Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Category: 1991

Spotlight – Rik Mayall

Author Unknown, dates from around 1991/2.

What’s the bottom line? Not a reference we would normally make in a family magazine but it just slipped out. Oo-er. That’s what happens when you profile Rik Mayall – You feel a Bottom joke coming on.

Cheeky! Come on, he’s been doing it for years. He’s practically got a degree in toilet humour. Well, OK, it was in drama, but it all started at Manchester University, where he and Ade Edmondson had a cabaret act called The Dangerous Brothers. Later they took it to London’s Comedy Store where Alexei Sayle and friends hung out. “They were all being really cool and telling jokes about Mrs Thatcher. We were the ones saying ‘Hello. We’re ****’” (supply your own anal expletive).

Great opening! Well, it must have struck a chord with Sayle as he went on to play their landlord in The Young Ones, the TV show Mayall wrote with former girlfriend Lise Mayer and Ben Elton. “We based them all on medical students we knew at Manchester. They were the wildest, most stupid and horrible people we knew.”

Nothing like him, then? Of course not, the name’s spelled differently. No fear of typecasting there. Rik (he changed his name from Richard) is not to be confused with Rick the ranting student or the arrogant Richie in Bottom, or even Rik ‘Smelly Pants’ of The Comic Strip’s spoof heavy metal band, Bad News. Anyway, he once played a Kevin (in A Kick Up The 80s).

A right B’Stard? No, another opinionated thicko. But few crossed his ruthless Tory MP Alan in The New Statesman and survived with their reputations intact. Except Michael Portillo, who helped with the research.

Rogue Mayall: Earlier this year he pulled a prop gun on some passers-by, prompting a nearby armed response unit to swing into action. “I was a total prat – I was lucky not to be shot. The police are there to protect us from people like me.” (where was the law when we needed them to save us from Filthy, Rich and Catflap, eh?). Mayall was letting off steam after his Cell Mates co-star Stephen Fry went AWOL from their West End play. To take his mind off it he starred in a much criticised video about drugs, Out Of My Head, cast, unusually, as Ricky, a motormouth nerd.

Not-So-Young-Ones Mayall, 37, who is currently touring with Edmondson in Bottom: The Big Number 2 Tour Live, confesses, “We have to go to the gym for three months just to be able to get on stage”. Let’s hope he doesn’t become a work out freak or the next series could be snappily retitled Gluteus Maximus.

That’s enough bottom jokes Want a bet? Father-of-two Mayall is providing the voice of the baby from hell in an anarchic Look Who’s Talking spoof called How To Be A Little Sod (Tuesday BBC1). Nappy gags guaranteed.

Who’s Laughing Now?

For Arena, Summer 1991

Celebrated early in his career for shouting a lot and falling over, the clown prince of alternative comedy is now on the brink of Hollywood stardom. Will success spoil Rik Mayall?

Hair, of course, is always amusing in its own right. This has long been appreciated by pioneers of the comic tradition. Smoothed down, acrylic, removable, yellow. Put on the right hair and you’ve got a laugh straight off. Eric Idle always appreciated this, so do French and Saunders. Robbie Coltrane has never bothered with hair because he is fat and an Actor. Rowan Atkinson doesn’t need it much because he has a Face. Tommy Cooper and Ken Dodd, who arranged theirs to look like two beadlet anemones fighting for territory at the bottom of the sea, saw themselves imitated in that strange phenomenon whereby comedians do impersonations of other comedians. Sometimes one wishes, with the less droll performers, that the hair would appear alone, leaving its owner in the wings chatting to backstage boys.

Rik Mayall’s hair, like Rik Mayall, has had a career of variable hilarity. It was very funny in The young Ones (plaits © Tears for Fears) and quite funny in The New Statesman (squiggly © pony club dressage competitions). In his new film, Drop Dead Fred, it is vertical and dyed bright red; inspired, according to producer Paul Webster, by Johnny Rotten, whose hair was always a scream, though it wasn’t meant to be.

Today, in real life, Rik Mayall’s do is very interesting indeed, for it is nearly shoulder length and bleached with the blonde streaks more commonly spotted down on Muscle Beach, LA. It is regularly swept back off a wide forehead by those fingers we expect to see poked into the face of Piers Fletcher-Dervish. This is the action of a vain man, and Mayall has the grace (he has a lot of grace) to admit that he is a vain man. Vain and frightened of failure. When accused, unaggressively, of being sexy, he says that this is a nice thing, a flattering thing, but any arousal for which he is responsible is involuntary, because he doesn’t really know what this indefinable quality is. Also, he is easily embarrassed, and the thought of trying to be physically alluring, and failing, would be a nightmare for him. John Lloyd tried to persuade him to be sexy as Flasheart in Blackadder. “I got this blonde wig and things,” says Mayall, “and was quite pleased with the way I looked – but I was still an arsehole, a sort of good-looking arsehole.”

Rik Mayall very much doesn’t want to be just a good-looking arsehole. His characters, he says, are partly created as a way of avoiding this. By unleashing the more unpleasant sides of his nature on the public, he exorcises them and can proceed upon his way, a better person for it. He is lucky in this, for most of us would like to be ruder and more violent than we are. Mayall is paid to be.

Yes. Hair. Very important to the British joke. So, too, are shouting and falling over. Those academic dignitaries in charge of the Manchester University drama department probably never imagined that some of their students, primed in the history of the Commedia dell’Arte and au fait with the point of Beckett’s pointlessness, would leave campus (with a 2.2 degree in the case of Mayall) to entertain a career of shouting and falling over.

So it comes as an enormous relief that Rik Mayall, the normal person behind the show-biz Mr Stentor, does not shout at all. His voice is even and serious and the product, appropriately, since that is what it is, of an affectionate and sensible middle-class background in which both his parents were drama teachers and he was encouraged to show off a lot. When young, he appeared in his father’s school productions — as the boy in Waiting For Godot, in the crowd scenes of The Good Woman Of Setzuan. He liked this, and anything was better than getting bored (there wasn’t much to do in Droitwich). Public school mores (King’s School, Worcester) prevented Mayall from becoming involved with glam rock and he was disappointed to discover that he was too old (20) to be a punk. Nevertheless, he did appreciate a concert in Malvern where the lead singer of the Cortinas, Jeremy Valentine, announced: “We don’t fucking like you so get a load of this.” He then stuck a finger down his throat in order to be sick — and found he couldn’t.

It was licensed showing off, one might surmise, that endowed Mayall with the ‘presence’ that is indispensable to the successful comedian, or ‘comic-actor’ as he is more often called nowadays. Girls who were with him at Manchester University remember this ‘presence’. They also remember how he used to enter a room, slam the door back off its hinges, pause for a minute as if in an invisible spot-light, and says things like, “It’s Rik Mayall. The Great Star.” Some girls thought he was a prat. Many, however, couldn’t help believing him.

It’s not difficult to see why. He exudes personal strength. This is something to do with self-assurance, and something to do with the fact that, physically, he is wider than one might imagine. And he is certainly more endearing than he appears on television (where he has always been intentionally repulsive).

That Alan B’Stard, for example, would make live yoghurt reach for an EXIT pamphlet. Mayall is very proud of his Right Honorable member, he is one of his more successful characters, he thinks. And, as an effective prime-time reminder of the ghastliness of Tory MPs, The New Statesman has also served to advertise his own beliefs. Indeed, he was so pleased the day Margaret Thatcher resigned that, dancing up and down on the stairs, he fell down them and broke his shoulder. It’s still quite stiff, actually.

He touches his shoulder as if to make sure that, unlike Mrs Thatcher, it is still there, and says he is pleased his new BBC series (co-written with Ade Edmondson) is called Bottom because it means everyone involved has to say “Bottom” when important people ring them up. The title started as a joke, then Alan Yentob (the head of BBC2) hated it so much they decided it was a good idea.

Is it about bottoms?

“Not at all. It’s about two guys at the bottom of the heap. But obviously we called it Bottom to make people think we were doing bottom jokes.”

Richard and Eddie, the characters, are a couple of “unemployed survivors”. “I think Bottom is what could have happened to us if everything had gone wrong.”

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson have been a double-act since they were at Manchester together and they remain close. “I think Ade thinks I’m a complete git really,” says Mayall. “He is one of the few people who can make me blush. He knows when I’m telling lies to try and impress people.”

It was at university that they formed 20th Century Coyote and wrote plays like Dead Funny (in which a corpse turned into a policeman) and other dramas inspired by the morose irony in works such as Waiting For Godot:

“Estragon: You stink of garlic.

Vladimir: It’s for the kidneys. (Silence: Estragon looks attentively at the tree.) What do we do now?

Estragon: Wait.

Vladimir: Yes, but while waiting?

Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?

Vladimir: Mmmm. It’d give us an erection.”

Although Beckett had the last laugh in 1966 with Breath (30 seconds long, featuring one cry and a pile of rubbish), in the hands of 20th Century Coyote the-Theatre of the Absurd became the Theatre of the Very Silly and Occasionally Intoxicated. Eventually, by way of the Edinburgh Festival and the Woolwich Tramshed, the Comedy Store in Dean Street and the Comic Strip in Brewer Street, Vladimir and Estragon evolved into the Dangerous Brothers, who shouted and fell over more than you would believe.

“Ade: What is green and hairy and goes up and down? A gooseberry in a lift.

Rik: Gooseberries don’t go in a lift.

Ade: Yes they do.

Rik: Oh? How many gooseberries do we know?

Ade: Three Rik: All right, let’s have their names.

Ade: Derek Gooseberry

Rik: That’s a lie. All right, if Derek Gooseberry exists go and get him.

Ade: He’s not well.”

Cue enormous punch-up followed by sound of loud laughing and clapping.

Yes. Everyone knew that Rik Mayall would make it.

Now he is 33 and unworried, it seems, by the law that says comedians, like mangoes, do not age gracefully. Sometimes they do not age at all (Lenny Bruce 41, Tony Hancock, 44). He is married (in 1985, to make-up artist Barbara Robbin), has two children (Rosemary, 4, and Sid, 2) and lives in west London.

“During Drop Dead Fred he bounced a lot of ideas off me and the writers,” says producer Paul Webster. “But he works mostly with his wife. That is the key. God knows what they do with each other, but she is very important to him. She and the children were on the set the whole time.”

Mayall’s reluctance to give interviews leads the Hello! reader in all of us to speculate about the unseen decor that is the interior of his life and wonder whether he is comfortable with the responsibility of ministering to the nation’s mental health. This is a burden that has debilitated many of his predecessors. “Comedy needs a vast spectrum of emotion,” said Spike Milligan, who knew. The court requires its jesters to be funny peculiar as well as funny ha ha. Certainly, during his early success, Mayall went through something of a wild child phase. I once saw him break a glass over a man’s head at a party. And then there were the tales of the perfunctoriness of his departure from a long-term girlfriend. “He went out for a packet of cigarettes and never came back,” ran the legend.

“He is very balanced in his personal life,” says Paul Webster, “but obsessive in his work. He will go to extraordinary lengths. He spent months working out the character of Drop Dead Fred.”

Mayall’s evasiveness is, in fact, connected with a fear of destroying the illusion: if he is selling unpredictability, then talking about the mechanics of a performance can spoil it. It is with this same canny eye on his constituency that he refuses to feed any of his carefully created personas to the gaping maws of advertising. “I would rather my audience knew that when I was speaking to them I was telling the truth. This seems odd when comedy is all about lying, but at least they know that I am not going to abuse our relationship in order to trick money out of them for somebody else.”

The character of Drop Dead Fred, if we’re talking mechanics, is basically Rick from The Young Ones in a pair of green trousers. As the imaginary childhood friend of Phoebe Cates (an actress who has the slightly sinister physiological ability to be anywhere between 12 and 39), his vocation is to cause extreme chaos, helped by the fact that he is invisible to everyone except Cates. And us.

So there is much flinging of yellow paint over granny, looking up women’s skirts (particularly the rather tight one of Bridget Fonda) and jokes about being sick. Lovers of Rick and Rik may roll along with the film’s adherence to the Warhol maxim “Always leave them wanting less”, but will baulk, no doubt, at the made-for-Midwest finale which involves the unexplained transformation of Drop Dead Fred from pestilential to pious. He becomes, as he himself would probably describe it, `girly’.

“Enough nose-picking infantilism to shame Benny Hill,” moaned Rolling Stone, airing the viewpoint of a nation whose attitude towards hygiene has always been somewhat unrelaxed. Mayall says he had a premonition that the film might be too disgusting for the Americans — and too sentimental for the Brits. But then, he argues, there are about 250 million people out there who like that kind of thing, and you have to relate to them in order to be allowed to “flick snot about the place”.

So is the Dangerous Brother, in his maturity, becoming a Safe Brother?

“I don’t think I’m getting soft. If anything, I am getting sicker. It doesn’t have to be pulling faces all the time. As I get older I’m not quite so energetic anyway, and there are other ways of communicating.”

Despite popular appearances in the Comic Strip outings, he is wary of working in film. He does not want to air his limitations in public. “I’m too loud and shouty for most cinema things,” he says. His roles have always been chosen with great care. “I think I have a body of work which will allow the audience to say, ‘Well maybe Rik will fuck up this time, but that’s OK because we know that sometimes he doesn’t.’ This might make me more lazy, but it also makes me a little less scared and able to say, ‘Well all right, I’ll have a go at this project.’ I did enjoy making the film, but my home is in telly and theatre.”

Following the West End success of Silly Cow, Mayall believes Ben Elton has accomplished an interesting feat in attracting people to the theatre who don’t normally go.

“I think British theatre is as open as British telly was in the early Eighties, when we came in with The Young Ones,” says Mayall. “There was a large mass of people who were not represented. The same is true of theatre now. They have got videos and they can go out whenever they want. Rock’n’roll is very dull at the moment. There is the cabaret scene and they go to that, but why not have four of five people onstage at the same time? And a set? It’s a natural extension — and for me it’s the perfect art form because I’m a reactive performer.”

So, later this year, he plans to venture back to the stage. He and Edmondson will become Vladimir and Estragon in a production of Waiting For Godot. One hears the creak of the wheel turning full circle, and the more optimistic may breathe a sigh of relief. The Comic Strip may have murdered the mother-in-law joke and resuscitated the cabaret scene (ten events of multicoloured wackiness on any one night in London), but, by smoothing the transfer from an obscure stage in Deptford to jumping up and down in front of BBC cameras, it was also partly responsible for the impasse at which comedy finds itself today. Comedy needs to be kept on its toes. It finds it difficult to regenerate in a land where the only reaction is the unseen flick of the remote-control button. Inventors need to stand up and face the front row and, if they have not been deafened by the sound of mutual back-slapping, they might even hear a ripple of applause. Rik Mayall wishes he and Edmondson had the affront to go the whole way and perform a play they had written themselves, but he does not feel that the world is quite ready for The Dungeon Of Madness.

Drop Dead Fred goes out ors general release in September

The MP Who Brings the House Down!

For TV Times, 19 – 25th January, 1991

He’s sneaky, slimy and selfish – and most of his Commons colleagues reckon he more than lives up to his name. But behind Alan B’Stard, Anthea Gerrie finds some real Mayall attraction.

Rik Mayall confesses he gets triple kicks from playing right-wing shocker Alan B’Stard in the sharp political comedy, The New Statesman. There are laughs from the studio audience, a chance to have a dig at loony politics – and a delicious opportunity to indulge the devil lurking beneath his angelic exterior.

‘The real me is not bad at all,’ he insists, batting baby blue eyes and banishing any trace of his signature sneer. ‘But there is a dark side buried within.’

He rather admires certain aspects of his Parliamentary alter ego: ‘He’s cleverer than anyone else, I’m just sorry he never seems to get any decent opposition.’

And he even admits to sharing a few of B’Stard’s traits. ‘Self centred? Yes. An opportunist? Isn’t everybody? It just means seizing the moment.’

Rik admits he’s getting more than a little wedded to evil politician B’Stard who gets nastier with every episode. ‘It’s dangerous – I’ve never played any other character three times.’

And he believes the new series has actually been jinxed. ‘The same night Mrs Thatcher fell, so did I – and broke my shoulder,’ he says, waving a pink-slinged arm from beneath B’Stard’s pinstriped sleeve. ‘And because of the political situation, some of our plots had to go or be re-jigged.

‘But B’Stard is surviving; he’s become his own man. He hasn’t fallen with Thatcher!’

Despite his wicked sense of humour and tendency to swear like a trooper, Rik is at pains to point out he was respectably raised by his drama teacher parents: ‘I was brought up to be a good boy and proud of myself so I suppress all the things about me that are bad.’

Nevertheless, he positively shrinks from playing sympathetic characters. ‘Being nice on screen deeply embarrasses me. Of course you want to play baddies. Comedy is very close to frightening people,’ he says, shouting in my ear to prove the point. ‘I find it therapeutic to play people I might become if I didn’t expunge them through acting.

‘Is there the seed of B’Stard inside me? There has to be when you play a character.’

Although he reserves his supercilious sneer, lusty tongue thrusts and rolling eyes for the camera – he’s ravishingly good-looking in real life – Rik does admit to some off-screen behaviour that has tempted members of the public to consider him a real b’stard.

His ex-landlady in Manchester, for one – in his student days, Rik and his room-mates chopped up her furniture for firewood! He also admits to shocking a crowd with a stream of blue language at a charity show. ‘That was a mistake. The booking was made by someone who didn’t know my material.’

But he seems to take a schoolboy-like relish in having outraged viewers and critics alike with The Young Ones and as the disgusting posey social climber in Filthy, Rich And Catflap.

Posing is something he was deeply guilty of in his teens, he admits: ‘At 12 I started doing school plays which made our gang the coolest in school.’

Was he badly behaved with it? ‘I never got caught,’ he grins. After passing his 11-plus, he transferred from an ‘idyllic’ country primary to a secondary school in Worcester ‘with different grades of bad boys. But I was never out of control myself.’

Rebellion didn’t hinder his progress; he got his A levels and by 17 was at Manchester University doing a drama degree with the likes of Ade Edmondson, his fellow Young One.

That’s where the bad behaviour really started – a burst of disgraceful undergraduate living that was to provide a rich vein of material for the hit show.

‘Life in our house was pretty similar to The Young Ones,’ he says. ‘We were just four boys away from home for the first time. Ade didn’t live there; he just used to come round.’ He blames his close mate and colleague, with whom he developed a stand-up comedy act while still at university, for making him play a beastly character – ‘he seems to trigger it in me’.

At home, Rik insists, he is a well-behaved husband to Barbara and model dad to Rose and baby Sidney. He acknowledges the storm of bad publicity that broke when he left his long-term girlfriend, Lise Meyer, to go and live with Barbara. But people who think this makes him a real b’stard have got their facts wrong, he insists. ‘Lise and I lived together for five years’, he says, ‘and we are still good friends.’

Rik’s Movie Mayall-Strom

By Anwar Brett for Film Review, October 1991

How TV funnyman Rik Mayall overcame a fear offilm to make his Hollywood movie debut in madcap imaginary-friend comedy Drop Dead Fred – out this month’

It’s no accident that Rik Mayall’s Hollywood debut sees him getting up to much the same brand of mad antics that shot him to fame in The Young Ones.

For his role in madcap comedy that of an imaginary childhood friend who comes back to haunt Phoebe Cates when she suffers the adult stress of divorce – was specially tailored to suit him.

And the tailoring offset thefunnyman’s fears that he might not be able to translate his small screen success to the big.

“I told the writers about the reservations I had about film,” he explains. “I felt I was a telly and theatre man really, because I pull big faces and shout a lot of the time.

“I wasn’t quite sure that I could be Clint Eastwood and raise an eyebrow and make people cry.”

“So they came back to me with the idea of this imaginary friend, which gives me licence to hit Phoebe over the head with a shovel and shout and scream, without it seeming out of place. Being an imaginary character gives me the freedom to do that.”

“I wasn’t asked to do any Young Ones-type material because Ate (DeJong), the director, didn’t know my work at all except for what he’d seen on a showreel, and I was presented to him by the writers, who only knew me from The New Statesman.”

“All the people from production company Working Title knew me, but they were all English. It’s really a British film in disguise. It looks like an American film because it’s made in America with American actors and actresses. But it’s actually a British production. So it’s a British film really. But don’t tell the Yanks!”

Despite his enormous popularity at home, Rik found that very few people in the States knew who he was. Or, as he pulls-no punches puts it: ” Nobody knew who the fuck I was.”

“The one question I kept getting asked by journalists was how did I get the part. I felt a bit insulted. I felt like saying: ‘Because I’m good. That’s why!'”.

“It’s unheard-of in America for someone with no track record to get a semi-lead in a big movie, although I was pleasantly surprised by the scale of the Young Ones cult over there. We only made 12 programmes, but it was shown incessantly on MTV for about two or three years, so there is quite a hard core of fans.

“I did the David Letterman TV show, which has about 200 hip New Yorkers in the audience, and it was terrifying. When he said ‘this is a real funny guy from England who you may have heard of from The Young Ones’, they seemed to know who I was, so I was on reasonably safe territory. But, most of the time, people didn’t know who I was or why I was in the part.”

As a newcomer to film, Rik also found it more comfortable to devote himself entirely to his role, rather than getting involved with any other aspects of the production.

“It was a whole new experience for me, and I just wanted to keep my head down and work out what I was doing. I mean, just look at the line-up of actresses I was working with. Carrie Fisher, Marsha Mason. Even little Ashley (playing Phoebe Cates’ character as a little girl) was brilliant – and she’s only six!

“She’d say: ‘You’ve got to stand there. That’s your mark’. I’d say: ‘No, no, Ashley, I was here’. And she’d tell me: ‘No, you stood there on the other angle’. I’d ask the crew, and they’d say: ‘She’s right, Rik’. ‘Thanks, Ashley’ (whack).

“But I’ve learned an awful lot, I know it’s a cliche, but I really have. Because ! was quite scared of the medium. My main reservation about film is that there isn’t an audience there, and I tend to respond best to a live audience.

“If you know your character, and you know what you think is funny about the character, and you go to rushes and you can see what you’re doing and adjust it, then it is a much more manageable medium than I thought.

“Theatre and TV are performance mediums, and I’m a performer. Whereas film is a director’s and an editor’s medium, and I think that lack of control did scare me. But you can gain that control if you know what you’re doing.

“I’m a very cautious performer. Although this sounds very wanky and celeby, I don’t want to let my audience down, because there’s a certain thing they expect and want from me.

“When you’re doing film, people watch you much more closely, inevitably, so there has to be much more reality and truth to your performance than there might be in a more theatrical medium like TV. So you have to stick closer to a characteristic that you’re selling, and I’m not quite sure what mine is.”

If Drop Dead Fred does well, there is a strong possibility of a sequel – something Rik would be very happy to do, despite the unexpected physical toll this first film took on him.

“I always knew that the Drop Dead Fred character had red hair, but I’m still trying to get rid of it now. The colouring had to be green, with red hair, because there’s something kind of violent to it.

“And the hair girl was just brilliant. She said: ‘You’ve got to have red hair for seven weeks, so you’re going to have red hair for seven weeks’. And I’ve had it for a year now!

“I must have been worried about the film, because when it grew out it was going grey!”

Rik Mayall – Horrible, Uncontrollable and Loud!

For Look In, 19th October 1991

In the hilarious new movie Drop Dead Fred, Mayall plays the hyperactive, naughty, imaginary friend of Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates). He throws mud pies, breaks windows, chops people’s hair off and picks his nose. He told us all about it…

Is Drop Dead Fred your Hollywood debut?

“Yes it is.”

How different is it working in Hollywood to England?

“It’s another world. The Americans on the set were complete film buffs, they know everything to do with movies. There’s me from little old England who’s just happy to perform and throw mud pies around.”

Did you have to prepare for the film in any way?

“Yes, because Fred jumps about all over the place and manages the most amazing contortions, I had to be fit as a fiddle. I spent six months before the film in the gym. I went three times a week, and no I didn’t carry on after the film finished.”

What was it like working with Elizabeth?

“She was great. She was a complete professional and she was only six years old at times in the movie! She’d tell me where to stand and I’d protest, convinced that she was wrong, but she wasn’t and so I had to sheepishly do as I was told.”

Fred is a pretty horrid brat, how did you make him like that?

“Oh that was quite easy for me, I drew on my experience as a seven year old.”

Did you enjoy making the film?

“Yes, it was fun, but I must admit I prefer TV and theatre. In a TV studio and on stage I can have a live audience in, and that way I can tell whether they think the jokes are funny or not.”

Did you throw mud pies and break windows when you were a kid, like Fred?

“No, I was far too much of a coward. I was the kid in the corner who egged everyone else on to do naughty things.

What did you do at weekends in the States?

“The Americans work so hard – 12 hours a day, six days a week – and on a Sunday they’d go to the movies! Can you beat that for pure enthusiasm? I’d do other things.”

What’s it like being a Hollywood movie star?

“Oh dear, I never had any burning ambition to make it in America. I don’t want to be a star because I like my private life kept private.”

What do you like about being a comedy actor?

“I like being able to act out my fantasies. I can be what I like, who I like and as obnoxious as I like – if I choose.”

What was it about Drop Dead Fred that appealed to you the most?

“I liked the idea of being horrible, uncontrollable and loud!”

Rik Mayall

For Film Monthly, November 1991

“I don’t like people to think I’m normal” he tells Ken Ferguson

Rik Mayall arrived for a London press conference in a limo which he found “great” and rather amusing. “The man who drove me here had driven Mel Gibson around and he was “telling me that Mel didn’t have any privacy at all. If that’s what being a film star a really big film star, is all about, then I don’t want it. I’m interested in making films, but I don’t want to be taken away from a live audience for a start. And there’s the added pressure of thinking that each film you make would have to be so important, and spending your life doing interviews.”

Yet here he was, doing a group interview, talking about Drop Dead Fred which he made in America for an English company. He talked for an hour, about the move, about growing up, his past work, and about his image. I’ve always found his style of comedy rather akin to an outrageous, precocious naughty little boy who likes to shock, rather like the character named ‘Drop Dead Fred’ he plays in the movie — the invisible friend of Phoebe Cates who nobody else can see.

“I really don’t like doing interviews,” he told us.

Why not?

“Because I don’t like people to think I’m normal,” he replied.

But an hour in the company of Rik Mayall saw him behaving quite normally, just the occasional naughty word here and there and a few face pulls. He’s an individual who hides his serious true self behind the faces of characters such as Rick in The Young Ones, Alan B’Stard of The New Statesman, and Richard Richard in his new TV series Bottom.

“I like to have fun,” he says. “As a kid I wanted to be naughty, but I was too cowardly to be really naughty. I was the guy who stood next to the really naughty boy, persuading him to do the really naughty things! I was a bit like Fred in the movie. I was quite hyperactive as a kid until I was able to show off in plays at school. I wasn’t disciplined enough to be sporty but I did have too much energy. A lot of Fred was what I was kind of like as a kid, as was Rick in The Young Ones.”

Although he enjoyed the experience of making The Young Ones in America he admits to being apprehensive about films. “It’s nice to go to America to make a film. The actual process is fun and it gave me chance to see what I could do.” But as he confessed, “I was scared of working in their medium. I consider film to be an American medium, really, but I was amazed and surprised at how welcoming they were, and how good to work with they are. I thought they would say, ‘Who’s this English git?’ But some of the actors there couldn’t believe how I had got this role, the title role!”

He got the part, primarily, he says because he was seen in a Red Nose Day sketch as Alan B’Stard being whipped by Mrs Thatcher. “They thought it was funny, seeing what they thought was a posh Englishman saying rude things and taking his trousers off. That’s why they wanted me to play Drop Dead Fred.”

Six months before he started filming Rik went to the gym three days a week for two hours every morning. “I went because I wanted Fred to be lively, not like I am today! I needed to be able to run and jump, and be like a seven, or eight-year-old kid. I wanted to be fit and supple. I was in great shape when we filmed ‘it in Minneapolis last year during the summer. Then I came back here and fell down stairs and broke my shoulder on the day Mrs Thatcher resigned. In fact we had just recorded one of the new series of The New Statesman when Thatcher resigned. We had to rewrite all the scripts.”

Currently he’s committed to the stage production of “Waiting For Godot” until next March. He and his close pal, Adrian Edmondson, have been wanting to do the play together for 15 years. “One of the things that drew us together at Manchester University was our love for that play,” said Rik “It’s a very funny play.

More films? “Yeh, I’d like films to be part of my life, but they can be quite an upheaval, and I do like playing in front of a live audience. I don’t think I’m a very brilliant film actor. I could be in certain kinds of characters. I’d probably be happier further down the line, say like third on the bill.

“I tell you the best thing for me would be to get a character together, like for example Inspector Clouseau, and then make a series of so many films playing that character. I’d be much happier doing that than constantly trying to invent new characters for a film.”

In the meantime Rik Mayall fans will enjoy his antics as Drop Dead Fred “I Just tried to make him a typical, horrible seven or eight year old brat, and drew on my own experiences and observations of that.”

Rik (As in Sick)

By Nina Malkin for Interview, May 1991

A Harvey he’s not. As Phoebe Cates’s make-believe friend in Drop Dead Fred, Rik Mayall is hateful, destructive, and mercilessly visible to the audience — a far cry from James Stewart’s endearing pooka pal. But then obnoxiousness has made Mayall — the manically prissy, obsequious Rick in The Young Ones — a major television star in his native Britain. Now his dubious charms take on the big screen, and America.

INTERVIEW: What drew you to the part of “Drop Dead Fred”?

RIK MAYALL: The fact that he’s an imaginary person. If you’re Clint, raising an eyebrow says a million things. But because I’m not that kind of actor, I need the freedom to just go apeshit.

I: Do you play him with an American accent?

RM: NO, no. They said, “Do you see him as English or American?” and I said “English” and they said “Why?” and I said, “Because I can’t do an American accent.” It turned out to be a joke I didn’t realize was there. When I’m saying rude things like “Piss off, snotface” in what Americans consider –I mean, if anything, I’m lower middle-class — to be a posh accent, it makes them laugh.

I: Well, Americans think anything British is automatically classy. Do you note other differences in our comedic tastes?

RM: Generally, your comedy is more like, one comedian gets up and says, “Come laugh with me at this,” whereas we’re saying, “Laugh at me.” We’re much more . . . We’re assholes.

I: And proud of it.

RM: Absolutely. All the Pythons, all the Young Ones. We’re idiots. That’s part of the culture.

I: What cracks you up?

RM: Oh, the simplest things. People losing control of themselves. People trying to be cool . . . and failing. You know, someone walking around In a nice, groovy pair of trousers and then falling over into the snow.

I: You’re so mean!

RM: No, not when it’s people who deserve to fall over. Obviously, I don’t laugh if it’s a little old person –well, no, actually, that’s pretty funny.

One Old Double Act Deserves Another

By Zoe Heller for The Independant, 22nd September 1991

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, the rude boys of television sitcom, are about to star in Waiting for Godot. They told Zoe Heller why this is not as funny as it seems

”It is already clear,” a critic wrote of Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall in 1987, ”that what they seem to see as defiantly juvenile, and we see as embarrassingly childish, is not the outcome of a particular series but part and parcel of these particular comedians. Farting, references to genitalia and extreme violence are their stock-in-trade and so – regardless of the format – their most appreciative audience will continue to be drunk teenagers.”

However unfair and inaccurate, this rebarbative judgment neatly summarises the comic style with which Mayall and Edmondson have become associated. They form part of the coterie (Dawn French, her husband Lenny Henry, Edmondson’s wife Jennifer Saunders, Nigel Planer, Ben Elton) that emerged at the end of the Seventies and went on to dominate the comedy scene in the Eighties. But within this group, Mayall and Edmondson have made a certain brand of maniacal comedy their own. Which is why their latest undertaking strikes the onlooker as so brave. Or foolhardy.

From this week, the princelings of fart gags will be in residence at the Queen’s Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, playing Vladimir (Mayall) and Estragon (Edmondson) in Waiting for Godot. It is the first West End production of Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy in 35 years. Les Blair is directing; Derek Jarman has designed the set. None of this, however, is likely to distract attention from the casting.

In their rehearsal room at Sadler’s Wells, the two men anticipate the likely objections with a fretful mix of optimism and irritation. Edmondson, dour in thick-rimmed spectacles and cropped hair, insists they will get a ”hammering” from the Press. ”We always do. And this time, we’ll get an even worse hammering because it’ll be seen as two vulgar, horrible little comedians taking on some great dramatic classic. But we’ll make a success of it – and then they’ll be really cross.”

Mayall, the more glamorous, actory side of the partnership, swishes his blond hair and puts on a silly voice. ”We both went to drama school. So we know what we’re doing, OK?”

Mayall and Edmondson have been together since their student days at Manchester University in the Seventies. After their degrees, they started doing cabaret and short, lunatic plays. They eventually landed at the Comedy Store in London, where they were picked up by television. The Young Ones, their manic piss-take of student life, broke up the sofa-centred chunter of traditional sit-com with explosions of grotesque slapstick and a-thousand-and-one bogey and bottom jokes. It was high-volume, low- taste, occasionally brilliant stuff.

Since then, both men have done plenty of solo work, which has often had a subtler comic hue. Edmondson has written and directed episodes of Comic Strip and acted in a couple of films (including a straight role as a tabloid journalist in Les Blair’s News Hounds). Mayall, more famously, has done some theatre (lead roles in The Government Inspector and The Common Pursuit), some television (The New Statesman), and has made his first foray into Hollywood, starring in the forthcoming Drop Dead Fred. Yet Mayall and Edmondson have managed to fit in plenty of work together and their tendency, whenever they reunite, is to return to Young Ones mode – two snarling wallies exercising their loathing for one another in squalid circumstances.

As The Dangerous Brothers, they offered what were essentially abstracted Young Ones sketches with heightened violence. In Filthy Rich and Catflap, (with Nigel Planer, another of the Young Ones), they did much the same thing, but in a domestic setting. And clips from their new series, Bottom (in which they play two penniless, violent flatmates who are always arguing), suggest business is still as usual.

So reservations about the new Godot are perhaps less unreasonable than the two comedians care to admit. They say they have always wanted to ”do Godot”, and this year, after one of their own compositions proved unstageable (Mayall: ”It involved wrecking the theatre every night – the level of destruction was just too extensive”), they decided to give Beckett a bash. But can Beckett’s text, with its delicate balance of humour and anguish, survive the sausage-grinder of their frenzied style? Will Vladimir and Estragon be squeezed into the ready-made shapes of Rik ‘n’ Ade?

Mayall and Edmondson respond grumpily to these enquiries. They don’t think they have been repeating themselves for the last decade, and if the critics cannot distinguish between their finely wrought characterisations, then that is the critics’ problem.

Mayall: ”People go on about the similarities in what we do…”

Edmondson: ”But it’s a bit like saying to an artist, ‘Well, a lot of your paintings have blue paint in them; why aren’t you advancing and using more red paint?'”

Insofar as they will admit to a fixed set of comic manners, they will not, they say, be changing them for the purposes of this play. ”There’s no need to,” Mayall explains. ”Our comedy actually developed through a love of Beckett – of Godot in particular – and a lot of our early stuff was Beckett piss-takes. I have always been drawn to Beckett. I like the simplicity. I like the honesty. I like the vulgarity, the violence. I like the uniqueness of it – the way it doesn’t fit in and it annoys people. Our style is actually very Beckettian.”

”Estragon and Vladimir are two halves of the same person – they are a double act,” says Edmondson. ”And the two halves are much the same as the two halves we’ve developed: Rik plays the vain, conceited one and I play the boorish, stupid, down-to-earth one.”

None of which means, apparently, that they will be playing simply for laughs, or lapsing into extra-textual routines. Three years ago Robin Williams appeared as Vladimir in Mike Nichols’s Broadway Godot, and ruffled critical feathers by ad-lib bing. Peter Bull, who played Pozzo in the first London production, lamented that the multiple repetition of lines like ”Why don’t we go?” made it ”astonishingly easy” to miss out great chunks of the play. In these circumstances, it must be a terrible temptation to improvise. Mayall and Edmondson, however, shrink at the idea.They have merely tinkered with a few stage directions andreturned to the French text in places ”to sort of re-translate it”.

Edmondson: ”Normally when we’re rehearsing something, it’s a constant process of editing. But with this, it’s actually been a relief to get to grips with a text that doesn’t change.”

Mayall: ”We’re actually doing a very traditional version. I hope people won’t be disappointed that we’re not being groovier . . .”

Edmondson:”That it’s not the ‘Allo ‘Allo team doing Godot…”

Both men say they feel ”reverent” about the play’s ”philosophical bits”. But they express their reverence in sharply differing ways. Edmondson sniffs and says it’s ”nice to have jokes where the double entendre is about important philosophical topics rather than someone’s bottom”. Mayall is more fervent. ”I think the best comedians share the philosophical vision expressed in this play. ‘They give birth astride of a grave….’ – that’s why you get into comedy – because you have that vision of life, that desperation, and you are telling jokes to avoid thinking about death…”

As he goes on, a note of cod-Beckettian bleakness enters his tone. ”If you have no religion and you know you’re going to die, you know there’ll be nothing else, and you try somehow to avoid that truth…”

Edmondson looks bewildered. Mayall continues: ”That’s what Vladimir and Estragon are doing – passing the time so they don’t have to hear all the dead voices.”

Suddenly Edmondson waves his sandwich, ”Oh bollocks Richie.”

Mayall smiles. ”That’s why I’m drawn to Ade,” he explains. ”None of these things seem to bother him.”

Waiting for Godot’ previews at the Queen’s from tomorrow; opens 30 Sept.

Dead from the Bottom Up

For NME, 12th October 1991

Ten years after The Young Ones, Rik Mayall is busy selling toilet humour to Americans in Drop Dead Fred, where he plays, oddly enough, an annoying twat in the mould of, erm, Rick from The Young Ones. Plus ça change exclaims Roger Morton

“They gave me a limo to come here, and the guy driving it said he’d just been driving Mel Gibson around and he was saying he just didn’t have any privacy or private life. If that’s what being a big film star means, then I don’t want that. I don’t want to be taken away from my audience and I don’t want to have to think each film would be so important. Plus, you’d spend your whole life being interviewed and doing chat shows.”

Rik Mayall is a busy man these days. America has fallen for the bogey routine and Rik’s star is on the rise. In its first week of release the almost star vehicle for Mayall, Drop Dead Fred, went to Number Six in the US movie charts. It stayed in the Top 30 for 15 weeks. For an eccentric, British produced, American written film whose under-12 kiddy appeal relies largely on the charm of a little known Brit actor flicking bogies, smashing windows and looking up girl’s skirts, this is quite an achievement.

The signs are that Mayall is posed on the toilet brim between grubby British comedy certainties and the scary but luxuriant shagpile expanses of Tracey Ullman-style US fame. At home he and Comic Strip partner Adrian Edmondson have enough pulling power to stage a humour-highlighted West End production of Waiting For Godot, coppying the idea from a New York production that featured Steve Martin and Robin Williams. They also have the current Young-Ones-meets-thirtysomething TV series Bottom up and running. But for Mayall the offers are coming in from the States. Which way will he swing?

“It’s nice to go to America to make a film ’cause the actual process is fun and it’s a chance to explore myself a bit,” says Mayall. “But it was never a burning ambition. I never wanted to go and ‘crack America’, like Cliff tried to… and didn’t.

“It would take an awful lot for me to go back. It’s got nothing to do with my experiences of America, which were very, very good. But I like having a good time, which is why I’ve designed my life like this, and making a movie involves going to the gym for six months, and if you’re going to do it you’ve got to be really serious about it. I’d like film to be a part of my life so I could go and do it every couple of years. When I’m happy with the role.”

Clearly Mayall took his role as destructive ‘imaginary friend’ Fred pretty seriously. Prior to Drop Dead Fred’s filming he spent months in the gym getting his energy level up to hyperactive brat standards, and until he fell down a flight of stairs celebrating Thatcher’s resignation he was still fit. An ironic accident, considering that Mayall was given the Fred part after being spotted as Alan B’Stard getting whipped by Thatcher on a Red Nose charity broadcast.

“I just thought ‘Yeah, I can do that’,” says Mayall on his decision to take the Fred part. “Most good film actors worth their salt can break your heart and make you cry just by raising an eyebrow. That’s not really my discipline, that’s too small for me. But Fred isn’t constricted like that and that’s one of the reasons I went for it.”

Although there’s plenty of physical punch to Mayall’s Fred character (a kind of John Lydon possessed by a Gremlin) the more obscene tendencies of some of Mayall’s past creations have been removed. For those who view the Mayall-Edmondson style of puking punk slapstick as simply puerile body function flaunting, this will be no great loss, but according to Mayall, inane scatology is more than just a load of shit.

“There’s a lot of stuff that got cut out of Fred because it was a little bit too much for the Americans. There’s a long sequence in a toilet where I was watching a fat lady having a poo, which I thought was great, and they didn’t like that. I mean, we laugh at that sort of thing not ’cause we actually find it funny, it’s the stupidity of it I think that we find funny. There’s a level of irony that we have over here about things like that.

“Like we call Bottom that not because I consider bottoms to be funny, although maybe I do, but there’s a thousand different ways of looking at it, and there’s a lot of irony in there in the fact that me and Ade should call a programme Bottom. Because it’s rude, stupid and a waste of license payers’ money, and that’s the point. But yeah, the Yanks tend to be less into poo jokes and things. There’s a bit where I dribbled on Phoebe’s head just after I’d wiped the dog poo on the carpet, which I thought was very funny but they thought it was too gross.”

Mayall admits that on the whole British comedy has a long way to go before it catches up with the quick-fire Americans.

“They have housefuls of gag writers and we have one insane git called Ben Elton sitting in his garret.” But for the time being it looks like Rik will be concentrating his shit-stirring efforts within these shores. Apart from Mayall’s concern that movies would cut him off from the feedback of a live audience, there’s also the fact that as a father with a young family, he can do without the upheaval. That’s the funny thing about Mayall. For a shit-smearing, bogey-flicking, violent psycho-comic, he seems like a nice bloke.

“The kind of comedians I like are mainly people who say ‘Look! I’m an arsehole! Laugh at me!’ That tends to be the way I operate, that’s the area I’m interested in rather than someone saying ‘Hey! I’m hip! Come with me and let’s laugh at someone!’ I’m more interested in people making genuine arseholes of themselves… But it’s not me, it’s a performance. That’s why I don’t really like doing interviews. ‘Cause I don’t like people to think that I’m … normal.”

Bums The Word

By Steven Grant for Time Out, 18 – 25th September 1991

Their new TV show Bottom, is about two hopeless, thirtysomething idiots. Meanwhile, Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall are hitting the stage as Beckett’s bums in Waiting for Godot. When will the comic reprobates stop arsing around?

Since its British unveiling in a production mounted at the Arts Theatre by a then cherubic Peter Hall some 36 years ago, Samuel Beckett’s first play Waiting for Godot has become part of the language and the mythology. Many plays and playwrights enter our vocabulary but with this savage cosmic joke about men in bowler hats waiting in a barren, arid landscape for a God-like figure who never turns up, Beckett did it in considerably less time than Shakespeare, Congreve or Wilde.

Since Beckett’s death in December 1989, the play which has been performed all over the world by all kinds of people straining under all kinds of oppression convicts, Communists, South American hippies, Soweto blacks, liberal democrats – has looked in danger of turning into a star vehicle. Robin Williams and Steve Martin attacked it in America recently, and it’s now the turn of Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson. They turn up at the Queen’s Theatre as the expectant tramps Vladimir and Estragon in a cast that even extends the Young Ones connection to Christopher Ryan, the pint-sized member of the scrofulous quartet, playing the hapless Lucky alongside Philip Jackson’s Pozzo. Les Blair directs and, intriguingly, the set is designed by Derek Jarman.

It’s tempting to ask if Vladimir and Estragon will now be smashing each other over the head with hammers or cider bottles and screaming ‘Godot, you Bastard!!!’ across the void, but there are complications in this attitude. As Edmondson, the balder, bespectacled, more thoughtful ‘miserable cunt’ of the duo, says: ‘The play was always considered for a double act, I think, and if we want to get very wanky you could say that Vladimir and Estragon represent two halves of an Everyman which is essentially what…’ Mayall, the handsomer, chirpier, more obliging member of the duo, chips in: ‘…every double act is. Hmmm.’

It’s certainly true that much of Beckett’s early work was inspired by knockabout vaudevillians and cinema greats like the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy (Beckett once said with typical waggishness that the only thing he knew for certain about his two protagonists was that ‘they wore bowler hats’). The characters in Godot owe much to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, whose differing cinematic personae are reflected in the characters themselves: Vladimir (Mayall/Chaplin) more optimistic, patient, paternal against the more frightened, child-like, clumsy Estragon (Edmondson/Keaton). Keaton was even offered the part of Lucky in the first American production of the play; according to Deirdre Bair, Beckett’s unofficial biographer, Keaton turned it down on the grounds that he thought the play was rubbish and hadn’t been able to finish reading it!

Mayall and Edmondson also quote an impressive pedigree of interest; Mayall’s first attempt at writing, a mordant little number called Death on the Toilet done at Edinburgh in the late ’70s when the pair worked under the name of Twentieth Century Coyote, plus many of their early Comedy Store routines, were inspired, says Mayall, ‘by the early Beckett plays. We’re too thick to understand the later stuff because of their tone, their theatricality, their punning – all that stuff like “I can’t go on like this”, and then walking off stage and coming back with a funny walk and saying “But I can go on like this!!” that was all from Beckett.’

Mayall and Edmondson both played in Godot in their youth, Mayall as an eight year old boy-messenger in an amateur production mounted by his dad in Droitwich and, later on, as Vladimir while a student at Manchester University; Edmondson played Estragon (‘I can only learn the one part’) at the same Alma Mater, but both remember most vividly the productions that they saw rather than helped to create. Mayall: ‘At Manchester they were very into all these punk, nude, studio productions. I remember a nude Edward II and a nude Godot where this guy called Steve played the tree and when Estragon sat down at one point there was this uneasy silence and then this almighty rush that lasted for 15 minutes and Estragon was covered in piss! And this guy who played the pissing tree would train very seriously by going to the bar every night and drinking six pints of lager. But they obviously hadn’t thought out the production very clearly because when Pozzo and Lucky came on, the floor was so soaked that they skidded all over the place and the audience were walking out.’ ‘I remember,’ adds Edmondson, ‘this one very serious Stalinist woman who sat in the front because she was dead keen and she got soaked and very angry.’ Mayall: ‘Then there was another production where Pozzo was played by a woman, and when it came to the speech about “giving birth astride the grave”, she mounted this scaffolding and then unravelled about ten feet of red ribbon from you know, the girl’s place, so that was very strange. We were thinking of incorporating the idea into this production; two old has-beens with three miles of heavy industrial cable stuffed up their arses!’

Edmondson, the non-smoker of the pair and temporarily off the booze following a series of brushes with the law over drunk-driving which culminated in a three-year-ban, says that ‘despite all this, these productions were mind-numbingly boring and pretentious. Because we’re doing this then obviously the idea is that we emphasise the comedy in the piece. There’s a tendency because it’s Beckett and because the play is full of these wonderful aphorisms and philosophical insights to treat it like the Bible. The more we’ve rehearsed it the more obvious it’s become that the content is extremely funny; there are double meanings but the end-point isn’t sex or shitting or pissing, it’s usually philosophy or theology. For example, if Estragon says that Vladimir always waits until the last moment, he’s talking about him taking a leak, but the inner meaning is really about the onset of chaos, death, final despair. It’s different in that respect.’

Director Les Blair isn’t so well known for his theatre work, although Edmondson appeared in two very fine Blaire TV films, Newshounds and Honest, Decent and True, where he played respectively an obscene news editor who rapes and then sacks a female colleague, and a smugly content ad man. This wimp/scuzzball side to his performing personality contrasts heavily with the head-banging Vyvyan of the Young Ones. ‘We wanted Les,’ says Edmondson, making it clear who the bosses are, ‘simply because he’s an intelligent man who could help us make sense of it, make it into a thing.’ ‘Because,’ counters Mayall, ‘we keep finding so many specific problems; it’s such a hellish text to learn because it’s so circular, so deliberately repetitive; the words “I’m going” occur ten times. There’s one cue three pages into the play which could take you straight to the end if you fuck up, and another one three pages before the end which takes you straight back to the beginning if you mix it up! And I really don’t think it’s just a star vehicle. There was a bit of the “Rik” thing when I did The Government Inspector at the National, a few performances where people were screaming and girls threw pants on the stage, but largely I think a theatre audience is looking for something a bit different and the ones who are going because of Alan B’stard or the Comic Strip films will…’ Edmondson: ‘… probably be too intimidated by their surroundings to misbehave.’

This last 12 months have seen something of a coming together for the couple who describe their partnership as a ‘marriage made in the lav’. This week their long-awaited TV series for BBC2, Bottom, a kind of Young Ones meets Thirtysomething, starts its six-episode run; this is very much a low-rent affair – heavy on grossness and with a few strong laughs which depend, as always, on the duo’s penchant for fighting and self-destruction, notably a scene in which Edmondson attempts to remove a wart from Mayall’s hooter with a pair of pliers.

Mayall says that one scene where he’s discovered wanking caused the bigwigs at the Beeb some nerves, but not to any great extent. Edmondson says that Bottom is their way of using that period in their lives ‘after university and before regular income when there was no student hand-out, no student buddies and you were forced to walk miles to the butchers to save 20 pence or buy the supermarket brand of baked beans.’ Hardly the lifestyle both of them enjoy now, but then perhaps the meals at the Groucho, the gala balls and the first-night parties will be for later. And presumably life is a little bit tougher without the likes of Ben Elton and Lise Mayer (the girlfriend Mayall impregnated and then dumped for another) providing the material.

Mayall: ‘I don’t think we’re stepping back with this; Bottom is the first thing we’ve written together for some time, and I think it’s the best thing we’ve done; it marks a new chapter in a relationship that will hopefully last as long as we live.’ Muttered chortles from both.

Certainly, though always linked together, Mayall and Edmondson’s careers have taken different turns in the last decade; as well as the big TV series, and the stage work, Mayall has his first Hollywood movie (everyone’s doing it) Drop Dead Fred, with Phoebe Cates, out here in October after doing well in the States. He got the part after The New Statesman became a cult success in America. The last series, which at its peak attracted over eight million British viewers, saw this very ’80s monster cuckolded by his flunky Piers and stuck in a Siberian labour camp. But Mayall says: ‘He isn’t necessarily finished by a long way. I think a lot of his fans were amazed and shocked when he got stuck in the snow, they couldn’t believe that he wouldn’t turn the tables and escape.

‘Maurice (Gran) and Laurence (Marks) could be up for another series but this time I think we’d like to know the date and result of the next General Election in advance. Last year Thatcher resigned just as the series was due to be made but luckily I’d got so happy that night I fell down the stairs and dislocated my shoulder so that gave them time to do some rewrites. Basically I can do what I want now. I don’t want that to sound arrogant, but if something doesn’t work out there’s always standup comedy or TV comedy, so I just enjoy it.’

Though Mayall has more strings to his bow and a more marketable brand of appeal  flowing locks, nudge-nudge chat-show friendliness, cute smile, funny voices – Edmondson has long been the more committed of the two when it comes to straight acting. According to Mayall, not only did Edmondson play Hamlet at public school (yes) in Pocklington, Yorks, and long regret his decision to turn down the part of Gail Tilsley’s lover in Coronation Street but, when the alternative comedy scene moved cabaret-wards in the early ’80s it was Ade ‘who wanted to move away from all that stand-up stuff and go more towards real theatre which our routines at the Comedy Store always were, much more than the rest of the performers.’

So had their primary rehearsals for Godot taught them anything about their own relationship? ‘We’ve always agreed,’ says Mayall, ‘that our relationship has worked so well since 1976 because we don’t talk about it or even consider it in each other’s presence.’ Edmondson: ‘I think that we’ve always socialised most when we’ve been working. That’s when we see most of each other.’ Mayall: ‘Yes, but you don’t socialise when you’re working. You just say, right, see you on Monday then. You don’t go and get pissed.’ Edmondson: ‘Yes, but when we’re not working we sometimes don’t see each other for months at a time.’ Mayall: ‘Hmm. I can’t remember when we last stopped working, when was it, last autumn?’

Just as this is starting to sound a little too unhealthily like very early Beckett dialogue, the conversation moves on to the Williams-Martin Godot on Broadway. Edmondson says that though he hasn’t seen it, he hears from Peter Richardson, of Comic Strip and Comedy Store notability, who met Steve Martin in London, that it was ‘pretty much a disaster. They didn’t get on with each other and Robin Williams started improvising; apparently he was going into the audience and telling jokes, can you imagine that: “Goood Moooorning Vietnammmmm” in the middle of Godot with poor old Sam spinning in his grave like a top.’

Mayall insists that Beckett will be spinning in his grave ‘with merriment and glee’ at the prospect of this latest production; it’s unlikely. During a rather brief meeting I had with the Nobel Prize winner in London some years ago, Beckett confessed that Waiting for Godot had become a millstone around his neck, a schooltext, a mantra for a Godless age that had knocked sideways all perceptions of his later work. It’s also always been, as Sam knew full well, his biggest money-spinner. Indeed, the Queen’s production has already scuppered another, much smaller one, a Japanese Festival offshoot put together for the ICA and to have been shown later this month at the Lilian Baylis theatre, by a group of actors, academics and students at the School of Oriental and African Studies. This Noh version would have used chunks from Endgame and Worstward Ho as well as Godot and the Japanese director claims that Beckett personally gave the group permission for the project. According to a spokesman for the group, Workshop Five, the production had been cancelled after pressure from both theatrical agents Curtis Brown and by the Queen’s version’s producer, Phil McIntyre, who found the ‘clash’ unacceptable.

Mayall and Edmondson seem a pair, like Vladimir and Estragon, waiting at the crossroads despite all the upcoming projects with their names attached. ‘I was the one who never wanted to be a rock star,’ says Mayall. ‘Oh yes,’ sneers Edmondson, ‘so that’s why we have to call you Little Rik, is it?’ They’re referring to their painful Bad News rock tour during which the duo were pelted continually with bottles filled ‘with puke and piss’ and Edmondson, stuck up front with the guitar, was constantly finding his ‘mouth full of other people’s spit. I’ve probably got AIDS from it.’ The tour, says Edmondson, helped to ‘exorcise the rock-star demon’, but now, well into their thirties, rich, famous, married with five kids between them, it remains to be seen how many demons are left. And just where their talents lie and how far they will continue to stretch. One day, after all, the gobbing, the brawling, the puking and the whining finally have to stop. As every father knows.

Waiting for Godot previews at the Queen’s Theatre from September 23. Bottom is on Tuesdays on BBC2.