Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Category: 2003

Rik Returns to Where He Was a Young One

This Is Worcestershire, 21st January 2003

Just getting to interview Rik Mayall was quite a feat in itself. Our phone calls criss-crossed in mid-air like tracer bullets until, at around 3:30pm on Christmas Eve afternoon, they finally collided.

“Hang on to that man,” Rik had urged his receptionist. “It’s the good old Evening News, the most important paper in the country!”

At the time, he was sitting in his agent’s office with another phone to his ear, winding up a conversation with another journalist. But a chat with us had apparently been top priority all day.

After a 30-second delay and a hasty goodbye to his other caller, he was there.

“Gotcha,” he cried. “Now we must talk. I’m relying on you to put bums on seats at Malvern.”

Relying on me is always a dodgy proposition, so it’s a good job Rik Mayall is a big enough name not to have to.

Anyway, Malvern Festival Theatre is a home game for him, so there should be a healthy turnout of fans when he opens in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter later this month.

Family from Droitwich, former Worcester King’s School pupil, appearances as a youngster at Worcester’s Swan Theatre… he’s got half the county in his back pocket before he starts.

Even more so here, because Rik Mayall fits this play as if to the manner born.

“It’s about a bloody good looking, charismatic, 40-something actor, who reckons he’s really something. Remind you of anyone?” he enquired.

“I loved the script as soon as I saw it. It’s so funny I almost broke a rib laughing.”

Set in the glamorous world of Jazz Age theatre, Present Laughter was written by Noel Coward as a vehicle for himself and the lead role was always regarded as autobiographical.

Does Rik see himself as the modern-day Coward?

“No, I’m better looking than him!” he laughed. “Seriously, I’ve always loved his better-known stuff and this is right up my street.

“In fact, I’ve been thinking for a while about doing something about middle age and the male menopause and it was there all the time.”

The play is all about a clash of egos between light comedy actor Garry Essendine and his entourage as he sets of for a tour of Africa.

The tour of Present Laughter is, for the moment, going all round Britain, with Rik particularly looking forward to his week in Malvern.

“A chance to catch up with old mates. See you there,” he said.

Mind you, if the phone calls are anything to go by, we’ll probably spend the evening wandering round the theatre bar missing each other by miles.


Rik Mayall Steps into Noel Coward’s Shoes

This Is Local London, 24th January 2003

My phone rings. “Hello darling, it’s Rik,” and straight away the famous Rik Mayall charm has begun to work its magic.

Giggling unashamedly, I attempt to pull myself together and get down to the task in hand, that is, asking the popular British comic about his latest role as the egotistical charmer Garry Essendine in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter.

Outrageous flirting and naughty innuendoes feature prominently from the outset of our interview, and it soon becomes obvious why Rik is perfectly cast for his new role. As he oozes charm down the phone, I am as much putty in his hands as I imagine the audience will be when he takes to the stage as the flamboyantly dressing-gowned and devastatingly handsome Essendine, a part Coward admitted writing as a vehicle for his own talent.

“Picture a man in his early 40s who has been in light comedy for 20 years and has started to get a bit of a paunch and a receding hair line. He is very, very, very vane, adores talking about himself and has tantrums if he is not centre of attention. Can you imagine why they thought of me?”

Set in the glamorous world of 1930s theatre, Present Laughter is a comic exaggeration of the whirlwind life Coward led in his heyday.

“Garry is reaching menopause and is too old for all that flamboyant showing off. He’s not quite as good as he was at it, unlike me who is as great as ever,” says the ever-modest Mayall.

“Wait until you see the finery of the 1930s fashions. I am on Sweetex at the moment so that I will be all thin and sexy in my costume.”

Famed for his loud, brash and often violent characters, the boisterous comedian does not seem an obvious choice of actor to star in a Noel Coward play. Rik begs to differ.

“Garry is not so far away from the main thrust of all my characters: vanity, a big ego, lots of sex. He’s very similar to Richie Rich in Filthy, Rich and Catflap.

“I hadn’t come across this play before but when I read the script I thought it was fantastically funny. Garry is so witty, so spiteful, so cruel. It’s just lovely.”

Rik is keen to get across the darker side to the play, which often gives subtle hints of the looming threat of war.

“Present Laughter is written on a serious note. Something very nasty is about to happen, which is very appropriate for us at the moment with a war seemingly imminent.”

Live theatre is a medium of entertainment which is obviously close to Rik’s heart. Even when filming a television series, he insists on a live audience being present.

“You have to have a live audience. The comedy is so much better as you get the timing from the audience’s reaction.”

Rik seems to have in mind a clear career shift to put theatre work over television. In a rare moment, he puts on his serious hat when considering what he sees as a decline in the quality of television.

“Theatre is the coming form of entertainment. Telly has kept it in the background for 40 years but now that has keeled over and died. Telly has had its day. l’ve been there and done that.

“The real expertise is now in the theatre. I prefer it by far to TV. There is no one who can control me; no editor cutting out bits and no one saying that I shouldn’t say certain things as it will upset some politician. If you want drama, go to the theatre, that’s where drama was invented. Me and Ade’s [Adrian Edmondson] hearts have always been in the theatre.”

Having met at college in the late 70s, ‘Richie and Eddie’ have had a long and successful friendship, mainly involving repeatedly beating each other up, although clever timing has meant that almost always no blood is spilt.

However, a slight misjudgement in distances during rehearsals in Southport for the theatre version of the hit TV series Bottom did result in a concussed Edmondson being rushed off to hospital for stitches after his co-star hit him over the head with a bat.

With a comedy partnership spanning 27 years, I ask if Adrian is his comedy soul mate.

“He is my comedy servant. I am the talented one. I dictate the script and he types it up; occasionally I allow him a one-liner feed for me,” he jokes.

Managing to interrupt the loquacious comic, I ask him, with such a packed working schedule, what he does to relax.

“I watch old vids of me or I often put a mirror in front of the telly and look at myself. Sometimes I go upstairs and look at the mirror up there, or I go for a drive as there’s a good mirror in the car.

“If I did have time to relax, I would probably sit talking about myself until I pass out.”

With an infectious enthusiasm for his current project, Rik is keen to encourage others to get out and experience live theatre.

“I don’t want the audience to be only people who already know Noel Coward, although, of course, we want them to come along too. It is for people who perhaps haven’t been to the theatre before and want something a bit different, who want a laugh, so come and get it.”

With vanity, the menopause and a large cast of ten actors on stage all having it off with each other (I have censored the vocabulary as best I can), I don’t think Rik will have any trouble drawing in the crowds.

Rik Mayall: My Dodgy Driving Shame

Exclusive by Claire Donnelly for The Daily Mirror, 9th July 2003

It takes a lot to humble comedian Rik Mayall.

But after being convicted twice in four days for speeding – and given a three-month driving ban – the usually extrovert star is looking understandably subdued.

There is only a trace of his trademark manic grin as Rik sighs and admits: “What else can I say? I was an idiot.

“I want to hold my hands up in the Daily Mirror and say, ‘I’m really stupid. I’m a complete t**t’.”

Rik, 45, was banned from driving and fined �000 last Friday after being caught doing 113mph on the M5 in April.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Bottom star was up before Exeter magistrates again on Monday after hitting 65mph on a 50mph stretch of the same motorway in his new Mercedes S320.

The offence earned him another fine and three points on his licence.

The stupidity of it is not lost on Rik, who almost died after a quad bike accident four years ago.

He says: “I don’t want to sound like I’m moralising, but speeding is stupid.

It’s not something I’m embarrassed to talk about because I admit I’ve been stupid.

“The first time I was on my way back from writing with Ade Edmondson.

“I drove straight past a police car and I remember thinking, ‘Oh f***, I’m going really fast’. I came off the motorway and they followed me off and pulled me over. They were actually really nice – one of them even asked me for an autograph – but that only made me feel more stupid about it.

“I pleaded guilty by letter – I wasn’t being starry, that’s just the way they do it – so the first thing I knew about the ban was when I came home on Friday and my cleaning lady said to me, ‘Hey, Rik, you’re banned’.

“She’d heard it from her son, who’d seen it on TV. I rang him and his reaction was, ‘You got banned for three months but that’s not all – you got fined  ha ha ha’, then he slammed the phone down. But good on him, he’s right. I deserve a bit of stick.

“It was my first offence but I can safely say I’ve learnt my lesson.”

Charmingly honest, in typically blunt fashion, he adds: “I was a t**t basically and I don’t want to try and excuse myself in any way.

“The second time I was doing 65mph in a 50mph zone – on my way to Ade’s again I think.

“But from now on I’m going to drive like a pensioner – at 20mph.” There might be a twinkle in his eye as he says it, but the former Young One’s family will be glad to hear that.

Wife Barbara and children Rosie, 16, Sidney, 13, and Bonnie, seven, are understandably protective over the husband and father they nearly lost.

They held a bedside vigil for him after he was crushed by a quad bike while riding on their Devon farm in April 1998.

Rik suffered two brain haemorrhages and a fractured skull in the accident that left him in a week-long coma. Doctors weren’t sure if he would survive, but he pulled through.

Understandably, since then, his family have been keen for him to be careful – much to his annoyance.

“My family weren’t very pleased,” he says. “My wife already thinks I’m a c**p driver, and she worries about me driving anyway. I’m a really s*** driver, I’m s*** at driving anything.

“Even before my accident, I couldn’t drive, I certainly couldn’t drive a quad bike. Put it this way, if we go anywhere as a family, it’s the wife that does the driving.”

While the ban is in place, Rik – who usually commutes between his north London and Devon homes in his Mercedes – is reduced to using cabs or taking the London Underground.

But surprisingly, his first taste of the public transport network for almost 20 years, has been a good one.

He says: “I’ve been using the Tube and the buses a lot. People always find that hard to believe – like it’s a strange thing to do if you’re famous.

“Yes, you get recognised and people come up and say ‘hi’ or ask for an autograph but that’s fine. I’ve had builders shouting out, ‘Where’s your car, Rik?’ – which is very funny and no more than I deserve.

“The only thing that will be difficult is going on tour. I’ve thought about buying a horse, but maybe I’ll hitch or get one of my kids to ferry me about on a combine-harvester.”

Roaring with laughter, he adds: “Or what about a quad bike…”

Currently rehearsing for the new UK tour of Bottom: Weapons Grade Y-Fronts Tour with comedy partner Edmondson, transport isn’t Rik’s only worry.

The show, based on the love-hate relationship between psychopathic housemates Richie and Eddie, is set to be the most extravagant – and violent – they have staged. Not the most sensible option for a man who suffered serious head injuries.

Rik says: “I’m nervous about doing such a physical show and I have to be careful otherwise this could end up as the first live snuff stage show.”

As he bounds around the room, barefoot in Hawaiian shirt and beige shorts – his Birkenstock sandals have been thrown off earlier – posing for our photographer, it’s hard to imagine Rik ever calming down.

“Even though we’re getting older, it’s probably our most energetic show yet but I’ve been going running and getting ready for it,” he says.

“As long as it’s funny, we’ll still be doing shows when we’re pensioners. Why not?”

As he flashes another cheeky grin, it’s impossible not to believe him.

Rik Mayall Lucky Star

E-Motion, November-December 2003

From the day he made a hash of his A levels to the life changing “Crap Thursday”, comedian Rik Mayall has always kept a smile on his face. Rebecca Gooch finds him savouring his life in his south-west hideaway

When Rik Mayall wakes each morning at his Devon farmhouse, the first thing he sees is a tiny reminder of how lucky he is to be alive. Perched on a V-shaped piece of wood by his bed is a chunky silver ring in the shape of a skull and crossbones, given to him by his son Sidney.

“We call it my cheating-death ring,” says the actor best known for his sneery, leery comedy creations—uncharacteristically subdued for a moment.

A few minutes earlier, he had bounded cheerily into the room, looking glowing and healthy in jeans and brogues. His dark hair, with the odd tell-tale streak of grey, flops over a lightly tanned and frequently smiling face that manages to be both scary and seductive.

But get him alone and ask him about the aftermath of what he calls his “smack from God”, and the 45-year-old rogue mellows into a softer, more sensitive beast.

Rewind to the Thursday before Easter 1998—or “Crap Thursday”, as he now refers to it—and you would have found Rik arriving at his seven-acre farm at East Allington, near Kingsbridge, to find his wife Barbara busily making curtains and his three children, Rosie, now 17, Sidney, 15, and Bonnie, eight, happily playing around her.

Itching to get out into the countryside after an intensive burst of filming in London, he decided to go for a trundle over the fields on the quad bike that Barbara had given him for Christmas. Bonnie and her three-year-old cousin Red asked if they could come for the ride but, as Rik pulled the 600lb bike out of the garage, spots of rain fell on his arm.

“I pulled them on to the fuel tank in front of me, then I thought, ‘Whoa, this is stupid, Rik, you don’t want the kids getting soaked.’ So I sent them back inside,” he remembers, dragging a hand through his hair. “But I’d just got down to Devon after a lot of work and I wanted to get some fresh air into my lungs. I knew the rain wouldn’t hurt me…”

He shudders as he thinks how those few spots of rain probably saved the two little girls’ lives. Because, as everyone now knows, the quad bike somehow toppled on to Rik, leaving him with such severe head injuries that newspapers rushed to prepare his obituary.

His wife found him lying on his back staring sightlessly at a stormy sky, blood seeping from his ears, nose and mouth. He was taken by air ambulance to Derriford hospital in Plymouth, where he dipped in and out of a coma for a week. He suffered two brain haemorrhages and the slightest movement could have proved fatal. But even though he survived, the battle wasn’t done. He may have been alive, but would he be brain damaged?

When he came round, he could only grunt. Rik’s acting partner Ade Edmonson, who was by his bed, tried to mask his shock by joking that he needn’t worry, they’d set the next series of Bottom in the Stone Age, so they could both just grunt.

In hospital he experienced bouts of bizarre behaviour and memory loss, which he now refers to as his Mr Loony phase.  He muddled words—asking for a bike when he wanted a biscuit, and requesting lesbians, instead of paper, to write on. He couldn’t work for five months.  Anxiously he eased back into the water with a voice-over for an animated children’s film. Then came the film Guest House Paradiso with Ade, several spells in the theatre and a new TV series.

At the beginning of October this year he packed his cheating-death ring and 25-year-old lucky blue underpants, and went on the road with Ade for a massive 40-date national Bottom: Weapons Grade Y-Fronts tour.

Audiences should brace themselves for the usual Bottom cocktail: slapstick violence and humour so lavatorial it should come with a complementary squirt of Domestos.

“It’s been 28 years since our first fart joke and I think we’re writing better than ever now,” Rik says proudly. “We may go off and do other little things elsewhere, but we keep coming back to this partnership.

“Ade really is my best mate, and our relationship is the longest one I’ve had apart from with my parents. It’s like a kind of marriage, I suppose. We’re Yin and Yang. Chi-Chi and what was the other one? An-An? But I have to keep telling him, Chi-Chi, sorry, but I will not have sex with you.”

There he goes again—he simply can’t resist it. Just when you think he’s being serious, he can’t help topping it with something outrageous. He’s on the go constantly, a restless fidget whose hands move, body twists and eyes roll dramatically to add visual emphasis to everything he says.

Next to him, Ade seems positively Zen-like.

The anarchic duo met at Manchester University in 1975, after Rik had managed to scrape a place reading Drama. “I made a hash of my A levels with two Cs and an E, because of trouble with my hormones,” he reveals with a sad nod. “Ade had long straggly hair, little John Lennon glasses and really ripped trousers, and I thought he was totally cool and wanted to be his pal.”

But Rik—who was christened Richard and then changed his name in homage to the comic-strip character Erik the Viking—confesses that Ade’s inital impression of him was not so cool.

“At our first lecture, when the professor walked in, I stood up, because that’s what we’d done at school when the teacher entered. But I was the only one who did. The other 30 laughed their pants off. I felt a total prat.”

Maybe Rik’s respect for teachers came from his parents, who both taught drama and encouraged him to act.  The bug bit when he was eight and his father cast him as an urchin in Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan.  “I had to rummage in a dustbin and find a bar of chocolate, then smear it around my face before turning to the audience. I got a big laugh and thought, ‘This is paradise—this is what I want for the rest of my life!’” he chirrups. “I’ve always been a show-off. I always had to be the centre of attention.”

Attention seeking is something he later went on to parody in the characters he created. “My keynote has always been my ego, I’ve always played the self-obsessional,” he growls. “If you look at the links between the characters I’ve made, whether it’s Alan B’Stard, Kevin Turvey, Ritchie from Bottom or Rik from The Young Ones, it’s about self, self, self.”

Is that because he dislikes that side of his own personality, perhaps? “One always plays against type and I’m terribly modest, don’tcha know,” he sighs theatrically. “I often mix among ordinary people. I have taken the tube and I love to meet poor people. And I talk to them occasionally too, and sometimes give my autograph for free. I’m terribly lovely and terribly good-looking. Although tragically my hairline is receding a little…but lah-di-dah!”

He tosses his head back with such a flourish, I fear whiplash. It is not only interviews that Rik treats as just another opportunity to perform—he treats life the same way. He is a compulsive entertainer, usually swaying between unjustified self-deprecation—“Please tell the world I’m not a sad, fat, old has-been”—to outrageous self-love—“If I did have time to relax I would probably sit talking about myself until I pass out”.

“Making people laugh is still a thrill for me,” he says. “It’s got to be the best job in the world—after Kylie Minogue’s thong adjuster,” he grins.

Ade Edmonson felt the same and, inspired by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Goons, Tommy Cooper, and Morecambe and Wise, they formed the 20th Century Coyote Group, and began writing and performing a comedy show that they took to the Edinburgh Festival.  One of their favourite larks at university was to wind up the left wingers selling copies of the Morning Star on the Student Union steps. “They’d call ‘Morning Star’, and we’d shout ‘Morning Darling!’” he hoots.

Together they would sit and drink enormous amounts of Colt 45 long into the night, cook chips and work on ideas by talking into a tape recorder. It was their shared student house in Manchester, where Ade used to like driving his motorbike up the stairs, that spawned the cult hit The Young Ones and launched their careers.

Then came The Comic Strip Presents… series, which was largely filmed around Exeter and Devon. Co-founder Peter Richardson was born in Devon, where his parents ran a summer camp for schoolchildren, so he knew just where to go to get the best location shots.

As a result of their happy experiences filming in the south-west, Rik and fellow strippers Ade and his wife Jennifer Saunders now live there. “Jennifer has bought North Devon for him,” Rik explains. “I own South Devon. I think Ade was a bit misguided. He thought it was Hampstead. I don’t know what Jennifer is doing—there aren’t any shops! She’s probably wandering the moors in the rain, looking for Miss Selfridge or something.”

Rik bought the farm near Kingsbridge in 1997 and now finds himself spending more time there than at his London house. “It’s my only indulgence,” he says. “Every time I earn a bit more money, we build a new wall.”

Meanwhile Ade and Jennifer live in a 400-year-old farmhouse near Exeter, with four cows and a flock of rare-breed sheep grazing on their 45 acres. “He’s into bestiality,” says Rik, waving his hand dismissively. So does he have any livestock himself?

“Yes, dear. They’re called children,” he snorts, then instantly softens as he describes how he fell in love at first sight with his wife Barbara. She was a make-up artist called in to paint on the acne that helped transform him into super-nerd Kevin Turvey, the boring Brummie character in sketch show A Kick up the Eighties.

“It sounds very romantic, but it’s absolutely true. She walked past me in the corridor while I was dressed as this little scruff in an anorak and I thought, ‘Oh, there she is!’ That honestly was the feeling I had inside, like some kind of recognition. But I think she fell in love with Kevin Turvey, and thought he was cute and made her laugh. Then she met me and was disappointed.”

They got married on a cliff-top in Barbados, and he now calls her the kindest, wisest, strongest person he knows. “She was always telling me to live more in the moment and, after Crap Thursday, I do appreciate life more now. I look to the sky sometimes and wonder why I’m still here. I know I’m incredibly lucky.

“The ring Sid bought me is something to do with spitting in fate’s eye. It was meant to get me and it didn’t—and now I thank God for every day. When I wear the ring I put it on my left hand because I’m a left-hander. So it’s on my punching fist. Nothing dare touch me now…”

Rik Mayall Acts Up

icCroydon, Frbruary 2003

Zany star of countless top comedy shows, Rik Mayall goes posh. He talks to Diana Eccleston.

Flamboyantly vain and devastatingly handsome. Who can that possibly be? Well, actually it’s the publicity blurb for Present Laughter and its leading character Garry Essendine.

But it could apply equally to Rik Mayall, who is bringing the matinée idol Essendine to life in a new touring production of Noël Coward’s classic, sophisticated comedy.

It is a glorious portrait of an elegant and witty life. Essendine is about to set off on an extended tour of Africa; lots of friends, family and hangers-on decide to pay him a visit and the stage is set for a battle of glittering egos.

“Noel claims he wrote it for himself. It’s a great comedy act. Essendine has been famous for 20 years, is getting a bit paunchy and a bit bald. I couldn’t resist it, and I’m having a fantastic time.”

Since a terrible quad bike accident five years ago in which he nearly died, and was in a coma for five days, Mayall has even more of a lust for life than he had before.

He says this role is a particularly significant one for him since his previous low-key appearance at the venue in the comedy A Family Affair. “That was my first time back on stage after the accident so I had a low profile part. It was okay, so now I’ve got a much better role in Noel’s play. It’s all about me. I swan about in a dressing gown and do a lot of snogging.”

The thing with Rik Mayall is that you never know when he’s being serious and when he’s joking. He turns nearly every serious subject on its head and says a lot of things – entirely unprintable – to get a laugh.

I tell him that previous productions of Present Laughter which I’ve seen didn’t feature much snogging. “Oh yes there is. There’s a young nymphet, my mistress, wife and secretary, and I snog them all,” he inists, laughing that famous dirty laugh of his.

Hilarity is never far away – intentionally or unintentionally – in Present Laughter: “I’m finding it hard not to corpse on stage. The brilliant actor playing my manager, Gerrard McArthur, makes his character so disgustingly slimy I just can’t look at him without laughing. The cast are so great. Like a new Comic Strip team.”

Mayall, who will be 45 next month, loves the theatre and the proximity it gives to his adoring public. “TV and film are dead art forms. Very 20th century. Theatre is the thing and I’m going to devote the next 25 years of my career to it. I like the sound of live laughter. I play up to a live audience.

“It gives you the timing, the curve and swerve. You become their plaything. You have a genuine intercourse with them. Emotional intercourse, I mean, of course.”

Mayall has certainly clocked up a loyal following of fans with his outrageous creations in The Young Ones, The Comic Strip and Bottom, as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, and Flashheart in Blackadder.

Movies have included Drop Dead Fred, Guest House Paradiso and Bring Me The Head Of Mavis Davis. And almost Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone.

Mayall was engaged to play the mischievous ghost Peeves but his role ended up on the cutting room floor. Peeved was not the word for how the actor felt. He elaborates a crazy story as to why the axing of poor Peeves came about, which I can’t quite believe.

“But I got the cash: that’s all that matters.”

Still he and his family were invited to the première. “I was on stage with Ade (his old friend Adrian Edmondson) in Liverpool doing our Bottom tour at the time so I couldn’t go. But mummy and the kids (wife Barbara and children Rosie, Sydney and Bonnie) went.

“We didn’t tell Bonnie (seven) I wasn’t in it because we didn’t want her to be disappointed. She thought Robbie (Coltrane, who plays giant Hagrid) was me and that the make-up was brilliant. My wife says I should have played Gilderoy Lockhart in the new film.”

Despite his disparaging comments about movies, Mayall is awaiting the release of a new one called Oh Marbella. “I play a bad man who has to kill people. A sexy but horrible time-share salesman.”

And what next?

“Oh bum!” Is this the name of a new show? “No. It means I’ve got to go and do the next interview. Someone’s making rude signs at me.”

And off he goes, to spread his unique brand of fun to more people.

Rik Does it Coward’s Way

BBC.co.uk, February 2003

Katy Lewis just about managed to suppress her helpless giggles enough to ask Rik Mayall about his latest role in Present Laughter(at the Wycombe Swan this week) and why he’ll take theatre over TV anytime.

I answered my phone with my usual office greeting. It was Rik Mayall.

“Ahh Haaa Beds, Herts and Bucks. That just about sums me up” he replied. “I like bedding girls, stealing their hearts and getting lots of bucks – and by that I mean cash – not male deer!” he explained in a tone that was pure Captain Flashheart!

And this just about set the tone for the whole interview. Him simply oozing charm and innuendo and me giggling like a demented hyena. Rik as ‘Rik’ in The Young Ones– a typical pose!

Ever since I was casually flicking channels in 1983, and came across Rik Mayall being beaten around the head with a cricket bat by Alexi Sayle in The Young Ones, he had been a man who could be doing something as mundane as making a cup of tea and I would be helpless with laughter.

I never dreamed that they same thing would happen during an interview but he is so genuinely funny (OK – I confess I’m a bit of a fan!) that I couldn’t help myself. But despite losing my drift on a number of occasions, I managed to pull myself together enough to ask him about his latest role as Garry Essendine in Coward’s Present Laughter.

Coward admitted that he wrote this comedy as a vehicle for his own talent, with a lead role in Garry Essendine that was very close to the autobiographical. Rik now stars as the charismatic charmer, and as the conversation continues it becomes obvious that the part is just made for him. With a mixture of wit and charm, he puts you under his spell immediately.

The character of Essendine is described as “an egotistical charmer fearing the onset of middle age” which just begs the question, “Is Garry like Rik Mayall?”

“I’ve been playing it for two weeks now and it’s me” says Rik. “In fact, when I read the script I thought this is uncanny, I AM Garry Essendine. A man in his early 40s, he thinks he’s funny, good looking and very horny!”

“It’s also alluded to in the script that young boys like him so he’s a bit of a gay icon as well” he adds.

‘So there’s something for everyone then’ I ventured. “Yes – come and get it Beds, Herts and Bucks” he responded, effortlessly slipping into Flashheart again.

“It’s also a snogathon” he continues, “I’m actually snogging for cash” he laughs. For some reason I attempt a joke and say that I tried that once too. There’s just something about this man that draws out the comedian (however weak) in you, or maybe I was just flirting. “Were you a kissogram then?” he fires back.

Dragging myself back to the job in hand, I try to find out where his latest character sits in comparison to some of his other roles. In a theatrical career lasting well over 20 years, Rik Mayall is famed for playing characters that are loud, brash and often quite violent, not exactly Cowardesque. So while Rik Mayall is like Garry, is Essendine like any of the other characters that he is famous for.

“The character is about self obsession, using other people and being very horny” he says (I get the feeling that the ‘horny’ bit is important!). “In that way he is probably closest to Richie Rich in Filthy Rich and Catflap” he adds. “Whereas the Young Ones was about destroying rock and roll, that [Filthy Rich and Catflap] was about destroying fame and love and sex” he says.

In this way he introduces the whole theme of the play and reveals that last year he left a TV series that dealt with the same topic, but just didn’t compare.

“Last year I did a couple of weeks of rehearsals for Celeb” he says, talking about the comedy starring Harry Enfield and Amanda Holden, “but I gave it up because the scripts weren’t up to it. That was supposed to be about the nature of fame, about being famous and abusing your fans and Present Laughter is too, it’s just better.”

He is also keen to highlight the glamour and style of the production that is set in 1937. “Girls will love it” he says, “and the more discerning men. It’s very stylish. The costumes are wonderful. The girls wear absolutely beautiful dresses.”

“I don’t though” he reveals. “But I wear a beautiful dressing gown. I’m very sexy in my pyjamas” he continues suggestively. “Yes, just wait until you see me in my jim jams pulled up to my nipples!” Already I can’t wait.

Almost off the topic again, I continue to ask about the play. Coward was seen as the 20th century’s supreme wit, and while his work may be surrounded with comic frills, he was as serious a dramatist as any this country has known.

Present Laughter has a serious side too and there are darker elements within it. Set in the late 30s there are hints towards the threat of an imminent war, which makes it only too relevant to today’s audiences. But Rik feels that it will also appeal to a modern audience because of its humour.

“It is just very, very funny” he says. Coward was a witty verbal writer and this play is full of fantastic one liners.”

Ever the master of the bon mot, Rik knows the importance of a live audience for comedy. Even when filming a television series, it is something he insists on.

“It’s the nature of the performer that I am” he explains. “I’ve always had live audiences” citing The Young Ones, Bottom and Filthy Rich and Catflapto name but a few.

“When you are doing a film there’s a lot of cutting up – and waiting! You spend a lot of time waiting to walk round a corner and say one line.”

“With an audience it’s NOW, there are no editors around. It’s just me and the audience and it’s what I like best. You perform for a different audience each night. People who don’t understand just think that you go out there every night and do the same thing but you don’t – you have to find out who they are and give it to them.”

‘A bit like life’ – I volunteer, instantly realising that I have given him another excuse for more innuendo! “Yes” he says, “the theatre is very sexual. After all, you end up panting, covered in sweat and bending over at the end. That’s the bowing” he explains quickly.

“People have been throwing pants at me too” he says proudly, as I make a mental note to pack my best smalls in my handbag for my visit to the Swan!

I ask if he will answer a few questions about himself. “12 inches” he says. The man is incorrigible!

Normally when I ask performers if they prefer theatre or TV, they reply with something suitably vague along the lines of them being ‘different but it’s good to do both because everything’s a challenge’. Rik however, is much clearer on that point. He loves the theatre.

“I prefer theatre. It’s always been live theatre” he says. But does he think that being so very well known for certain key roles is a help or a hindrance when promoting a run in a play such as this?

“Well, those who know Rik, those who grew up with Rik in The Young Ones want to see what Rik is doing next. It’s like waiting for your favourite band to bring out a new song. If you liked Jumping Jack Flash it doesn’t mean you won’t like Gimme Shelter.”

And in this way, Rik is perfectly placed to encourage people to do something that they might not have done before – go to the theatre!

“It’s an aesthetic campaign of mine” he reveals. “TV is so bad these days. It’s patronising, slight and badly thought out. There’s no good comedy.”

“But if you go to the theatre – well, people don’t realise what fun you can have. You can go with a group of friends and have a great time. Whereas if you go to the cinema, it’s very insular, there’s no intercourse.”

It takes him back to what he really loves about the theatre, being able to connect with your audience, whereas a film is always the same film, it stays the same whoever the audience are.

“Yes” he says, “in the theatre they [the audience] are being entertained, you can adapt to what they want and play certain aspects up.”

So, in a career that has spanned TV, theatre and film, what is he most proud of? Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t go for a specific project. “Survival” he replies without hesitation. “Plus being honest, not compromising, not surrendering, being true to myself. And if I want something I go out and try to get it.”

And what’s been the most fun? Again, he doesn’t have to think. “Performing – and shagging…” he says.

Of course it hasn’t all been laughs. In 1998 he had a quad biking accident which nearly killed him and which left him in a coma. A result of this is that he now has to take epilepsy pills, which means he can’t drink anymore. The thought is horrifying, how does he cope? “Well it’s not a matter of coping, I just can’t or I’ll collapse.”

So does he see life differently since he stopped drinking?

“Yes – it’s a lot less blurred” he replies, quick as a flash. See I’m even feeding him lines now. Rik – if you ever fall out with Ade – give me another call!

Present Laughter: a Review

BBC.co.uk, February 2003

There is certainly not much to laugh about in the world at present – so Katy Lewis was relieved to go to the theatre and just laugh!

With tonnes of sparkling wit and repartee from characters dressed in elegant costumes, this stylish production of Noel Coward’s Present Laughteris quite simply hugely enjoyable.

“I’m always acting,” says Coward’s lead character Garry Essendine in the play. He is, and often overacts to boot, as he juggles his romantic entanglements, with his close circle of friends and business partners.

It’s a hard part to play, to strike the right balance so that the audience can see that the character is overacting but not the actor.

In this production Rik Mayall’s Garry manages it superbly. Ever the master of the one-liner he is perfect for the role as the egotistical charmer and his posturing, preening and comic timing are a delight.

The audience clearly enjoyed this tour de force, particularly his exchanges with William Mannering as the obsessive male fan, Roland Maule, who is a fantastic young comic talent.

Their scenes together were reminiscent of some of the physical comedy that Rik has enjoyed in the past with partners such as Ade Edmondson.

Mayall was supported by an excellent cast including Caroline Harker, from a Touch of Frost, who plays his wife, and all the characters acted with just the right amount of style and poise.

They could have had a hard job with such a powerful figure at the centre of things but they worked perfectly as an ensemble. Garry could bounce off them but they remained great characters in their own right and were never subsumed by him.

With all the laughter, comings and goings through numerous doors and people hiding in various rooms, on the face of it you could be forgiven for thinking that the play was no more than a farce.

But despite appearances, Coward has also written a penetrating play that explores the nature of humanity.

It looks at to what extent we are all actors, and how we all perform differently depending on who our audience are.

In my recent interview with Rik Mayall he talks of how he loves a live audience because he can adapt his performance to what people want that night.

It just goes to show that life is just one big performance and we have to ask whether we are ever who we really think we are.

Garry IS always acting. He is flamboyant, needy and immature but essentially all his friends know what they are dealing with.

They on the other hand harbour secrets which shows that they are performing just as much as Garry in their own way.

Therefore, with impeccable comic timing from a cast who are clearly enjoying themselves, this production makes for a great night out that will have you both laughing out loud and thinking hard as well.

Rogue Mayall

By James Rampton for Daily Express Saturday, 8th-14th November 2003

Despite one brush with death and another with the law, the eternal Young One, Rik Mayall, has no intention of growing old gracefully.

As an extrovert comedian, Rik Mayall is known for shouting a lot and joking about farts and bums. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be serious when he wants to. And now is one of those times, as he rasies the subject of his recent brush with the law.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t talk about the ban, but, in reality, I know that’s never going to happen!” admits Rik, who this summer was fined £1,000 and banned for three months after being arrested for driving at 113mph down the M5. Launching into an extravagant mea culpa, he says: “I don’t want to sound like I’m moralising, but speeding is stupid. I’m not embarrassed to talk about it, because I admit I’ve been reckless. I was an idiot. It was my first offence, but I can safely say I’ve learnt my lesson. From now on, I’m going to drive like a pensioner – at 20mph!”

The 45-year-old funnyman, who’s married to Barbara, and is the proud father of three children, Rosie, 16, Sidney, 13, and Bonnie, 7, is currently touring the country with Ade Edmondson, his double-act partner of 30 years, in their hit show Bottom: Weapons Grade Y-Fronts.

“I’ve thought about buying a horse to get me around while I’m on this tour, but maybe I’ll just get my kids to ferry me about on a combine-harvester. Or perhaps I’ll go out on a quad bike – except mine doesn’t work because it’s all bent!”

This last gag is typical of Rik, who is best-known for playing mad, Cliff Richard obsessed student Rick, in the ground-breaking 80s comedy, The Young Ones. He can make a joke out of even the bleakest events from his own life. Five years ago, after a horrific quad bike accident, he lay in a coma for a week with a fractured skull – doctors said he had a less than 50 per cent chance of making a full recovery Thankfully he defied the medics and is now fighting fit.

Stretched out on a divan in a swanky hotel suite, like Cleopatra expecting to be fed caviar, Rik is on splendid form. Wearing khaki shorts and a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, he showers the room with colourful bursts of wit. But even so, he admits that the traumatic accident has not left him unchanged. For a start, he is not permitted to drink any more. “I am aware I’ve got another chance, so I value stuff more. It’s made me much more appreciative. It may sound cliched, but now I see every day as a new opportunity. I could have been dead, but someone up there said, ‘OK, you can have an extension.’ It’s like being allowed to stay in the pub after hours! Before the accident, half the day was spent drinking and half was spent hungover. Now I can’t drink, I’ve got more time.” He is also, if anything, more exuberant than before. “Since I smashed my head, I feel like I’ve got a lot more freedom.”

Rik’s unique brand of inspired lunacy comes into its own in the live arena. There, he is a stranger to self restraint; he hurls himself into stage routines with a wince-inducing disregard for his own safety. “Last time out, both Ade and I ended up in casualty after a performance in Liverpool. But, if you can believe it, this year’s show has even more danger in it,” says Rik, looking gleeful at the prospect. “There are a lot more explosives and violence. In that sense, this may very well be our last ever tour!” But he and Ade obviously get a kick out of knocking seven bells out of each other. “We adore the slapstick – and so do our audiences. It’s everything everyone has always wanted to do to other people. Our stage characters are acting the way we’d all like to behave, if only we were allowed.”

Snootier critics have dismissed the act as juvenile, lavatory humour. “We’ve got to the stage now where we realise the heavyweight press have got it in for us,” sighs Rik. “But you have to surrender to Bottom in order to fully enjoy it. You have to say, ‘Oh, well, what the hell’ and just dive in. If you don’t, it just looks like a collection of fart jokes, but if you immerse yourself in it and go with the flow, it’s there for your pleasure.”

Although he’s not as young as he once was, Rik shows no sign of losing his appetite for high-energy stage antics. “I love working. It’s what I do best, and if I didn’t work and tried to slow down, I’d just become a boring old fart.” He and Ade still get the same rush from performing as they did when they started out, after meeting at Manchester University 28 years ago. “Our reward is to hear people laughing -that’s why we keep doing it. We’re not doing it for the fame or the money What better way is there to spend your life?”

Despite many years in the business, Rik is proud that he has never ‘sold out’. He still cultivates his status as an outsider, a man with something to prove. “We’ve always tended towards extremism. As we see it, there’s mainstream comedy, then there’s us. We still feel dangerous and we still feel like we’re breaking new ground. We like being in control of what we do. I’ve always had a problem with doing as I’m told – hence my recent little difficulty with the police!” Unable to resist one last gag, he adds: “I’ll always be a rebel, but now I’m a rebel without a driving licence, a rebel without a legal defence, a rebel without a leg to stand on.”

And, leaning back on his divan, Rik Mayall roars with laughter once more.

Flushed with Success

IC Newcastle.co.uk, 27th October 2003

Comedy duo, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, spoke to Will Mapplebeck ahead of their visit the North-East with their new show.

As relationships go, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson are enjoying a comedy partnership that has already outlived most marriages.

It might seem hard to believe, but the fresh-faced comedians have been writing gags together for almost 30 years.

They met as drama undergraduates at Manchester University and went on to help change the face of British comedy when they co-starred in The Young Ones.

But Rik, lounging on a sofa in a chic London hotel, believes their best work lies ahead. Taking precious time out from their new show, Bottom: Weapons Grade Y-Fronts, which hits the North-East next weekend, he says: “It has been 28 years since the first joke, and I think we are writing better than ever now.”

Rik and Adrian have forged a fruitful relationship, producing some of alternative comedy’s finest moments.

As well as The Young Ones, the show that made their anarchic brand of comedy mainstream, they were part of the Comic Strip team and have collaborated on a whole host of other projects.

These days, Rik and Adrian are best known for Bottom – a bizarre comedy of errors and explosions featuring misfits Richie and Eddie.

They bill themselves as two brawling, boozing, bungling bickerers who bring a new meaning to the phrase low life.

And, like The Young Ones, Bottom is all about hands-on, violent comedy. The pair promise “full on destruction” when their show reaches Sunderland Empire and Newcastle City Hall.

And the plot is typically bizarre, featuring a time-travelling toilet, called The Turdis, and an elemental battle between good and evil.

Rik says: “Eddie has always been an inventor of ridiculous machinery. But this time he has turned the lavatory into a laboratory with the aim of making The Lager of Mass Destruction.”

He and Ade travel back to the dawn of time in their toilet, only to discover to their horror that essentials like Emmerdale Farm and handguns have not been invented yet.

Along the way there are a host of explosions and a lot of physical comedy.

“Last time out, both Ade and I ended up in casualty after a performance in Liverpool,” Rik adds. “I opened the bridge of his nose with a metal jug and in retaliation he sliced my forehead open with a spade.

“If you can believe it, this year’s show has even more danger in it. There are a lot more explosives and violence. In that sense, it may be our last ever tour.”

If the comedy duo’s previous live performances are anything to go by, Bottom’s army of devoted fans will be rolling in the aisles when the bangs begin. But what is it about those violent stage antics that attracts audiences?

“It is because watching the show is a sudden release from the usual constraints of polite society,” Rik states.

“When you watch that happening to someone else rather than yourself it brings a tremendous feeling of relief.

“When you really get into the rhythm of the show it brings a real rush.

“You can reach this plane of pleasure where laughter and speed and noise all collide. It is a kind of visual music.”

And despite almost three decades in the comedy game, and a near-fatal accident in which he spent a week in a coma after crashing his quad bike four years ago, Rik doesn’t show any signs of losing his passion for making other people smile.

“We are not doing it for the fame or the money, but for the deep satisfaction of making people laugh,” he says thoughtfully. “What better way is their to spend your life?”

Adrian meanwhile admits that the pair are not “urbane wits”, but says their strength is “performing to the hilt”.

He adds: “That is why it is such an enjoyable live experience. It depends on the audience. It doesn’t work without them being there.”

And according to Adrian, he and Rik are carrying on that great British comedy tradition, finding anything to do with the toilet or bodily functions absolutely hilarious.

“There is a lot of rubbish written about toilet humour – people saying it is childish and pretending its beneath them – but there is no doubting the effectiveness of a really good gag,” he snorts.

But after nearly 30 years, are Adrian and Rik growing tired of each other’s company? Do they get jealous when they team up with other people?

“It only works because we still amuse each other,” smiles Adrian. “After we’ve been off working with other people, it is so refreshing to laugh unreservedly when we are back together again.

“I’m 46 and there are occasions when I am performing Bottom and I think, ‘Is this lacking dignity’? But the answer comes back, ‘Yes, thank God!'”

Rik agrees. While he still gets a buzz out of comedy and out of working with Adrian, there’s no stopping him.

“We’re realising that Bottom is where our hearts lie,” he says. “We may go off and do little jobs elsewhere, but we keep coming back to this partnership. It is a road that just keeps on going.

“We still feel dangerous and we still feel we are breaking new ground. I suppose we like being in control of what we do. I’ve always had a little problem with doing what I am told.”

You’ve Got Mayall

The Evening Standard, 2oth November 2003

Five years ago Rik Mayall almost died in a quad-bike accident. Now, as the latest instalment of Bottom comes to London, he tells Bruce Dessau how his near-death experience awakened his zest for life.

Rik Mayall is cradling my scalp from ear to ear to demonstrate how the surgeon was going to slice off his cranium, like taking the top off a boiled egg. It’s a crisp Saturday morning in the Brighton Hilton and I thought we’d be discussing Bottom his slapstick double act with Ade Edmondson rather than his head. But the conversation always returns to the near-fatal quad bike accident on his Devon farm on Thursday 9 April, 1998. ‘He had to clear out some blood that was sloshing around dangerously. Luckily, the next time I went back it had cleared by itself.’ The event even crops up in the current show, Bottom: Weapons Grade Y-Fronts, in which Mayall reprises his role as scrofulous loser Richie with Ade Edmondson as his psychopathic sidekick, Eddie. When Edmondson whacks him on the temple a dazed Mayall exclaims, ‘Quad bike flashback’.

Sometimes Edmondson ad libs by hinting that he may have cut the brake cables. In reality, when Mayall emerged from his five-day coma and couldn’t speak, his loyal partner told him they could set the next run of Bottom in prehistoric times so that he’d only have to grunt.

Of course, some critics would argue that Mayall’s work has been predominantly prehistoric. Ever since his breakthrough in The Young Ones 20 years ago, sophisticated repartee has always taken second place to puerile gags.

Both he and Edmondson have now taken scatology to its logical conclusion and relocated the action, almost entirely, to inside a toilet.

Inevitably, it will be panned by some critics, but Bottom is a true guilty pleasure. It is impossible not to laugh as Mayall’s hand is inserted into a shredder or, in a spot of speeded-up stage magic, the duo re-enact the entire first half in two minutes. Mayall, once so close to death, has never felt more alive: ‘Getting a huge laugh nourishes me.’ He likes to tease, too.

‘Occasionally, when the audience laughs at the quad-bike gag, I’ll pretend to lose my temper and say, “Oh, you think that’s funny?”‘ This gets an even bigger laugh.

Mayall, 45, is fully recovered, from both the 1998 accident and last night’s gig. He looks fit in jeans, fleece and trainers and is drinking double espresso, though he hardly seems to need a caffeine fix to be fired up. As he explains, with a slightly manic grin, ‘I’m as fine as I ever was. I think it’s God who should be pissed off. I must be the better son because Jesus died on Good Friday and came back on Monday. I went on Crap Thursday, as my kids call it, so I beat him.’ There is a definite change in him, though.

He has the air of a man with a zest for life.

He leaps around the room like a big kid, determined to make every second count, which is probably how he came to be prosecuted twice for speeding in his Mercedes earlier this year. Everything excites him, even a fan telling him that he and Edmondson are ‘the Status Quo of comedy’.

Mayall’s accident occurred when he had just turned 40 and a midlife crisis was looming.

Since then, he has made very firm career decisions. For one thing, he and Edmondson ended Bottom’s BBC run, preferring to retain control over the characters by restricting them to tours and lucrative video releases.

‘I think we had done everything we could have done in Richie and Eddie’s flat on telly.’ They have made Bottom into a franchise, which effectively enables them to do anything, set the show anywhere and flit in and out of character when the mood takes them. Which begs the question, where does Richie end and Rik begin? ‘Richie is becoming a grumpy old man and, I suppose, so am I. But then Rik in The Young Ones was all the things I hated about myself, too. I suppose Bottom is The Middle-Aged Ones.’ He pauses to light a cigarette. ‘It’s not exactly Tennessee Williams.’ Mayall admits he does, however, owe a debt to another literary great Beckett. The duo’s comic work has frequently touched on the existential bleakness of the Irish writer. In 1989 they appeared in Waiting For Godot and are currently talking about reviving Endgame.

Lucrative voiceovers (‘I’m the Andrex puppy’) have paid for a comfortable lifestyle in Devon and London for Mayall and his wife Barbara and children Rosie, 16, Sid, 14, and Bonnie, nine, leaving him free to cherry-pick other parts. He does not harbour a desire to play Hamlet, but some juicy roles have eluded him. ‘There’s always jealousy in going to see films and wishing I had a part.

I don’t want to be Tom Cruise, but I’d like to do what Alan Rickman does.’

More than 24 years after helping to create alternative comedy in a dingy Soho dive, Mayall still socialises with his Comedy Store gang when commitments allow. Edmondson and his wife, Jennifer Saunders, as well as director Peter Richardson, are all West Country neighbours. ‘It’s little Ben (Elton) who I miss the most. When he’s not working, he’s in Australia or at home changing nappies.’ They would have a reunion, if only they could find the time.

Balancing stage and screen work is the key.

He recently missed out on playing Hitler in Richardson’s forthcoming Second World War spoof Churchill: The Hollywood Years, opposite Christian Slater, because he was appearing on stage in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter.

In fact, he has had a number of near-misses in recent years. His part as Peeves the poltergeist for the first Harry Potter film failed to make the finished movie. But Mayall is philosophical: ‘I’ve looked over the edge.’ he says. His biggest near-miss of all was on that quad bike. And, after you’ve been that close to death, ending up on the cutting room floor does not seem so bad.