Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Category: 1993

What’s Your Problem? Rik and Ade

By Martin Townsend for Vox, December 1993

The sons of school teachers, Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall met in 1975 when they were both reading for degrees in drama at Manchester University. Drawing inspiration from punk and from playwrights such as Samuel Beckett — “we thought he was funny whereas most people saw him as tragic” — the duo began writing and performing together, taking their anarchic slapstick to the Edinburgh Festival and later to London, where they became part of the Comedy Store/Comic Strip set.

Mayall has since made his name parodying the new Tory Right as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, while the “trousers down humour” of The Young Ones, Filthy, Rich and Catflap and Bottom — which has just been released on video — had something to say, they feel, about social disintegration in the ’80s and ’90s.

Now wealthy thirtysomethings with wives and children (Edmondson is married to comedienne Jennifer Saunders), the problem is: what to target their humour on next…

RIK: Everything is sinking… and, now, no one knows what the fuck is going on. If our work is a reflection, in any way, of the state of things — as The New Statesman and The Young Ones were — then that is what our next series would have to be about. It’s just total confusion. The BNP got voted in — in the East End!

Bottom is about the fact that everything is starting to sink. It’s tightly connected, in that way, to the attitudes in Absolutely Fabulous. A desperate thrashing around. Utterly desperate behaviour. Desperate emptiness. The critics said we were just repeating a successful formula, but that’s crap. It’s like saying to Elvis: ‘Well, you did “Heartbreak Hotel” — why do you want to do any more rock’n’roll?’

ADE: It’s all about a lack of anything in your life, so you fill it with stuff. In Bottom, we fill ours with lager and farting; Jennifer’s world is filled with ‘being fashionable’. Growing up, we never really had anything to rebel against. All the rebelling had been done in the ’60s. We were in this crap ’70s tradition, you know. I don’t look at it like that anymore historically, but I always felt like that. I thought: ‘Christ, everything’s just happened. And we’ve fucking missed out on all of it.’ So I think it was because there was nothing to rebel against, and we were — and still are — of a rebellious nature, that we found space to be funny and ironic in terms of philosophy and the kind of malaise of existence, instead of wailing against things The Guardian might wail against.

RIK: We were nice middle-class boys, and we just had a hankering for a bit more fun than is usual in those circumstances. We were both brought up in a tradition where you wanted to be a rock star.

ADE: We were also brought up in the tradition where our parents would rather we had become lawyers and doctors. When I was 15, I told my dad I wanted to be an actor and he said, after about a ten minute pause: “Adrian … you’ll never get a mortgage.” I think that’s an underlying middle-class obsession, with security and safety, and I think that’s the only thing we had to rebel against…

RIK: We were caught between this revolution in the ’60s and punk. We were bypassed all the time, which kind of fuels our indignation. But I really loved punk. I remember going to Malvern to see The Damned and The Coronas in 1976. The Damned were fantastic. Rat Scabies put his cymbals up the wrong ways filled them with lighter fuel and lit it. It came to a drum solo and he set himself on fire. That was real excitement for us.

We were always quite violent in our own work, always a lot of punching and kicking and grabbing goolies — but I don’t think we’d have been fulfilled quite so well as musicians.

ADE: I always wanted to be a rock star, but I was very glad I didn’t because we experienced it, slightly, with Bad News, and it’s a horrendous world. I mean we got a record deal, we went on tour-played at the Monsters Of Rock in Donnington, supported Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden at Hammersmith — but it made us a very selfish group of individuals. We never had such disharmonious relationships in the Comic Strip team as we did when we were doing that.

RIK: What I found frustrating was that there’s this sea of suits, who are all hiding the cash from you. As a comic, you go on, do your 20 minutes, get your cash and go. In the record world you’ve got to sign a contract, set up a company….

ADE: And the stories you read! What’s that twins act? Bros. Their story was like a Dickins quotation. Annual income: £4,000. Fat bloke’s fee: 75 grand a week. Result: unhappiness!

My professional life doesn’t matter to me that much. I tend to judge my private life first — and that’s sorted. If it all stopped tomorrow I would become a carpenter and be very happy. I’d say the drive to carry on working is about 30 per cent of me.

It’s great to be completely noisy. It’s great when we have stunts to do that are so much fun and so violent and so many things are destroyed, just for the sake of a little joke that made us snigger in front of a word processor. But on the other hand, it’s great to sit back in your chair in the garden and watch roses grow.

RIK: Ade’s about a year ahead of me..in everything. I think I’m searching for what he’s got. My drive to carry on working is about the same, but I’m toying with different things at the moment. I’m sort of thinking about my career, I’m sort of thinking about moving out of the city and into the country. Above all, I’m wondering where we go from here, what we do, what we hit out at. I really don’t know the answer.


The Fart of Boys

Edited by Gavin Martin for NME, 8th May 1993

Ham-fisted, moronic, tasteless, cheap crap – and humungously popular. That’s Richie and Eddie, aka Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, in the touring stage version of their as-seen-on-TV pathetic bachelor saddoes sitcom Bottom. “Fnarr, fnarr,” snorts Johnny Cigarettes, while harshly disciplining his rectal muscles…

If comedy is the new rock, as this very publication claimed last year, then Adrian Edmonson and Rik Mayall, as two of it’s slightly-elder statesmen, would surely be selling out Wembley and being ferried around in limos. But no, they’ve chosen instead a daunting schedule of bed and breakfasts and insalubrious Victorian theatres in towns such as Kidderminster, Doncaster, Southend and, tonight, that mecca of Opportunity Knocks runners-up of the world over, Sunderland Empire. This ain’t rock’n’roll – this is Wearside!

But let’s test that dodgy theory a little further. What hot, hip, and happening sounds do Rik’n’Ade (not quite Mike’n’Keef, eh, readers?) frug out to after a hard night’s toilet humour?

“Er…well, on the bus coming here we listened to some early Fleetwood Mac,” stammers an ashen-faced and ashamed Rik Mayall, “The White AlbumExile On Main Street, and, oh, Dr Feelgood! We love them! You’ll have to mention them – it’ll be their first mention in NME for at least 15 years!”

Hmmm. Passable, but severly stuck in pop world not venturing past 1974. But we can still akwardly ram that into our theory, since to some people (90 percent of them London critics) Rik and Adrian in Bottom with fart and knob gags a-go-go, would be roughly equivalent to Gary Glitter – ham-fisted, crude, moronic, tasteless stuff appealing to the bad old lowest common denominator (and, incidentally, hugely enjoyable and massively popular with all sections of the public, the philistines). Explain yourselves, you charlatans – speak now, or forever hold your rectal muscles!

“We just love really cheap, crap gags, basically!” asserts Adrian proudly. “Simple, base, crude, uncalculated jokes hitting hard where it’s most naturally funny. People say it’s childish, but childish humour, to me, is Sooty. OK, it’s the oposite of, say, Oscar Wilde, but then Oscar Wilde actually wasn’t that funny! The Importance of Being Earnest has a few crackers, but it’s hartly three woofers a minute all the way, is it?!”

“You have to surrender to our stuff,” says Rik. “You can’t come in with any intellectual snobbery – you’ve got to allow yourself to enjoy it. But we only really get a problem with being sneered or frowned upon in London – because of all the pretentious media types basically.”

Bottom isn’t about trading witty one-liners (though it has it’s fair share popping up along the way) or making sly cultural references, or laughing at the cool comedian, or at the sad foibles of others. It essentially takes clowning and slapstick and the pathetic-ness of bachelor saddoes like Eddie and Richie, and you laugh at it – and laugh all the more because of that. It’s basic, traditional comedy taken to taboo-breaking extremes, and in that sense (if we can update our dodgy comparisons) it’s like the Sex Pistols of comedy to Mary Whitehouse Experience’s witty, intelligent Indie pop version.

Sure, it had it’s weaknesses, and they’re more noticable in this stage-play version, since in the theatre it relies totally on two characters and one setting, meaning that even the incredible amount of good laughs they usually get from the apparently limited model aren’t quite enough for a two-hour play. An outside character or context would certainly add sufficient extra fuel to prevent them relying too much on a limited plot.

But that’s a minor quibble, rendered insignificant by the riotous comedy which most of the play sustains brilliantly.

Moreover, Bottom works as a sit-com for many reasons other than the slapstick and cheap gags.

One of the reasons it was unmissable telly – while more mainstream sit-coms like 2 Point Four Children or May To December are dismal, brain-in-neutral  affairs which you might vegetate in front of for want of something better to do – was it’s almost total nihilism and cynical look at it’s subject matter.

Someone once said that comedy is ‘tragedy plus time’ (though I don’t remember The Towering Inferno being much of a gasser) and, like most of the best sitcom-charakters have been, Eddie and Richie are terminally tragic, 24-carat losers, trapped in their situation and taking it out on people and things around them when their attempts to improve their dismal lot invariably fail. It’s no coincidence that Mayall and Edmondson’s previous venture in the theatre was a comic version of Samuel Beckett’s spectacularly bleak classic, Waiting For Godot.

“That’s essentially a British comedy thing,” says Rik, “because as a nation I think we look at ourselves as losers, but with delusions of grandeur, pomposity, and a feeling that we should be up there when we are in reality down here, serving and having to deal politely with conventions and people we despise.

“That’s so British. Modern American comedies are far more into wise-cracking and laughing at someone else all the time, and it’s usually got a sentimental edge, whereas we’re far more cynical. Just compare Basil Fawlty and Reggie Perrin, or even Blackadder, to Cheers or the Golden Girls.”

There are also some very British taboos which Mayall and Edmondson gleefully piss on for their humour.

“Sure, we go against the social convention to get laughs,” admits Adrian. “A fart is funny, because people aren’t supposed to fart: the same goes for wanking, or extreme violence – they’re things you don’t like to face up to – you’re cringing while you laugh.”

And that’s a ridiculous fact in itself, which is another strand of Bottom’s humour. When Richie and Eddie use words like ‘knockers’, it’s laughing at the same thing as Finbarr Saunders in Viz – the absurdity of the fact that we find such innocuous words remotely naughty or funny.

But enough of such weighty analysis. What you really want to know, probably, is whether Rik and Adrian are just (hey!) ordinary, regular blokes or horrible, ruthless, driven egomaniac smack-crazed depressive geniuses who dress up as goats for filthy sex kicks and regularly suck angel dust from the webbed toes of rubber-bound rent boys.

They’re giving nothing away, though, and the most you can tell is that Rik is more naturally showy, slightly smarmy and eager to impress, but also more affable and, dare I say it, charismatic. Adrian seems more unassuming, thoughtful and down to earth. Hardly scandalous stuff.

But we can’t let them off the hook completely. Don’t they think they’re treading water and milking the same old formula for the characters and situations in Bottom as they’ve always used in the past?

“Yes, we are doing the same thing as we’ve always done in the past, ” spits Adrian in exasperation. “We’re making jokes for people to laugh at. That’s our job, for f—‘s sake, not to keep being different characters – we’re a double act, essentially, who just happen to be comedy actors in our own right.”

To give them their due, the criticism that their act hasn’t developed isn’t  really fair if you look at them as a double act. No-one criticised Morecambe & Wise or French & Saunders for being the same comic characters all the time, but because Rik and Adrian’s partnership has been relatively irregular – often appearing as part of a bigger team – and they’ve each done solo projects, they’re not perceived as such. In fact, plans are afoot to continue the theme in different theatrical plays, which should establish their double act more in their own right.

But we still want to know what they’re really like, don’t we, kids? For example, are the characters they play – Rik as  the vain pretentious hypocritical twat with with embarrassing personal habits and Adrian as the simple slob with insane, violent tendencies – reflective of the traits in their own personalities that they try to suppress?

Rik, are you a hypocritical twat?

“Er, I suppose I can be on a bad day,” he muses modestly.

“Richie is generally reflective of all the things I try to suppress to be, er, acceptable to others, I guess.”

“And I’m insame and extremely violent”, adds Adrian helpfully. “No, it’s mainly just being everything we’re not supposed to be – it’s basically a schoolboyish indulgence in horribleness!”

Fair enough, but how about some real dirt? You’re both funny, successful men of not inconsiderable sex appeal, and humour is a well-known aphrodisiac – so how many groupies do you shag in the average hour on the road?

“Ha, ha! No, we never get groupies, I’m afraid,” moans Rik. “We get spotty gits asking politely for autographs, but that’s all. We don’t get those rock audiences these days – We did when we did The Young Ones, but now we make a point of not including pop culture in our material. Try The Mary Whitehouse Experience, they’re pretty young men – and bloody good in bed, too, I can assure you.”

“No, you’ll have to give up on us, I’m afraid,” admits Adrian, “we’re not really NME material – we’re too old to rock’n’roll…”

“…and too young to stop doing fart gags!” concludes Rik.

There’s no getting around the fact – comedy for Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson isn’t the new rock, nor is it a Renoir painting, nor is it about being smart or a wise-cracking wit. It’s about being funny: that means making people laugh a lot, and in British comedy today, they’re second to none at it.

The Bottom Line on Mayall Going Straight; Rik Turns Straight Man

By Jill Parsons for Daily Mail, 15th May 1993

RIK MAYALL is going straight after more than a decade playing overgrown schoolboys with decaying clothes, personal hygiene problems and a fine line in lavatorial jokes. He admits to worrying that the joke could have been on him.

‘I was nervous because I’m largely two-dimensional, at least most of the stuff I’ve done is,’ he says in an unexpectedly refined, gentle voice. ‘I’ve always stopped doing one thing and started doing another — “The Young Ones” to “Filthy Rich and Catflap”, to “The New Statesman”, to the American film “Drop Dead Fred”, to “Bottom”. I’m looking for things that stimulate me. What I don’t want is for it to look like Rik’s decided he’s grown up and he’s gone straight.’

The result is “Rik Mayall Presents”, three one-hour films which are more poignant drama than light-hearted comedy. In the savagely funny “Mickey Love”, which goes out on ITV at 9:00 pm on Thursday , Mayall plays an ageing gameshow host consumed with paranoia and hell-bent on personal destruction, despite the best efforts of his besotted researcher, played by Camomile Lawn star Jennifer Ehle.

The second, “Briefest Encounter”, sees him planning a night of seduction with Amanda Donohoe which runs far from smoothly. In “Dancing Queen”, he plays a man stranded in Scarborough on his wedding day with no trousers, no money and accompanied by stripper Helena Bonham Carter after a stag night goes horribly wrong.

Mayall says he has come to rely on the support of others to help him take on more diverse work. Adrian Edmondson, a friend since student days at Manchester University, is his comic partner in “The Young Ones” and “Bottom”, a new series of which begins later in the year on BBC2 and which is currently enjoying a successful stage tour. Even with his venture into more-or-less straight acting, he has surrounded himself with familiar faces.

‘I almost always work in tandem. I don’t work alone, I don’t really enjoy it. I work with Ade if I’m writing “Bottom”, or Marks and Gran if I’m doing Alan B’stard in “The New Statesman”. For “Rik Mayall Presents”, the director, Nick Hamm, was a friend from university and I trusted him. I need someone else to bounce off, really.’

Mayall says that he and Adrian Edmondson may adopt set roles on stage and screen, but their personal relationship is very different. ‘Everyone knows what to expect when they see us performing together. He’s violent, I’m a bit of a wimp and we both get very loud.

‘Off stage it is very different. Our relationship is far more finely balanced. He brings me up if I’m feeling down and if he’s low, I bring him up.

‘When we write together, if he laughs at something, I know it’s funny and if I laugh at something, he understands the same. We are very much an equal partnership.’

Although he adds with only half a note of humour in his voice : ‘Except for the fact that I’m much funnier than he is.’

Growing up in Droitwich in Worcestershire, he arrived at Manchester University at the tender age of 17. ‘I was put early to get a free place. Mum and Dad were both teachers so they knew how to work the system. ‘I was out the other side and in London by the time I was twenty. It was fantastic fun. We lived in Limes Cottage, and we based “The Young Ones” on that. It was a hole. Boys straight out of home have no idea how to do anything. We couldn’t cook, couldn’t do any washing and we burnt all the furniture.

‘A friend rode a motorbike up the staircase and we couldn’t get it down for two months. And we used to go down to the laundrette and look sad in front of the little old lady to get our washing done for us.’

With a drama degree completed, he became involved with the fledgling Comedy Store on his arrival in London.

At 22 he had his first television break, as Midlander Kevin Turvey in the BBC2 series “A Kick Up The Eighties”, closely followed by the series that was to make him famous, “The Young Ones”, which he wrote with university friend Ben Elton and his then girlfriend Lise Mayer.

Mayall, 35, says that he has never recognised the difference between acting and comedy. ‘At school we did “Waiting For Godot” and “Rosencrantz And Gildenstern Are Dead”, plays which had laughs in and had a significance to teenage boys.

‘It was great making “The Young Ones”. They were good days. But then they’ve all been good days.’

Mayall acknowledges that he has calmed down considerably, following marriage to Barbara and the arrival of two children, Rosie, six and Sidney, four. ‘You become more conscious of everything when you have kids of your own. ‘Some things are not so funny any more, particularly when you see things like Bosnia and you tend to think there are more important things than making people laugh. Rosie and Sid are quite sophisticated televisually because they’ve seen daddy being hit by Uncle Adrian and they know it’s not true, they know that everything they see is people acting.

‘But I wouldn’t let them watch the news, because what you see is real and you don’t know what you might see next.’

Rik and Ade Hit Rock Bottom

By James Rampton for The Independant, 28th May 1993

The secret of Mayall and Edmondson’s roaring success? They hit each other and fall over. James Rampton reports.

THE stack of speakers pumps out ”The House of the Rising Sun”. Fans try to push past breeze-block bouncers to a stall doing a roaring trade in tour merchandise. The speakers fall silent, the lights dim and the stars enter to a wall of whoops and wolf whistles – which heighten when one strips down to his underwear. They perform Pete Townsend-esque windmills, and young girls scream: ”WE LOVE YOU.”

This is not a Take That gig, but a stage adaptation of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson’s television comedy Bottom. The genteel Portsmouth Guildhall – all neo-classical colonnades and stone lions – has probably seen nothing like it since Mayall and Edmondson were last here. When they were a spoof heavy metal band, Bad News, they had a sheep’s eye and a bottle of urine thrown at them; now, Mayall and Edmondson are treated like real rock stars. They have sold out every night so far of their two-month tour.

Their popularity perplexes critics who have roundly condemned their double act as juvenile and lavatorial. Lolling around in the dressing-room before Tuesday’s show, the pair have no time for carpers. ”It doesn’t really rankle because they’ve been having a go at us since we started. Now we think we’re going slightly wrong if we get a good review. The Independent is particularly nasty to us,” Edmondson, the quiet, manic one, laughs. Mayall, the loud, manic one, chips in defiantly: ”The only thing we’ve got on our side is ratings.” Bottom could be deemed critic-proof: as 30 Carry On films prove, the British like nothing so much as a good bottom gag.

Mayall, 35, and Edmondson, 36, have been performing as a duo since they met as students at Manchester University in 1975. Through Twentieth Century Coyote, The Dangerous Brothers, “The Young Ones”, “Filthy, Rich and Catflap”, and now “Bottom”, the double act has been sustained by their inexhaustible willingness to hit each other and shout a lot. One of their first joint efforts was Death on the Toilet and, without giving too much away, that’s exactly what happens in Bottom.

So 18 years on, why do they still dwell on the same eternal themes of sex and death and diarrhoea? Edmondson explains: ”If something was funny 18 years ago, it’ll still be funny today. We make no bones about it, these two characters have been embryonic in every single thing we’ve done together. Rik’s the bossy, vain one, and I’m the stupid, violent one.”

That the song remains the same is the root of their appeal. Like rock concert-goers, comedy fans like to know what they’re getting. The biggest cheers on Tuesday were reserved for the most predictable moments: Eddie (Edmondson) hitting Richie (Mayall) on the head with a cricket bat, and Richie scrunching Eddie’s testicles with a pair of pliers. The scene that brought the house down was when Eddie used a hacksaw to remove a blow-up doll that had been superglued to Richie’s privates.

Mayall, not short on self-confidence, offers this assessment of the pairing. ”Any good double act – and I think we are a good double act – is two parts of one person.” Edmondson grabs the baton: ”Although the characters are complete opposites, they can’t exist without each other”, and hands it on to Mayall again: ”We were watching a Morecambe and Wise video the other day, and there’s one bit where Ernie leaves the screen and you feel slightly uncomfortable as Eric turns to the audience and says, ‘I don’t work on me own’.” Edmondson: ”You can’t take away the fact that Ernie was half of Britain’s best double act for 25 years. People seem to think it was all Eric now. All double acts are a partnership, and the jokes only work between the two of you.”

This is the pattern their conversation follows; they are as much a double act off-stage as on it, completing each other’s sentences, mimicking one another and setting each other off on countless feedline / punchline routines. Many are of a hue that has led them to be collared by the police of the politically correct. But the pair maintain that their purpose is ironic. The act is ”about two gits who don’t know anything about women”, Mayall protests, ”it’s not saying it’s our opinion about women”.

The show contains many jabs at the solar plexus of Neanderthal man. Richie sneers at Eddie’s sexual navety: ”Of course she’s not gonna have an orgasm; she’s a girl.” A Bottom roadie wears a T-shirt asking, ”Who needs birds when you’ve got your mates?” Yet over half Tuesday’s audience were women.

In the packed Gents (doing especially brisk business at Bottom’s end), the lads were impressed. ”I loved that bit where Eddie kicked Richie in the bollocks,” said one to another, pinpointing the show’s appeal with economy. There will be plenty more where that came from. ”We’d love to write a stage-play called The Duke of Kidderminster’s Problem,” Mayall enthuses, ”with me as the duke and Ade as the butler. It’d be the same sort of relationship: lots of violence and ‘where are the porn mags?’.”

The ‘Bottom’ nationwide tour continues until 8 July.

Pass Notes No 307: Rik Mayall

For The Guardian, 16th December 1993


Comic actor.

Beatnik intellectual

Born in a village with the unlikely name of Matching Tye; went to public school and only just managed to get into Manchester University (“I was too busy snogging”). Awarded the Boris Karloff award for Most Outrageous Ham at a student drama festival. Met Adrian Edmondson and went around with him shouting “We’re going to be stars!”

Apparently to irritate the “right-on-worthies”. Alexei Sayle thinks he’s “an empty-headed bimbo”.

Has he won any awards lately?
Funny you should ask. He won the British Comedy Awards prize for Best TV comic actor, but may have to return it amid allegations that the ballot was rigged because the other contenders — David Jason, Richard Wilson, Chris Barrie, Michael Williams and Neil Pearson — were not considered good enough.

Does he have the comic qualifications to win?
He does. He was part of the original Comic Strip team with Alexei Sayle, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, starred in the cult series The Young Ones (based, apparently, on student life at Manchester), appeared in The Government Inspector and Waiting For Godot, and played odious Tory MP Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman.

Did be have anyone particular in mind?
He and Ade Edmondson interviewed Michael Portillo as part of the research.

Wasn’t he quite good-looking in The New Statesman?
“I didn’t realise Rik Mayall was so attractive,” wrote one critic. “There are some people who think Michael Heseltine attractive,” Mayall replied cryptically.

Didn’t the series prompt a scandal?
Mayall incited national outrage when he suggested that Prince Charles might be having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. Perish the thought . . .

So what’s with the serious stage stuff?
He felt the need to prove he could do it — “Oh! I can cry. I’m brilliant . . . but I don’t want to belittle waving your bottom about on stage.”

That, after all, is what he’s famous for?
True. “Really. I’m not trying to do anything spectacular except to change the fabric of our society and bring down the Government.”

Not to be confused with:
John Mayall, Alan Rickman.

Most likely to say:
Bum. fart, toilet, bollocks, tits. ****, ****, ****.

Least likely to say:
“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause…”

Mayall’s Tales

For What’s On TV, 15th – 21st May 1993

From a loud and lewd game-show host to a smooth-talking party gatecrasher, Rik Mayall turns on the talent for his new series.

The grey hair is carefully coiffured and the paunch sits snugly in his waistcoat. Micky Love bounces down the steps of a TV studio set grinning from ear to ear, looking every inch the debonair game-show host.

Yet, look just a bit closer and you’ll see a vaguely manic look that could only belong to Rik Mayall, former Young One, current New Statesman and one half of Bottom.

‘My character, Micky, is not based on one particular game-show host, he’s a little bit of all the ones I’ve ever seen,’ says the 35-year-old actor. ‘I’ve been doing the research for him all my life. I still see game shows now and then, although I don’t exactly rush home to catch them.’

Rik plays the ageing game-show host in the first of three comedy films (written specially for him) called Rik Mayall Presents. In the second film, Briefest Encounter, he plays a gatecrasher at a party and in the third, Dancing Queen, he portrays a guy on his stag night.

But it’s as Mickey Love that Rik really comes into his own. Charming yet tacky, Micky is an allround entertainer who thinks his popular show, Family Values, is under threat when he overhears a conversation between his bosses. The truth is, his TV company is secretly compiling a tribute to him to be shown on their Time Of Their Life programme.

Rik stopped at nothing to make sure he looked the part of Micky. He had his dark locks dyed grey, then went on a diet of doughnuts and beer to build up a paunch.

‘My hair was coloured for about two months and I put on a stone and a half during filming,’ says Rik, who is currently touring Britain with Ade Edmondson in a stage version of their cult BBC2 comedy series, Bottom. ‘My children, Rosie, six, and Sid, four, thought my weight gain was really funny. But my wife, Barbara, wasn’t quite so keen.’

Rik didn’t have to go to the same lengths to look the part for Briefest Encounter. He plays Greg, a smooth-talking gatecrasher who strikes lucky with beautiful party guest Siobhan, played by former LA Lawstar Amanda Donohoe. ‘Kissing Amanda was a nightmare!’ laughs Rik with a definite twinkle in his eye. ‘I mean, can you imagine having to kiss someone like her? It was just appalling, but I somehow managed it. Plus we had to do two weeks of rehearsals – in a suite at the Hilton!’

Mayall Bonding

By Adam Sweeting for Radio Times, 22nd – 28th May 1993

“They’re not comedies, they’re dramas,” Rik Mayall insists of the three films he has made for Granada TV, of which Thursday’s Briefest Encounter is the second. In fact, it wasn’t until the first day of shooting that he discovered that the films were being made by the comedy department, not the drama department.

Then, when he found they were being shown under the banner Rik Mayall Presents, he began to fear viewers might thing they were in for a riot of rudeness and rowdiness of the sort Mayall has served up in The Young Ones or Bottom. “It gives me responsibility for the whole thing, which I think is unfair on the others,” he says.

By a remarkable coincidence, all three films find him accompanied by strikingly attractive leading ladies: Jennifer Ehle (from The Camomile Lawn), Amanda Donohoe and Helena Bonham-Carter. “Yes, that’s very agreeable,” smirks Mayall, now 35, though having married his wife Barbara five years ago, he tactfully disclaims any pretensions towards being a ladies’ man. “Maybe, when I was younger,” he mutters, fingering a wisp of gray hair above his ear.

The films also give Mayall a chance to show off his range, and even some subtlety. In the first one, shown last week, he played the ageing northern game-show host Micky Love, and the role seemed to contain bits from every tacky TV quiz from the past 30 years – with a dash of John Osborne’s play The Entertainer for good measure.

Briefest Encounter is a duet for Mayall and former LA Law star Amanda Donohoe. It’s a surreal black comedy about two people who meet at a party and end up wishing they hadn’t. The best may be the last – Dancing Queen, with Helena Bonham-Carter as a strippergram girl with a heart of gold, playing against Mayall’s gullible but sympathetic upper-class twit.

“Granada TV came to me and said, ‘Do you want to do some television plays?’ and I said, ‘Yes’,” Mayall remembers. “Then it developed into film. Obviously, as a performer, I’m showing off, with three characters. Micky Love was a much more get-your-teeth-into-it character than Greg in Briefest Encounter because Greg has to be enigmatic, and you have to not know whether he’s a loony or not. I’m proud of my work in all three of them, and especially Micky Love. I think Micky’s a well-rounded, well-executed character, and it’s not what you expect from Rik Mayall, really.”

The piece might have run along familiar Mayall lines if director Nick Hamm hadn’t pushed him out of his instinctive impulse to play Love as a straightforward b’stard. “Nick said no, make him nice, he’s a nice guy and he believes in what he says. It made him a much more tragic figure.”

His best-known roles hint that Mayall has an affinity for cruelty and selfishness – Rik from The Young Ones, the despicable Tory MP Alan B’stard in The New Statesman, or Richie from Bottom. But Mayall seems shocked at the suggestion that his art imitates his life.

“Er … that’s not a Radio Times sort of question. I don’t know how much of my stuff is an expression of what I’m really like. I think that when I come to a drama, I instinctively say, ‘What’s wrong with this guy, what’s bad about him, what do we laugh at in him?”‘

Even though he has enjoyed a recession-proof level of success for well over a decade, Mayall seems a little nervous about his new venture. He and Ade Edmondson are currently in the middle of a sell-out national tour with the stage versionof the raucous TV show Bottom, but Mayall knows how difficult it is for comics to be accepted playing dramatic roles.

“Everything I’ve always done has always been badly received initially,” he laments. “The Young Ones was hammered when it first came out. Filthy Rich and Catflap disappeared without trace, and then The New Statesman was hammered because it wasn’t The Young Ones or Catflap. It’s only when you come to the second series that people say, ‘Oh, everyone else likes it. OK, I’d better like it then’.”

Mayall claims that the Granada series means he’s “expanding rather than going straight”, but fighting your way out of a popular pigeonhole is always an uphill battle. He met Ade Edmondson when they were both at Manchester University, and they began writing “funny plays” together.

What made them famous, though, was their stand-up comedy routines in London, first at the Comedy Store, and then at the Comic Strip, at the start of the 80s.

The Comic Strip led to The Young Ones and TV stardom, but it also trapped Mayall into repeating himself. ” I developed the Rik character from The Young Ones into a crap comedian, who came on and did crap jokes,” he says. “My stage act for the next ten years was developing that.”

Touring with the Bottom stage show has made him realise that he and Edmondson may have missed some opportunities along the way. “This is what we should have been doing all along, but it takes a bit of fame in order to get this staged,” he explains. “It’s a sort of rock ‘n’ roll play really – a kind of contemporary slapstick.”

Mayall has regularly dipped a toe into less familiar waters, such as the American film Drop Dead Fred, or stage appearances in Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit, Gogol’s The Government Inspector, and (with Ade Edmondson) Waiting for Godot.

But he thinks comedy will always be the closest thing to his heart. “I’ve always been a populist. I do stuff that makes me laugh. You have to surrender to it, and if you do you’ll have a good time. Most comedians do it because they need to laugh as well, for whatever reason.”

Will he ever be taken seriously by theatre critics? If he isn’t, Mayall still has enough humility to know when he’s well off. “Just as long as I can do a bit of film, a bit of TV, a bit of live theatre, and a bit of sunbathing in Devon, that’ll do me, for as long as I’ve got.” Could be worse.

Direct Mayall

For GQ, June 1993

He made farting funny and took the wind out of the Tories. But what lurks behind the anarchy and arsing around? Phillip Watson gets to the bottom of Rik Mayall

It’s a cold, crisp, early spring morning in Bury and Rik Mayall isn’t wearing any trousers. Filming Dancing Queen, the third of one-hour comedy dramas to be shown this month, he is pacing around the ticket hall of a railway station, trying to keep warm. Apart from his lower half, he is dressed impeccably in a dinner suit as Neil, an upper-class twit who finds himself stranded after a stag-night prank. On the director’s cue, he crosses to the station office to buy a ticket back to London, changes his mind, walks slowly out of the station into the bright sunshine. A small crowd of mothers and schoolchildren has gathered outside to watch the filming and, still trouserless, he begins to sign autographs. As one of the kids scurries sway clutching his prize, he says: “He’s great, that Rik Mayall. Dead funny.”

The atmosphere on location seems much the same. It’s true that Mayall is taking a risk with these films, if only because they demand the ability to create characters more believable and rounded than he has achieved on television before. Collectively entitled Rik Mayall Presents, he is more exposed than usual. And he is in the company of genuine acting talent – Amanda Donohoe, Eleanor Bron, Alan Cumming, Peter Capaldi, Michael Maloney and in the romantic comedy shooting today, Helena Bonham Carter, who plays a northern working-class stripper. Yet as you might expect from a man with a gift for making people laugh, on set Mayall seems relaxed, open, on form.

Away from it, he is suspicious and evasive. When we first meet, he insists on going for a walk, talking, mid-step, unsettling me, dancing around me on Platform 3. He delivers his sentences with his usual good timing, but slowly, deliberately, with a touch of the menace he can bring to his roles. “I’m a difficult person to interview,” he warns. “Everything I have to say is in my performance. I don’t like to give too much away.”

Later, however, when a very cautious interview begins between takes, it is clear he enjoys and feeds off the energy of giving two separate performances; one to the camera, the other into the tape recorder. “I’ve got to go, but I’ll think about that one,” he says when he is called, or “Nasty question! I’ll be back.” At one point, he continues an answer while remaining upside-down, spread-eagled on a British Rail trolley, his feet over the handlebar. “These three films are anecdotes about mistakes or jokes gone wrong” he says, clearly enjoying the absurdity of the situation. “But they are also about loneliness. When I think about it, all of my characters, especially the ones I’ve created myself, are about loneliness or an inability to communicate” Then he is off, the trolley wheeled down the walkway and back to the camera by fellow actors Nathaniel Parker and Martin Clunes. “take Alan B’Stard…” he calls out, giggling, as his voice trails off into the distance.

A week later, being interviewed in London’s Groucho Club, Mayall remains on the move. Edgy and hyperactive, he is a nucleus of nervous energy. Parts of his body seem to have a life of their own. His movements are involuntary and unruly. He can only stay caged and chairbound for a few minutes before he is up pacing the room, gesticulating, projecting, performing. His hands flap awkwardly, flying continually from his pockets to his head to, characteristically , a position just behind his hips. Even when seated, the rest of his body refuses to relax. He crosses and uncrosses his legs incessantly. He shuffles around in his chair. He will fidget and flay about to adopt an air that is at first extrovert and frenetic, then with two fingers pressed to his temple, thoughtful and sincere.

And if his body does reach some approximation of stillness. Mayall’s face gives him away every time. Ever expressive and mobile, is full of frowns, smirks, boyish giggles and leers. The total effect is that of a shark; if Rik Mayall stops moving, he dies.

While this supercharged electricity is to be expected, everything else comes as a surprise. For a comic actor who has made a virtue out of being barking an d stentorian, in person he is quiet and thoughtful. Though his quick-fire range of gestures and accents invite laughter, and he is appealingly witty, he is the first to admit that he lacks the natural gift for comedy that, say, Robbie Coltrane or Ben Elton possess. “Much of my comedy is performance or character led, not gag led,” he says, almost apologetically. “It’s always a disappointment to people who meet me for the first time that I’m not as funny as they expected.”

If there seems little outright comedy in his real life, there is also little tragedy. Not for Rik Mayall the complexities, insecurities and occasional paranoia of some of his contemporaries. Not the childhood kleptomania and celebrated of Stephen Fry. Nor the debilitating self-doubts and cautiousness of Hugh Laurie. And although he has been compared (inappropriately) to Tony Hancock, there are certainly not the flickers of dark insanity that have unhinged comedians such as Spike Milligan and Harry H. Corbett. Rik Mayall, resolutely, does not display any neuroses, any tears.

“What does he have to be worried about?” asks Maurice Gran, who is the co-writer of The New Statesman “He is extremely handsome, he has a lovely family, and he could knob anyone he wanted.”

In fact, what Mayall is at pains to stress is not just his normality, but his ordinariness. This is disingenuous, of course, and a well-worn celebrity gambit, but Mayall does it more convincingly than most. He’ll tell you he’s taken the tube to the interview rather than ride in the car that was offered to him. He talks fondly, if guardedly, of his family life at home in Shepherd’s Bush with Barbara, his wife, and his two children — Rosemary, six and Sidney, four. And pacing around the room in a navy blue suit and sensible brogues, he certainly looks ordinary. If you can put to one side the fatty childishness an d extraordinary lunacy that he brings to may on his roles, he can look disarmingly like a second-rate adman with his top button undone and M&S tie at half mast. It’s just that this adman is trying to sell you Rik Mayall, “an ordinary bloke who happens to act.”

“I’m very defensive because I want to keep my life ordinary,” he says. “That’s a very important word in my life – ordinary. My ordinary upbringing, my ordinary family life. I have a yearning for excitement, which is satisfied by my job, but I also have a yearning to be ordinary.”

Even his friends and colleagues emphasize it, unprompted, as one of the first things to note about him. “I thought, as a comic, he would be exhausting and completely off the wall,” says Helena Bonham Carter. “But he’s just very, very straightforward and completely normal.” Maurice Gran agrees, if reluctantly: “I’d much rather say he was nasty and depraved and does a lot of drugs paid for by gun-running. But he’s just a well-brought-up, middle-class boy with good manners.”

What Mayall is best at, thought, is keeping himself hidden. Part of his is masked by a very actorly, showbizzy, self-consciousness. He is vain (but has the grace to admit it), and pleased with himself. For someone who confesses to being fascinated by the humour inherent in the human condition, he makes few jokes about himself. Rik Mayall is almost completely unself-deprecatory.

Part of his enigma is also explained by the fact that he rarely gives interviews, in order, he says, to maintain the mystery and illusion of his comedy. “Interviews are really damaging to me,” he says. “I don’t want people to see me as I really am because the work loses half its power. If people know too much about me, they will be less surprised by the jokes.”

He is also reluctant to appear on chat shows. Recently, for example, he declined and offer of 10,000 to be a guest on Jonathan Ross’ Saturday Zoo with the excuse that he was “too busy”. And unlike many of his contemporaries, he has refused to walk into the very open and lucrative arms of advertising. Not for him the high-profile joys of Persil, Mercury and Alliance & Leicester. “I did do a commercial for a chocolate bar called 54321 when I first started, but I don’t do them now,” he says. “To be honest, it makes me feel a bit unclean. I feel I always need to be able to communicate immediately with an audience. If they see me telling a lie for money, I lose a lot to their trust.”

Most of all, he remains hidden behind the panoply of paranoid, weak, lonely and nasty characters he has played. He has said his characters come from inside — that they are exorcisms of parts of his personality that he dislikes or feels insecure about. Kevin Turvey, the gormless Brummie investigative reporter from A Kick Up The Eighties, was about “acting out my obsession with myself and showbusiness.” And Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman is “just a completely sneaky bastard”.

It is tempting to see Mayall as B’Stard incarnate. He will admit to being unforgiving and “occasionally lethal is people fuck about with me”. Certainly, during an early wild child period, he was seen to smash a glass over a man’s head as a drunken party joke. And most controversially, there are the tabloid tales of his messy break-up seven years ago with pregnant girlfriend and fellow Young Ones writer Lise Mayer. He will not discuss it, not even to put the record straight, but he has been criticized for the seemingly perfunctory way he left her to marry Barbara Robbin, also pregnant at the time.

But Rik Mayall is not quite the desperado that his characters and occasional miscreances might have you believe. “I don’t know why I’m attracted to failed, horrible sociopaths. You could say that’s what I’m really like, but with my hand on my heart, that’s not true. You could say in order to socialise myself, I have to repress these nasty things in me, so they come out on stage. You could say, probably more accurately, that my style of performance is very revealing – you see the hidden secrets of my characters. It makes the audience think they’re in the know.”

In many ways his ability to play Ordinary Rik is a function of his stable upbringing. Born in the wonderfully named village Matching Tye, just outside Harlow in Essex, on March 7, 1958, Mayall had a childhood that could not have been more conducive to an acting career. Both his parents were drama teachers who met at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. When Rik was three, the family moved to Droitwich and his father took up a lecturing post at the nearby Shenstone College, where he taught until he retired in 1980. (Rik has a two-year older brother, Anthony, and two younger sisters, Libby, 30 who works for a record company, and Kate, 25, who is studying for a Ph.D. in psychology.)

Rik made his stage debut at the age of six playing an urchin in his father’s production of Brecht’s The Good Woman Of Setzuan at the local theatre. “I had to put on raggedy old clothes and it didn’t matter how messy I got — in fact the messier the better. I had to go on stage, open a dustbin, ruffle through the rubbish, find a bar of chocolate, eat it, get as much chocolate over my face as possible, show my face to the audience, and get a big laugh. And I just thought, this is paradise – this is what I want for the rest of my life.”

There was little to distract him. “There was lots of countryside, lots of getting on my bike and going off for the day and lots of climbing trees with my mates, but mostly we were a family family, we were just all together, all the time. We enjoyed each other’s company and didn’t really need outsiders.”

Even though he “hashed up” his A-Levels, getting two C’s and an E, he went to Manchester University on clearing to read drama. Once there he performed lunchtimes at The Band On The Wall club with a comedy group called Twentieth-Century Coyote which included long-standing sidekick Ade Edmondson), he appeared at the 1978 National Student Drama Festival, where he picked up the Boris Karloff award for the most outrageous ham; and he lived in a student house (now demolished) in East Didsbury that would form part of the inspiration for The Young Ones, written by two university friends — Lise Mayer and Ben Elton.

Although Mayall would shortly become associated with the new vanguard of alternative, left-wing comics who were to break the British comedy mould in the late Seventies, his time at Manchester was closer to Bacchus than Marx. “There was a big split in my year between the right-on worthies and the good time gits,” he says. “I was a good time git. There were an awful lot of Red Spanner, Red Trousers, Red Ladder-type theatre companies doing Marxism for three-year-olds which was not sexy and not fun to watch. So we just avoided that because it was dull. Basically we used to take the piss. They’d be on the steps of the union shouting ‘Morning Star’ and we’d shout back ‘Morning, love!”

He toured England and America with the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company playing Dromio of Syracuse in The Comedy Of Errors, went to Edinburgh Festival to perform Death On The Toilet, a 40-minute play he had written with Edmondson, and by the end of 1979 was in London performing regularly at the newly formed comedy hothouse, Soho’s Comedy Store. By the time he had moved on to the nearby Comic Strip, Mayall had been seriously spotted, and the TV offers followed. A Kick Up The Eighties, The Comic Strip Presents… and, crucially, two series of The Young Ones.

 It is difficult now to appreciate the impact The Young Ones had on a whole TV generation. It was wild, anarchic, loud and low. Teenagers adopted the foursome’s accent, mannerisms and catch phrases, “Hippie” became a universal term of abuse. It predated Piz and downgraded Python. The great British sitcom has never quite recovered.

Mayall had never left behind this desire to get over-excitable and misbehave, continuing it (with darker and more desperate undertones) in Bottom, written again with Edmondson, but he has been careful to develop other sides to his character-based comedy. Most importantly, he has played the worringly popular Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman. “I love fart jokes and all the stupid trousers-down stuff,” he says, “but they don’t actually give me the range to project everything I’m experiencing. I need something else.”

Not that Mayall hasn’t made mistakes. Drop Dead Fred, written expressly for him and trumpeted as his big Hollywood break, may have made money all over the world, but to many it was simply Manic Mayall writ large. And while contemporaries like Robbie Coltrane and French & Saunders laughed off offers to appear in the lamentable Carry On Columbus, Mayall sailed blithely on, steered by a laudable if cavalier desire to be a part of a great British comedy tradition. “Sure I wasn’t at my best, and I sort of knew it would be crap, but I thought, fuck it, I want to be in a Carry On — there might not be any more.”

His theatre performances have also met with mixed reviews. While he was praised for his comic, cackling interpretation of Khlestakov in Gogol’s The Government Inspector at the National and his very desperate, yet very funny, portrait of would-be TV star Nick in Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit, he has also been accused of having a self-indulgent acting style and a limited technique. The harshest criticism was left for his most ambitious project to date: Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. While few critics could find fault in Mayall and Edmondson’s vaudevillian reading of the play, many argued it was at the expense of its contrapuntal bleakness, pain and existential desolation. The Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker even ventured “This is not acting, it is showing off.”

“The critics were wrong, that’s all,” Mayall responds, bullishly. “I say, fuck them, really. Because it was the best production of Godot there has ever been.” What, ever? “Well, I didn’t see the original production , because I wasn’t alive, but yes.”

The confidence of mania and mainstream brings him to an interesting stage in his career. While his current ten-week, 43-date regional tour of Bottom both reaffirms his “marriage made in the lav” with Edmondson and keeps his slapstick traditions alive, his most challenging roles lie within the Rik Mayall Presents trilogy, which feature Mayall in much straighter TV roles than we have seen before. In Mickey Love, for example, the best of the three, he’s a bit bungling but benign northern game show host grappling with alcoholism and rumours that he’s about to be axed.

“There will be people who will be disappointed because they, are not out and out comedies,” he says, “but I hope they will get as much pleasure from the stories as from the laughs. This is the most exciting aspect of my career at present. I realize now I’ve only scratched the surface of what I can do.”

In the meantime, Rik Mayall seems to have other things on his mind. Still up on his feet at the Groucho Club, he is smoking his twelfth cigarette. He is at the window now, motionless for a moment, looking down at the street. “I hop e I’m a good person, but I’d like to know what it’s all about.”

He begins pacing the room again, hands in pockets. “A lot of comedy is about passing the time in the waiting room. I don’t know what we’re waiting for, and I don’t know what’s on the other side, but what do we do while we’re all sitting around bored and feeling slightly nervous? We may as well have a good time and entertain people. I enjoy entertaining them, they enjoy being entertained.” He moves forward, faces me, and lets out a stifled snigger. “What I like best in all the world is hearing the sound of laughter.”