t want to become like Are You Being Serves? or something. That’s why we stopped. You either do something ‘cos It’s a piece of art or to make money, and I’m an artiste.”

And also,” he adds, “we want to do something better.”

As Vyvyan said, it’s… Rik with a Silent P

By Ian Penman for NME, 4th August 1984

Or as Ian Penman said… “he ‘s a bit of a boring bastard” — but which bit? And is Rik Mayall a great enough comic to become a 20th Century legend along with his own hero, Tommy Cooper?

Someone comes up to you in the street…they expect a funny face rather than a gag?

“Yeah, they do. They say pull a funny face. But they’re always disappointed. Which was a drag when it first started, especially when I was doing Kevin. Someone would come up and tap me on the shoulder, say Kevin!, and I’d turn round and say Hello!…and they’d go Oh, and walk off.”

Rik Mayall doesn’t talk like someone who spent the previous night getting drunk with Alexei Sayle; nothing, that is, spills over.

As the sun pours in and I pour out more lager, and then more again, the off-duty comic conscientiously sips between two black coffees.

Not that I was expecting the velocities of performance, but Mayall is without show, without clamour — more of a reserved Alistair Sim than a cartoon Maoist. He talks in a hurry, but without the froth of agitation, never breaking into fast-talk.

As an act, he hails from the region of the Comic (mimicry, fallibility, reaction) rather than the plots of the Joke. As an actor, he’s not the showbiz mouth whose static field of anecdote and wisecrack ensures the interlocutor’s words remain edgewise.

Unlike his bountiful drinking partner, Mayall has never really followed through from precipitous public license to the slaphappy streams of publicity. The undisguised rationale of Rik Mayall doesn’t seem fired — perturbed or outraged — by the detail of life so often deranged by his others, his enacted editions of the Comic. Resting somewhere, held in, reserved, is “that powerful sadistic component made visible which is more or less inhibited in real life. ”

Are you a violent person, Rik?

“No. No, not at all, not in the slightest. Probably why it all comes out…”

The real life Rik Mayall has now ticked off two series of The Young Ones (both as Rick the dickhead and Rik the writer), two series of A Kick Up The Eighties (as bendy toy and sometime investigative reporter Kevin Turvey), the unjustly neglected – utterly classic – Kevin Turvey “special” Behind The Green Door, and various Comic Strips. Our meeting is timed to coincide with the running Young Ones, but the programme is far enough away from ‘cult’ status not to need such prompting anymore. There seemed to be much doubt over the idea of a second series (especially after the decidedly mixed reaction to the Comic Strip ventures), but only students of the Comic appear to have had any difficulty in digesting the realization.

Apart from a run-in with the BBC’s Head of Schools Programming, no one’s complaining…a Radio Times cover (unwanted and unaided, says Mayall), Adrian Edmondson in advertising, Neil the Hippy everywhere (mostly as boring as he’s supposed to be, occasionally as funny), a Young Ones book on the way, and young men up and down the country repeating the motions and metros of last night’s highlights.

“Most of the reaction we get is mainly from schoolkids, and it’s always positive stuff,” enthuses Mayall, sounding vaguely like a sociology lecturer.

The second series certainly came over as deliberately fashioned for the fifth form (no slight on the fifth form intended). Mayall is convinced they’ve done the right thing.

“We tried to make it exciting and unpredictable but obviously you haven’t got the joy of seeing those characters for the first time, like you had with the first series. It was actually funny just to see Vyvyan, but now you’ve got to concentrate on him doing something funny rather than just being there. We tried to make the quality of the writing better. Everyone was much more confident as writers and performers…and we knew there was a huge expectation this time.

“Last time it was alright as no one knew what to expect…and the longer it goes back the more brilliant people think it is. So if anything we tried to change it by making sure there were many more gags, making sure the gags were better written and better shot. And if anything we tried to make it nastier, make them less cute. ”

It’s certainly much more physical; more concentration of slapstick (and) violence…

“That’s largely me and Ade. I think the slapstick element is something we’ve always done, and people have kind of sneered at.”

So who’s Tom and who’s Jerry?

“It changes around. It’s more like… there aren’t really any cartoon characters who fight almost as equals. In The Young Ones there’s always something horrible happening to you like getting hit in the bullocks with a cricket bat or something like that, and that only hurting for a few seconds — which is very cartoon like. Like Tom getting a frying pan in the face…”

In common we have a love of cartoon time and a bad TV-viewing habit. The fence of our fidgety interview folds down into rapid-fire rabbiting, swapping dream moments, keeping old heroes alive. We have a shared God, or at least a Godot, to sustain us, and his name is Wile E. Coyote — that omnivorous Sisyphus trying to close off an infinitesimal distance between his self (his Appetite) and the vaporous Roadrunner.

A silly question — I know — but what is it about the Coyote that you like?

“I don’t actually like the Roadrunner character at all, that’s partly it. I’m sure everyone will identify with the Coyote character rather than the Roadrunner. The Coyote is just a complete and utter bastard that’s why he’s so funny; he’s got no redeeming qualities.”

We also mine a shared love of Laurel and Hardy, and aside from the Roadrunners, he also falls for “…Tom and Jerrys, and the original Pink Panthers were brilliant; there was a little guy with a big nose who’s always got something really horrible happening to him and it’s not his fault. ”

As far as The Young Ones goes, the only really likeable character is the one nearest to cartoon, furthest from identification, just pure dent: Vyvyan.

“I think that’s probably because — and this is no insult to Ade — he is the most amoral. Not immoral, morality doesn’t come into it; it’s almost like he has no brain, he’s just two-dimensional, he does, he doesn’t think, and he often doesbecause the other characters are so unpleasant. He gets to inflict pain on the others, it’s almost like a punishment and the audience side with him. Vyv delivers the punchline (…)I’ll be shouting and screaming about something and Vyvyan will come up and — ! — me and that’s the conclusion. That’s the punchline, literally.

“That’s probably why he’s the most likeable — because there’s no consideration, no thinking behind it, no morals, he does what the audience wants him to do.”

Why such a predominance of aggressiveness — in The Young Ones and in the newer Comedy in general; or, what about The Young Ones makes it particularly a slice off The Eighties?

“Well, we deliberately set out to make the characters as horrible as possible (…) we did it because we were trying to put down those particular kinds of young students, that kind of arrogance (…) To get pretentious, all that kind of arrogance of youth, the way that breed sets itself up as better than anybody else in society, so you get the fragmentation of society, so you get a lot of people being isolated…and a lot of the time, music being the expression for that kind of arrogance. Which is why Rik picks on Cliff and thinks he’s great, thinks he’s a revolutionary leader.

“So we set out to make them unpleasant because, like we were saying with the Roadrunner, the reason I find the Coyote so very funny is that he’s a complete bastard, so in a sense he deserves the failures that come to him. Like Hancock as well — he was an unpleasant character. Like, I prefer Oliver Hardy to Stan Laurel because Stan’s a bit more sympathetic, whereas Ollie’s a complete pompous bastard. Although that’s just my taste, I find that funny. Although…my hero has always been Tommy Cooper and he was neither, he was neither horrible nor sentimental.”

They’re not really Young Ones so much as pre-adolescent; babies, really…

“In many ways yeah… Some of the thinking behind it when we first did it was to take the piss out of the youth stage where you feel you’re terribly important — not that you’re not, but — you feel you’re more important than everybody else: every decision I make is absolutely right — I never want to get any older — I am right and everybody else is wrong… It was just to take the piss out of all that.”

Something I realized recently, watching The Young Ones again, was — it seemed to me — that they’re a complete nuclear family unit: Mike’s the Dad, Neil their Mum, Vyvyan the nasty boy and Rick, well, a little girl…

“Yeah I suppose so, it’s a unit that maybe subconsciously…that’s one of the reasons the audience can relate to it, it’s a unit that you’ve seen in Sit Com so many times. I never thought of it like that but yes, I suppose you’re right… ”

Funnily Enough, the comic doesn’t go off on flighty fancies, doesn’t relish a rave — he simply isn’t fired off with any of the blue funk the likes of himself and Sayle supply for their audience: a valve for the profoundly English fear of blathering, the avoidance of outburst, of voice as purest gesticulation and utter irrelevance.

What is missing in the dialectical decorum of the interview is that staged opportunity of the Comic, that which allows word and accent to chase each other round in circles, chafing their tale; that which kicks the comic into the Comic. I plug away at my grand inquisitor’s sheaf of questions – on censorship, aggression, political vantage, privates/publics — and Mayall returns the enquiry a tidy netter about the work, and never the labour. In the end, my questions just sort of go “Oh,” and walk off. I sneeze into my beer and know that, given the cruel license of comedy and a few more drinks — later that night, as it happens — I’d call him a bit of a boring bastard.

But, then again, given the cruel license of comedy and a few more drinks, Rik Mayall would turn into something Comic, and fly away, off his handles.

For instance?Kevin Turvey, for goodness sake — so far the one truly immortal landmark of the newer comedy. If much of the latter seems concerned to act as TV’s conscience, its sentinel, mildly pickling the game-rules in a propriety of parodies, then Kevin is its subconscious — the rubbish running through its (talking) head.

Kevin — mute nostril agony of the merest articulation, this pain borne with all the patient mirth of an Open University rep — is the other side of neutrality, of the unagonised flow of interviewer, pundit, newscaster, naturalist. He is TV pleasantry’s tic, and the threat of a cannabalistic frenzy (pace Videodrome, Poltergeist). He talks in tongues, albeit with a Midlands accent. Not only is he the real voice of youth-on-TV, but more, he isTV (Tur-Vey), spoken from the proud domain of gibberish. TV’s off, then…

(It is worthwhile recalling to mind that TV’s duration off the air each night is commensurate with the sleep of babes… I mean, what’s going on in three? The man in the sick-covered anorak knows.)

Something I noted down recently — was what Cartoon let me see a con-fusion of Reality and Pleasure? In principle, at any rate.

Cartoon is dominated by the Pleasure principle, utterly selfish and self-contained, allowing a free flow of energy along its storyline, washing us back to a time when we satisfied our needs simply by hallucinating theuend. The sucking and smashing vibrance of the Cartoon (I am thinking here of the five or 10 minute size) literally pops the world out of its skin — at the same time pronouncing its real (a vacuum cleaner might be revealed in all its voracious brutality) and its REAL (endlessly postponed satisfaction).

The cartoon zaps straight to the synapses, employing such subliminal partners as: terror/ delight, destruction/proliferation, and death-threats/ buddies, really. Complicated games of capture, quenching, overcoming and failure are condensed into a flicker.

Perhaps only Hollywood’s ex-cartoon director Frank Tashlin has come close to a sure animation of the human frame, in his work with Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. The second series of The Young Ones branched out (or relied upon…) a fair degree of cartoon-derived mayhem- in arcs of unmitigated physical violence, and the disintegration of squarelyset Sit Com into hirsute conceptual set-pieces.

The problem with this transfer is that — more often than not — it’s purely energetic. Funnily enough, a cartoon’s violence is never an end-in-itself. It is i) Impossible and then ii) violent. Violence is the shortest and most apt route for a gymnastic (gymnasty?) enumeration of the impossibilities inherent in any one scene, face-off or next step. What The Young Ones offered has no (sur)real basis in cruelty or impossibility: mindless violence.

Turvey’s warring internal partnership of David Coleman and Wittgenstein aside, much of the newer comedy’s aggressiveness strikes me (or doesn’t) as faked in its fury as a soft-boiled Pam Ayres tenderness. Bluster to cover up a lack of cleverness, and a litany like “bored, bored, bored” to hide a rather quaint sort of fear. (It seems no little coincidence that much “alternative” comedy has replaced the slang and arrows of so-called misogynistic put-down with a no less ‘masculine’ violence of delivery; as if the warped denial of sexual difference had to be displaced rather than ditched. Or, as Freud noted: “When we laugh at a refined obscene joke we are laughing at the same thing that makes someone else laugh at a coarse piece of smut. In both cases the pleasure springs from the same source.” Thing and source being the operative words here, presumably.)

Equally lavatorial as ‘traditional’ humour, this new comedy often relies — nudge nudge, wink wink — on a kind of club Left escape clause: OK, this is the same old shit (a gag about our ‘sexist’ apprehension of busty barmaids still features a busty barmaid) but the context is Right On, abide with me. So what? My stomach gurgles more at an expertly choreographed Terry and June golf match (complete with suburbia’s version of class warfare thrown in). Or, as Rupert Pupkin noted: “You don’t say, Folks here’s the punchline— you just do the punchline. ”

I recall during the last series of The Comic Strip Presents, switching from their clever-clever simulation of some convention or other to a Steptoe and Son movie, which happened to be about death. There was in Galton and Simpson’s simple exercise precisely the tone of black and delirious absurdity that the Strippers desired, but could only ploddingly schematize.

The point here is not one of inverse (or class) snobbery — I recently roared with laughter at a C4 profile of a Czechoslovakian surrealist animator but of timing, in the general sense of the word. Of knowing where, when and how to strike. Of knowing your frame. Of knowing how Tradition keeps you in its fold.

In bleaker moments I fear for the Great British tradition of superbly craned comedy — uncannily intricate writing, the braiding and twisting of puns, the supernatural timing. Great British Humour (or GBH) does have sledgehammer tendencies, and we shouldn’t deny them. But nor should we forget the remarkable linguistic forays of the Crazy Gang, Will Hay, Frank Randall.

With the predominance on our TV screens of skit and satire based shows, and the absence of a Likely Lads or Steptoe (not to mention the death of the full-length comedy film), the tradition of well-crafted comedy seems best kept alive in what is ostensibly drama: Minder, The Irish R. M., Brass, Shine On – HarveyMoon…

What does the comic think — and feel — about this snobby, sarky, studious forecast of mine?

“I don’t think there is any tradition at the moment really, because…when Will Hay and people were working they had an unbroken tradition of something like 150 years that got them to that — as you say, it didn’t look like it, but — highly intricate, sophisticated form of signals between them and the audience. Because everyone understood the tradition. With the coming of TV all of that was wrecked. The only tradition we have — which is hampering us, if you like — is that of TV restrictions.

“So there’s whole generations of people who have no idea what seeing a live comedian is like — the only way the tradition is being kept up is in the clubs in the North, maybe.

“Now, I don’t think that that’s a shame at all. In fact, I think it’s a really exciting time at the moment because the audience has no expectations, so the performer can really expand, he’s free to do pretty well whatever he wants… especially with the passing of a lot of the old boys who remember the old form, like Cooper.”

Is there now anything of a disillusionment with the ‘easy access’ offered by TV? Is it too easy to by-pass the years of slog, learning and disappointment?

“I don’t know. I think it’s hit and miss. Occasionally you’ll get someone who takes to TV like a fish to water…and you’ll get ten who don’t and it might seriously damage them going on telly and then everyone saying, Saw you on telly last night — you’re shit, and they’ll think I’m not a comedian, I’ll give it up.

“I agree with you that it is very easy to think of ten minutes of jokes and be in the right place at the right time when the right TV producer’s there (…) I mean, that’s what happened to us! We’re lucky, ‘cos we were one of the first and they gave us more breaks than they’re likely to give people these days. Andwe were with the BBC…”

It seems to me there’s a lot of easy laughs in many recent shows through taking the piss out of TV itself. Is that really satire, or just recycling your own medium?

“I agree with you…although I shouldn’t, because we’ve fallen into that trap, both in this series and the last. In its defence I would say that… it works, even though it might be a cheap laugh. It’s always been there: The Goons did it with radio, the Pythons did it with TV, Hancock was full of references to being on the radio. I think it’s always been there: Comedy comments on the form it’s in.

“Like, what was so funny about clowns at the circus was that they were coming on and they weren’t dressed very smart…and that was the joke, they were people who weren’t behaving themselves, they weren’t people who were behaving properly.”

We all of us find redemption in private humour… is the most difficult thing (for the comic) that transition from private code of friends round a pub table, for instance – to a public hearing?

“It’s as important to work on your own private sense of humour as on your means of communicating that. If you’ve got something that you and your mates find particularly funny, say something like a word like ‘trousers’ might make everyone in your flat fall about everytime it’s mentioned…if you work our why that’s funny and then communicate that to the audience…

“But I was lucky… just because I had a reputation for being a funny performer at school that gave me a lot of confidence; then I went to Manchester and into a drama department, so everyone I was sitting round the pub with were performers and a lot of those were funny, people like Ben (Elton) and Ade… So I’m really just with the same bunch of people.

“And now, most of my mates, most of the people I go out drinking with now — sounds terrible, but they’re mostly comics, me and Ade, go out with Alexei a lot, Lise, who’s a comedy writer, so l haven’t really been on my own… ”

Was there ever any old comic you met who advised you, or said, Lad, you’ll nevermake it…

“I’ve never really met any. I met Ronnie Barker around Christmas time last year and he was great, a lovely guy. But again, he’s a comic actor, he’s someone you meet offstage and he’s just a nice guy to talk to — when he gets onstage he’s really funny… ”

When the comic gets onstage he can get away with madness — he can speak the nonsense of a dozen different mouths in one and the same voice. Perhaps it’s not possible, yet, for us to be interested in what gets the comic onstage, in what begets the Comic.

What in the world, I wonder, is Turvey a pseudonym for? Rik, what part of you does the thinking for Kevin?

“Just in the planning and rehearsal really. It’s because I come from that area of the country, so l know him really well. Once you get all the words you can just slip into him and he does all the thinking for you, does all the talking. Much the same with Rick as well…”

Oh go on! Do Kevin Tur-vey!

“Funnily enough, I just did this Labour Party gig two weeks ago as Kevin, it was great. Neil Kinnock was on afterwards, it was all about, I dunno…

“… he bangs his knob on the kitchen table and all the end goes orange, a bit like a belisha beacon. And Neil Kinnock phones him up and says ‘Kevin Turvey?, and he says, he says ‘Where the fuck are you? I says, I says ‘I’m at home! He says ‘Listen Turvey, get to Wembley, you’re supposed to be doing a gig.’ I says, ‘Listen Neil — I’ve got VD’ — he says, ‘Don’tgive me that! — I says, ‘I’ll try not to mate!…”‘

A Trail of Disaster

For the Radio Times, 5-11th May 1984

The Young Ores, Tuesday 9.0 BBC2

Was it fair to send an unarmed writer on the trail of The Young Ones? In retrospect, no. But at least Johnny Black is an older and wiser man for the experience

I should have sniffed danger right away, when Radio Times asked if I’d ever had experience of rat catching, ‘Slippery devils,’ they said, squirming a bit. ‘You grab ’em tight round the throat then bite their heads off.’ At the time I couldn’tt see what possible connection this had with interviewing The Young Ones. After all, they’re just actors, aren’t they?

So I set off to find them. That’s when I located a riflebutt and a brick covered in blood, real blood, in Television Centre, Studio Five, where they’d just finished filming episode one. Fetchingly titled ‘Sick’. I cornered the show’s production manager, Ed Bye. ‘No, they’ve all gone off to stop Rik bleeding,’ he said consolingly. ‘Looks like he might need stitches.’ Attempting to leave the scene I opened a door and found myself in a bedroom drenched with nauseous green slime…

The first time I actually considered biting the head off a Young One was shortly after I arrived at Ashton Court Mansion in Bristol where they had been shooting episode five, ‘Time’, A burned building smouldered in the grounds, and the locals were asking if anybody had actually seen the terror. After all, there had been a very loud explosion. But there was no sign of the Young Ones.

As I headed back to London, I noticed something lying beside the road at a railway crossing, I stopped the car, got out, and found a severed head. Had someone got to them before me? Looking along the line, I saw several more, and confirmed from local people that the BBC had been filming there all day.

Next day, after several angry phone calls, I established that they were in Television Centre, filming episode three, ‘Nasty’. I drove over to find another recently deserted set containing a bath full of brown sludge occupied by two copulating teddy bears, more severed heads and a video machine stuffed with toast. But no Young Ones.

A chap from the special effects team tipped me off that they were having a meal that night at an Indian restaurant in London’s Westbourne Grove with legendary punk band The Damned, their guests in that episode. I entered the restaurant to find that they had been evicted half an hour earlier after The Damned’s Captain Sensible clambered on top of their table to perform a lengthy, tuneless rendition of Happy Talk.

Drowning my sorrows with a colleague that night, I unfolded my tale of woe and was momentarily unnerved by his sharp intake of breath. ‘Didn’t you hear about the punch up?’ he asked.

I sighed with relief. I’d heard about several punch-ups, but compared to the holocaust trail I’d been following, they seemed insignificant. Which punch-up did he have in mind? ‘Well, after they’d filmed an episode called ‘Bambi’, Nigel Planer (Neil the hippy) was beaten up by three drunks dressed as security men as he left the BBC. He was badly bruised, got a huge black eye…

I yawned. ‘Boring,’ I said, and shambled off home, having decided to give up. As I crawled into bed, the phone rang. It was Young Ones producer Paul Jackson. ‘Listen mate,’ he said, ‘I think you could meet them tomorrow at….’ I didn’t want to know. I cut him off, shouting ‘Why don’t you go to Hell?’ ‘Done that, old son,’ he quipped. ‘Episode three.’

 

Rik Mayall and Ben Elton – Edinburgh Playhouse

By Neil Perry, 1984 (maybe)

Alternative humour seems to have reached an important crossroads. After several years of TV exposure, the underground laughter makers are now accepted as the comics for the ’80s. Still, that’s their problem, not ours: whatever, I’d say they’re the funniest people around now.

Ben Elton, co-writer for The Young Ones, didn’t forget the most vital rule of stand-up humour – if you’re going to ridicule the world and everything in it, don’t forget to include yourself. He took the piss out of the audience and himself. And out of the whole trendy liberal Edinburgh Fringe Festival ethos.

Targets that were pulverised under the Elton hammer were varied and topical. Dogs fouling the pavements, alcohol, fast food, the BBC – “If M15 have been vetting people, how the hell did Little and Large slip through?” – and my personal favourite, bouncers. “The human race has descended from bouncers, you know. Ever since-the first one crawled out of the Neanderthal slime and socked a Brontosaurus for wearing jeans.”

His routine was sprinkled with healthy stabs at Thatcher, and here lies my only criticism. What about the other lot? I refuse to believe that life will be any better under Kinnock and Co until it happens. Ben Elton finished his slot with a clenched fist salute and shouted “Support The Guards!” A pity that personal politics left a sour taste after so much laughter. Still, he did come out with the most relevant point of the whole evening: “Heroin may be a life sentence, but so’s unemployment and that’s why a lot of kids do it.”

Rik Mayall, introduced by Elton as “the funniest man in the world”, played three roles: Rik, Kevin Turvey, and a short slot at the end as himself. Kevin Turvey was the highlight of the performance for me – the ridiculous rambling monologue is pure comic genius, and it’s impossible to tell whether it’s rehearsed or made up as he goes along.

Mayall’s comedy seems to revolve largely around his bottom, but at least he’s getting his anal fixation out of his system. This man is surreal, to say the least. When he was called back for an encore, he muttered “Hey, I’ve never had an encore before. I hope my knob doesn’t explode or anything like that.” Guess what happened…

 

Distance

By: Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson with additional material by Lise Mayer for The Big One (book), 1984

Two men sit centre stage on deckchairs (facing audience) as though gazing out to sea.

A: Brian? … Brian? … sorry Trevor?

B: What?

A: Do you see that boat?

B (opening eyes): What – the green one or the blue one?

A: The turquoise one.

B: No . . . sorry, yes.

A: It’s getting smaller.

B: That’s because it’s getting further away.

A: Exactly.

Pause.

B: How do you mean – `Exactly’?

A: As the boat gets further and further away it gets smaller and smaller … eventually it’ll get so small that it’ll disappear.

B: What? You mean actually disappear?

A: Yes, actually.

B: But what about the people on the boat?

A: Well they’ll disappear too.

B: But won’t they notice that it’s getting smaller and jump off while the going’s good?

A: No. Because as the boat gets smaller and smaller they get just as small – in proportion. They won’t notice they’re getting any smaller . . . and eventually they won’t be able to notice anything at all because . . . they won’t be there.

Pause.

B: Bollocks.

A: Where?

B: You’re talking bollocks.

A: I haven’t got any talking bollocks.

B: Listen: my Auntie Reenie went to Majorca for her holidays last year, and when she came back she was exactly the same size – (makes a gesture implying that she is about two feet tall.)

A: All right, all right – if you don’t believe me, go over there and try it for yourself. (Gestures towards audience.)

B: All right then, I will.

He gets up and walks towards audience. He falls into orchestra pit (or goes downstairs to audience).

A: See what I mean?

B: God, you’re right, you’re only this big (he holds his thumb and forefinger up to show size).

A also holds fingers up,. but wider apart. They compare sizes.

B: How does it work then?

A (pleased to be asked): Well it’s very simple Beverly .. . sorry, Trevor. It’s very simple indeed.

B: Oh, good.

A: Now – have you ever thought about Italian people?

B: No.

A: Oh, all right then – well, what do you notice about Italian people that’s different to us English people?

B: They speak Italian.

A: No.

B: Yes they do.

A: Yes but no – what else do you notice about them?

B: They eat spaghetti.

A: No.

B (angry): They do!

A (shouts): All right, I’ll tell you – look: they’re smaller than us.

B: Oh I see – so what you’re saying is – correct me if I’m wrong – as you go further round the universe, towards Italy, things get smaller.

A: That’s right. And not only as far as Italy – you go to Pakistan and they’re even smaller.

B: You go to Japan, they’re bloody tiny!

A: That’s right – you go all the way to New Guinea and what do you get? Pygmies! That’s why if you go all the way round the world, and a bit out – to the moon – the people are so tiny you can’t see them at all.

B: No – I’ve seen the Americans on the moon – I’ve seen it on the telly.

A: Ah well, yes, you see, that’s because as you go the other way round the world from England things get bigger. I mean, who’s the biggest people in the world?

B: The Texans.

A: Texans,  absolutely, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan….

B: Nancy Reagan.

A: That’s why the Americans can send a Texan to the moon and he’ll get smaller all right on the way but not so small that he’ll disappear.

B: Small enough to fit on the telly!

A: Absolutely.

B: That’s probably why there are so many American programmes on the telly.

A: That’s right – they travel well. I mean, that’s why the Russians have never landed anyone on the moon. They send loads of them up there but they all disappear half way. Space is full of microscopic invisible Russians.

B: Which is why the Russians make such good spies.

A: Yes, and why the Americans can never prove that they’re there. It’s a very dangerous situation.

B: I don’t think that a microscopic invisible Russian four million light years away is much of a danger.

A: That’s because you’re stupid. B: How does all this work then?

A: Air pressure.

B: Hair pressure?

A: No – air pressure. B: How do you mean?

A: Well, you see the universe is very, very big and the universe is full of planets…. Big ones … little ones….

B: In-betweeny-ones.

A: And all those planets – B: Green ones…

A: Yes, and all those planets – B: Yellow ones.

A: Yes, yes and all those planets –

B: Green and yellow ones….

A: All kinds of fucking planets all right? And all those planets must be held up there by something – otherwise the Earth would be flattened in a rain of planets. And what do you think is holding all those planets up?

B: I don’t know.

A: Ah, but I do.

B: Well what did you ask me for?

A: That’s not important…. What do you think is holding all the planets up?

B: I DON’T KNOW!

A: AIR! All those planets are held up there by columns of air (gestures) – rather like a golf tee.

B: Well, how does that make people get smaller the further you get away?

A: This is where it gets interesting.

B: Oh, good.

A (standing up – he is getting carried away): You see, over America there’s only a tiny planet – I don’t know which one it is… Mercury, I think… or Pluto.

B: Goofy.

A: That’s him. Goofy is hovering over America, and he’s only a small planet as we know, so the pressure of air in the column of air that’s holding him up is only small. It’s very light, you see, so there’s not much pressure on the Americans’ heads and they can grow up very tall (demonstrates). Whereas over Japan there’s a massive great planet, the size of Uranus, and all that’s weighing down the air very heavily on the Japanese’s heads.

(Demonstrates a Japanese person being squashed down.)

That’s why they’re all very small.

B: I’ve just realised, right, why the Japanese economy is booming. Well, they only have to make things very, very small: like cars, I mean – they’re titchydinky cars. And what does a dinky car cost?

A (instantly): Sixty-eight pence.

B: About that – yes. And then they export the dinky cars over to this country and they get big enough for us to get into and we pay thousands for them!

A: Bastards! And the Americans have got huge great cars – Cadillacs, Fords – you look at a Ford when it gets to this country and it’s nothing – an Escort or something.

B: Hey, Brian?

A: What?

B: You know that boat?

A: Well?

B: It has disappeared.