Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Category: 1989

“Go on Rik, Swear at Us!”

For TV Guide, 8 – 14th April 1989

Rik Mayall, the man most likely to say “sod off”, is taking up storytelling for a new children’s television series, Grim Tales. By Andrew Panos

It’s strange, I’m sitting with the king of alternative comedy and he hasn’t made me laugh once. There are no jokes, no Lenny Henry-style outbreaks of infectious laughter, no Robbie Coltrane-style anecdotes about what happened on the way to the interview. Not even a hint of the king’s most recent screen creation, the manic, offensive Tory MP, Alan B’Stard of The New Statesman. In the flesh, Rik Mayall is thoughtful, polite, serious, surprisingly good looking-and he hasn’t a single joke to entertain a guest.

“It’s always a disappointment to people,” he says. “That’s why I don’t do many interviews. They get very depressed when they discover I’m not this mad, funny bastard.

“I don’t feel any pressure to be funny 24 hours a day. I think it would be tragic as a professional comedian to feel you had to be funny in your private life too.”

For Mayall, it’s enough to be funny in public. In the four years since shooting to fame in The Young Ones, he’s managed to invent a series of consistently funny screen characters-from the scheming Richie Rich in Filthy, Rich and Catflap to Richard Dangerous of the Dangerous Brothers. He’s come up with endless characterisations for the Comic Strip TV films and has appeared at the National Theatre as Gogol’s The Government Inspector and in the West End in Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit.

But now, after years of being known as the man most likely to say “sod off”, he will be doing a Mayallesque retelling of the fairytale stories of the Brothers Grimm — a new children’s series starting this week — aptly titled Grim Tales. The series was created for him by his old friends Bob Baldwin, director, and Rikki Finegold, associate producer, who built the show around him. In a strange luminous cavern Mayall the storyteller sits in an old chair and relates hilarious versions of favorites like Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel using some of the most innovative and unusual animation available – which adds up to another change for this consummate actor to show off his talents.

“My humour,” he explains, “is mostly to do with performance. I’m not like Ben Elton who can sit at a pub table and be brilliantly funny for 30 minutes. I’ve never really been naturally funny.”

Traditionally comics came to humour as a way to attract girls or get out of being bullied. Not Mayall. “I was always trying to be the coolest guy around, wearing the grooviest flares and the longest hair.”

In 1975, when his flares were at their widest and his hair at its longest, Mayall went to study drama an Manchester University and it was there that he met Adrian Edmondson and Ben Elton.

“I was very impressed with Adrian the first time I met him,” he remembers. “He was very cool. Adrian didn’t like Ben though. Whenever he saw him he’d chase him down the corridor shouting ‘There goes that Elton bloke!’ We all sat down one night and decided that, if we were going to achieve anything, we’d have to form our own cliquey set. It worked. Ben would write plays and Adrian and I would star in them.”

The clique continued until 1982 when aspiring to an Equity card, Mayall and Edmondson performed at Edinburgh Festival. From there they went to the Comedy Store in Soho where they met up with fellow Comic Strippers Peter Richardson, Nigel Planer, Alexei Sayle, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.

“The whole set-up there was rather cliquey too” he admits, “but I don’t think it was a bad thing. We got through a lot of work that way and I think the path we carved out is one that a lot of new comedians can now try to follow”

“Alternative” comedy is booming today, with a healthy cabaret circuit that offers not only a proving ground for comics, but a showcase for TV talent scouts, as Harry Enfield and Julian Clary have discovered. The road to a fast buck has never seemed easier. Nowadays alternative comedians slot nicely between Des O’Connor and Jimmy Tarbuck. Will Mayall be televised one day sharing a pleasant round of golf with Tarby on A Round With Alliss on BBC2?

“I can’t see it somehow. I don’t think I’ve been complacent with my comedy. There’s a certain ‘pop music’ element in comedy now which says you can’t be funny if you’re over 30. I think that’s rubbish. Billy Connolly is over 30 and he’s brilliant. Steve Martin …Laurel and Hardy. ..”

So how long will people continue to call you alternative? “As long as people like Tarby and Bobby Davro are so bloody awful.

“Good comedy” he says firmly, “is anything that is well-crafted. It doesn’t really matter what position it’s coming from as long as it’s not something wildly offensive like a Jim Davidson sitcom.

“The basis of any brilliant comedy is insanity. You have to get the feeling that anything can happen. That was why the Python shows were so wonderful. The screen would take over. You just didn’t know what was going to happen next. Even something like Yes Prime Minister …whatever you think about it, it’s a brilliantly structured piece of comedy. So was Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son and Till Death Us Do Part.”

After completing his first stand-up tour, Mayall will finish a play he’s working on with The New Statesman writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran for West End production in the autumn.

Most of his time off-stage and screen nowadays is taken up with his family- wife Barbara and two children, a daughter Rose, two-and-a-half, and a son Sidney, eight months. “I know it sounds unfashionable but I suddenly feel old and content” he says. “I realised quite recently that I’m finally free of the pressures of adolescence, wondering what clothes to wear and what music to listen to. I mean, what are Bros saying to married men of 30 like me?

“I’d much rather sit at home with my classical music and my Little Richard tapes” he says, with obvious relief.

“As long as comedy, sex and alcohol continue to stimulate me, I’ll be happy. All I’ve ever wanted to do is bring down a government and change the whole fabric of society. It’s not much to ask for, is it?”
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A Man of Many Faces

Filthy Rich and Catflap
“The whole show was devised in order to take a swipe at celebrity status symbols. We were basically saying, ‘don’t look up to celebrities, most are bigger jerks than anyone else.'”

Kevin Turvey
“Kevin was really all about being paranoid. He was basically insane and that’s what I was trying to put over. A lot of his character was based on the insecurities I had as a student.”

Rik of The Young Ones
“While I was playing him people would come up to me on the street and say ‘go on Rik, swear at us’. If I was in a bad mood I could say ‘oh get lost you bunch of gits’, and they’d go away content.”

The Dangerous Brothers
“This was me and Adrian attempting a sort of burlesque comedy. It was nihilistic. We based a lot of it on Laurel and Hardy because we’re both big fans of their comedy.”

Alan B’Stard of The New Statesman
“I got several books out on murderers, cheats and liars to help me with the part. That’s what I based him on. He’s baased on a specific Tory MP but I can’t tell you who it actually was.”

Colin from Bad News
“I was the baddy of Bad News really. The whole group was a bit like pantomime. I don’t think the shows we put on were the best entertainment ever but they were okay. We played the Reading Rock Festival and I came on and pretended it was a reading and started reading Madame Bovary. that didn’t go down too well with 50,000 Iron Maiden fans in the audience.”

First Class Mayall

For the Record Mirror, 4th February 1989

Manic Rik Mayall has emergec as the comic face of the Eighties with characters like Kevin Turvey and MP Alan B’stard. But despite his success, he says he’d much rather be on stage at a heavy metal festival being showered with – ahem, piss. Chris Twomey ducks for cover.

Ten years ago, as a member of Twentieth Century Coyote, Rik Mayall was described as “a very talented young maniac”. It was a prophetic remark by the critic James Fenton (then of the Sunday Times), who was one of only two people in the audience watching Mayall’s piss-take of a wellknown play called Warp (his version was called Wart).

He has since, of course, become one of the most durable comedy actors of the Eighties. Switching from a hedonistic delinqent to a shifty and unscrupulous MP to a children’s storyteller, he’s almost impossible to pin down. So, will the real Rik Mayall please stand up?

KEVIN TURVEY
“I named him after a family who used to live next to me in Droitwich. He was just supposed to be boring and talk in a Brummie accent. That was it, really! I developed the boredom thing to its eventual death.”

THE YOUNG ONES
“I wouldn’t want to live down the character of Rick or that expectation of being over-energetic and mad. It’s very exciting when people come to see me live, and they really don’t know what to expect.

“That’s one of the reasons I don’t like giving interviews very much, because this nice polite man comes along and says, ‘Hello, I’m crazy and mad’. It gives the game away!”

THE COMIC STRIP
“We all grew up professionally and we all think everyone else is great! It sounds terribly incestuous, but if I need a brilliant film actress to play an insane heroin addict, I’ll think of Jennifer Saunders before anyone else. Or if I want someone called Eddie Trousers to come and beat me round the head and drink a pint of vodka, I’ll think of Adrian Edmondson.

“I’ve always thought the only way to get anywhere is to form your own gang and push your way through.”

JACKANORY
“I did it really because it was so unlike what you’d expect. Although I enjoy storytelling, I enjoy doing things people don’t like me doing. Just being bloody-minded really!”

BAD NEWS
“We did a gig at the Marquee a few weeks ago, and Nigel got hit by a beer can. It split his nose and he had to have three stitches. It was great! I paid the guy a lot of cash to do it!

“One of the reasons we keep Bad News going is that it’s one of the few opportunities we have for the four of us to get together.

“I don’t think we’ll bother doing another LP. It was a bit of a bore sitting around a studio for three months listening to people tuning their instruments. Being on the road was fantastic, though. We like playing live gigs best, I think. We played Castle Donington and Reading, where the headbangers threw bottles of urine at us. Great stuff!”

VIDEOS
“I like doing videos because it’s the nearest you can get to either mime or silent comedy. The trouble is, the ones I do tend to be for bands that die a death.

“I did a great one for an HM band called Lionheart. I played an evil scientist who tortured models … (demonic laughter.)

“I’m torturing these models when the band arrive in a helicopter and their guitars turn into machine guns. They kill me and then run off with the models and snog them!”

THE NEW STATESMAN
“I wanted to do less shouting and explore something else. Don’t forget by then I’d done two series of The Young Ones, one series of Filthy, Rich and Catflap and a series of the Dangerous Brothers. That’s a hell of a lot of shouting!

“I’m still after this bastard I’ve been trying to get to grips with for years. He’s been present, to a certain extent, in Rick, Richie Rich and Kevin. There’s a whole synthesis of adult unpleasant comedy in The New Statesman.”

THE COMIC STRIP (AGAIN)
“The Comic Strip is really in the hands of Peter Richardson now, who I feel sorry for because I think he’s a genius and Channel Four don’t fully appreciate his talents. I think it’s a real shame.

“We’ve come up with several scripts since the last series, all of which have been thrown out of the window.”

ALAN B’STARD
“I haven’t really liked any of the characters I’ve played, but I think he’s the character I like the least – although I possibly feel the sorriest for. He doesn’t know it, but he’s desperately lonely. But he’s such a bastard! What do you want me to say? I don’t want to marry him.”

THE FUTURE
“Some time in February or March I’m going out on the road with a new show. Ben Elton’s expressed an interest in coming along, but then there’d be a battle over who’s top of the bill and we don’t want to turn into Tarby and Lynchy!

“I’m doing a series for ITV in April called Grimms Tales (semi-animated fairy tales), then there’s talk of a film in the summer and a play in the autumn. I’ve always wanted to play on every stage there is.”

THE ACCOLADES: EMMY AND BAFTA AWARDS… NUMBER ONE SINGLE
“I’d much rather have piss thrown at me at Castle Donington to be honest… but then I’m an old pervie!”

Dad’s the Word!

For TV Times, 14 – 20th January 1989

Rik Mayall has been described as a very talented maniac but, although he’s happy to continue playing lunatics, the truth is that a dramatic change has come over him. Cordell Marks reports.

Perhaps the world would be a better place if we were all actors. Perhaps we’d all be better people. Rik Mayall, you see, has this theory that the parts he plays cleanse him of the qualities he most dislikes about himself. ‘Acting,’ says Mayall, ‘is a bit like going to the loo.’

Which is why when he was Kevin Turvey, the disgruntled, yawn-making Brummie in The Turvey Report (sic), he turned boredom into an art form – deep down he was worried that he, too, could be an intensely boring person.

‘I’ve always tried to suppress it, but I know it’s there. As Kevin I could use it. Out it all came. Great.’ And when he was the lunatic Rick in The Young Ones he could let rip with all his pent-up selfishness and hypocrisy. Says Mayall: ‘That’s what the part called for, that’s how students are, and those are the qualities I had as a student.’

Now, of course, there is the ruthless, corrupt, vicious, creeping Alan B’Stard, MP, who returned to ITV last week in a new series of The New Statesman. ‘There’s a bit of Alan in all of us,’ says Mayall, ‘and I can get rid of my bit by acting him. He’s the absolute opposite of everything I’ve tried to be since becoming a parent. That’s another role that’s changed me, but I’m not acting that one.’

He laughs when I tell him he must be a pretty terrific person by now, having been able to rid himself of so many dislikeable qualities. ‘I always thought I was basically all right,’ he says, and he is: vibrant, enthusiastic but thoughtful, and nothing like the crazies he so often plays.

He has a habit of carefully considering what he is going to say next so that often his sentences begin: ‘It may sound pretentious, but…’

‘It may sound pretentious, but it would be true to say,’ he says, ‘that I don’t find real life offers enough stimulation. That’s what’s so marvellous about being an actor. You can do anything. I mean, you go into this business because you want to live in fantasyland.

‘I’m a very mildmannered soul really, but I think if I were working in the City or as a bus conductor or whatever I’d be awful because I wouldn’t have a release.

‘Jack Nicholson summed it up. I think it was Jack Nicholson. He said that it was great being an actor because you can do anything for five minutes without any responsibility.

‘I mean I don’t normally get the chance to break windows, or blackmail people or burn down printworks, but I do as Alan B’Stard. It gives you a chance to behave on the wide scale!

‘If you want to have a good time, be an actor. That goes for any part of the entertainment industry. I mean, rock ‘n’ rollers have been having a good time for years and I suppose most actors of my generation [he is 31] had rock stars as their heroes.

‘Theirs were the lifestyles that we wanted to emulate.

‘Rocking Little Richard has been my inspiration for years. I’ve a photograph taken with him that has pride of place in my study. What Little Richard does is to get an audience on a high right from the start, and I think it’s true to say that’s what I like to do. Other people say you should take it slowly and gradually build up, but I like to start high and aim to get higher.’

Frenetic double-dealings, poisonings, infidelity and the rest are still the mix in the latest series of The New Statesman as B’Stard gets on in the world, but storylines are now simpler and scenes longer so that the characters are stretched more.

Alan B’Stard is also to be seen making more use of the media. ‘In other words,’ says Mayall, ‘you’ll see him in television interviews telling even more lies.

‘Last time we recorded the episodes we over-ran each week and a lot of the gags were edited out. Nightmare. This time we are budgeting for an over-run in laughs, and to do that we are going into the studio with a 19-minute script to make a 23 ½ minute programme (30 minutes if you include the commercial breaks) and so there will be room for all the laughter and any extra funny business that suddenly springs to mind.’

Most of his work is self-generated. For instance, it was Mayall who thought of the idea for The Young Ones and co-wrote it.

‘I didn’t want any of the characters to be able to communicate with each other. They were all shouting about themselves all at the same time, and that’s where the humour was.’

Mayall approached the writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, whose series Shine On Harvey Moon he had admired, and asked if they might write for him. The result was The New Statesman. ‘You have to make things happen,’ says Mayall.

The critic James Fen ton saw Rik Mayall’s stand-up comedy act in the early days of his career – ‘I think there were only two people in the audience and they’d come in out of the rain,’ says Mayall – but the critic was impressed.

‘A very talented young maniac,’ he wrote of Mayall, but though he goes on playing the maniacs, a change has come over him. It is called fatherhood.

‘It may sound pretentious,’ says this father, ‘but I think bringing another human being into the world is the most important thing you can do.’ He and his wife Barbara have two-year-old Rosemary and baby son Sidney. Sidney?

‘We looked at his face,’ says Mayall, ‘and Sidney it had to be. It’s a slightly unfashionable name which is a good sign. He’ll be his own man, will Sidney.’

Mayall himself is actually Richard, the Rik being inspired by the comic strip Erik the Viking. ‘I thought it very cool, brilliant, when I first started calling myself Rik, and then I decided it was utterly embarrassing, cringe, cringe, but it would have been even more embarrassing and pretentious to change it back.’

He says that before becoming a father work was the most important subject in his life. ‘Now it’s family first, work second. I love being an actor, dipping into fantasy. I’m going to be an actor for the rest of my life, but having a family gives it all a purpose. It puts the whole thing into context…’

A Right Little B’Star… Er…Jolly Nice Chap!

For Number One, 25th January 1989

Eek! Lock up the budgie! Hide the silver! Don’t let him near the crockery! It’s that rough boy Rik Mayall, famed for making rude noises and silly faces in such things as The Young Ones and Filthy Rich and Catflap. He’s back on our telly screens on Sunday nights dressed smarter but no less obnoxious playing the devious Conservative MP Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman. Interview by Andrew Panos.

What do you expect when you meet someone like Rik Mayall, the jolly prankster who became a household name five years ago by portraying the spotty, ‘right on’ student Rick in The Young Ones TV series? You’d expect him to tell lots of jokes, swear at you, stick two fingers in the air and generally wiggle his bottom about and be funny, wouldn’t you? Ha! You’d be completely, wrong.

In person Rik Mayall is a rather thoughtful, serious but charming chap who rarely does interviews at all, because he doesn’t like people knowing too much about him and because he feels “it detracts from the comedy”.

So Rik, why aren’t you very funny in person?

Well, I can’t be funny 24 hours a day can I? I’m not the sort of person who can sit at a pub table like Robbie Coltrane or Ben Elton and be brilliantly funny, telling witty stories for half an hour. My humour is more to do with performance, I have to think it out. I’ve seen some comedians, especially Americans who try desperately to be funny all the time, even when they’re off stage and you can tell the strain on their faces. The pressure eventually gets to them.

Did you get sick of all The Young Ones fans who’d wander round quoting large chunks of the show to unfortunate listeners?

Well, it was quite flattering in a way. I used to get a lot of people coming up to me in the street saying, ‘go on Rik, swear at us, say something horrible,’ and I’d say ‘get lost you bunch of gits’ and they’d go away quite content. I don’t tend to get that so much nowadays though.

Your latest screen creation is the Tory MP Alan B’Stard, who, has just returned to television in the comedy series The New Statesman. Is Alan B’Stard based on a specific Tory MP?

Yes he is, but I can’t tell you who. He’s a mixture of different characters. When I was studying him I went to the library and got out books on murderers, cheats and liars. They all helped.

Are you still chums with the Comic Strip lot (Nigel Planer, Adrian Edmondson, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Sounders and Dawn French)?

Yes. Adrian is one of my closest friends. We went to university together, that’s where we first started practising our acts like The Dangerous Brothers. The Bad News Tour we did recently was really just an excuse for me, Adrian, Nigel and Peter to get back together because we’re all mates.

Did you get any reaction from Freddie Mercury to your cover of Bohemian Rhapsody?

Er, no. Freddie was silent on that. But the other chaps from Queen helped us out and of course Brian May produced it. It was a bit scary playing Castle Donington as Bad News. I didn’t mind it so much, I thought it was a good laugh but the other three were s…ing their pantsl We played the Reading Festival, too, and I pretended it was a reading festival and I got up on stage and read some French literature. That didn’t go down too well with the headbangers. Now every time a heavy metal act comes on on stage my little daughter Rose (2 ½) thinks it’s me!

What music do you listen to at home?

I tend to listen to music less and less nowadays. I prefer classical music and rock and roll to anything else. My all time favourite is Little Richard, just because he had so much energy on stage. I must say I’m not a big Bros fan. I hardly listen to pop music at all. I think I’ve outgrown the phase of worrying what to wear and what music to listen to. I mean I’m a married man of 30 with two children (a daughter Rose and a six-month-old baby called Sidney). I’m much happier curled up in front of the telly with my pipe and slippers…ha ha.

Did you find yourself being funny at school to get yourself out of tricky situations like being bullied or trying to attract girls?

No, not really. When I was at school I was always trying to be supercool. I went around with some blokes who always wore really groovy flares and long hair. I always knew I wanted to get into comedy though.

Did you have any pin-ups?

I used to — and still do — go for very glamorous, sexy women like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield (’50s Hollywood actress). I remember having a terrible crush on Stefanie Marion, she was topless model!

Were you popular with girls at school?

It wasn’t something I worried about really. I remember in primary school that, for some reason, all the girls used to love to play kiss chase, but the boys didn’t. I was the only one that was interested. The girls would come up to me every playtime and say ‘fancy o game of kiss chase?’ Of course I was dying to play it, but I’d act really cool and say… ‘oh, go on then, why not?’

Who are your favourite comedians?

I’m a big fan of good sit-coms. I love Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son, Til Death Us Do Part. I think the funniest comedian in Britain at the moment is Billy Connolly. Steve Martin is my favourite American comedian and I love Laurel And Hardy. Adrian and I based a lot of our ‘Dangerous Brothers’ act on them.

Do you think you’ll ever see the day when you play golf with Jimmy Tarbuck?

I doubt it. He’s a really awful comedian. So is Bobby Davro. As long as they continue to be so bad I think I’ll keep on working.
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RIK MAYALL: A POTTED HISTORY

1979: Rik leaves Manchester University after studying dramas and trying desperately to get an Equity card. Initially it is Rik’s intention to become an actor.

1980: After trying unsuccessfully to gain an Equity card Rik starts up a cabaret actr with pal Adrian Edmondson called The Dangerous Brothers. Rik also performs his own stand-up routine and one character in particular called Kevin Turvey.

1982: After two successful years playing stand up routines at The Comedy Store club in Soho, London, the nucleus of the Comic Strip — Nigel Planer, Adrian Edmondson, Peter Richardson, Dawn French and Jennifer Sounders branch out into films and mark the launch of Channel 4 with the first ever Comic Strip film, Five Go Mad In Dorset. 1982 is also the year of the first Bad News film.

1983/4: The Young Ones starts its run on BBC TV, written by Ben Elton and Lise Mayer. Lots of people start impersonating Rik in the streets running around shouting ‘Right On’ and that sort of thing.

1985/6: Ben Elton comes up with a new idea for a sit-com starring Rik, Adrian and Nigel Planer. Entitled Filthy, Rich and Catflap, it’s all about, as Rik says, “how being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”.

1986/7: More Comic Strip films follow, including one written by Rik, Mr Jolly Lives Next Door. There is also Strike, and the two most recent films Eat The Rich and The Yob.

1988: The first series of The New Statesman begins on telly.

1989: Rik does a second series of The New Statesman and is now planning a new stand-up comedy routine which he’ll be touring with shortly.