Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Tag: Grim Tales

A Mania for All Seasons!

By Liza Mzimba for Lime Lizard, September 1991

Liza Mzimba talks to Rlk Mayall about his first lead screen role and why the future looks vely Grimm indeed.

Rik Mayall appears to be a happy man, as he sits wearing a polo neck sweater and jacket, cracking rude jokes about Kevin Costner. He doesn’t look smug, but rather satisfied and content. Mind you, if I was a successful writer, stand up comedian, performer in an BAFTA winning comedy, winner of an Emmy ‘Best Actor’ award and singer on a number one single (Living Doll) I’d be content too. He is a man who has made a career out of his particular brand of bud, brash humour — a substantial part of which has been concerned with fart and bottom jokes. His first screen lead role as the title character in the comedy Drop Dead Fred, combines elements of the Cattish Rik in The Young Ones And the obnoxious Alan B’Stard of The New Statesman. Drop Dead Fred is the frenetic, anarchic imaginary friend of Phoebe Cates, who re-enters her life after she loses her car, her job and her husband all in one day. Whilst Drop Dead Fred is not a major disaster, it’s hardly a comic masterpiece. On the other hand, neither were the first efforts of many of Rik’s favourite screen comedians, like Steve Martin Ad Robin Williams. “A lot of stand-ups have two or three films which are okayish, until they really hit it and learn the medium, because it’s such a different thing, going out and feeding off the excitement of people, than it is to be all controlled at six o’clock in the morning and be funny from one angle and then funny from the next.”

The American writers of Drop Dead Fred, Carlos Davis and Anthony Fingleton, first came across Rik when they saw him in a Comic Relief Day episode of The New Statesman. “They saw me being whipped by Mrs Thatcher when I was wearing union jack boxer shorts. And they thought Well, he looks cheap, he’ll do anything.” Drop Dead Fred has performed admirably in the USA where it has already recouped its production costs for Working Title Films, and is expected to do just as well when it is released here in the UK. It was literally A Kick Up The Eighties which booted the young Rik Mayall into the public eye, with his relatively restrained Kevin Turvey role — a character unique in the Mayall repertoire because he didn’t scream, shout or even make fart jokes. Instead, giving rambling, idiotic monologues, delivered in a broad Brummie accent. However, he really hit the big time as Rik in The Young Ones, which has gained a huge following, not only in Britain, but also in America. A fact which came to Rik’s attention whilst he shot Drop Dead Fred in the USA last year. “I was very pleasantly surprised by the scale of The Young Ones cult over there. We only made 12 programmes, but it was shown incessantly on MTV for about two or three years.”

When The Young Ones finished, Rik, together with Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer made Filthy, Rich and Catflap, an ill-conceived and weak comedy that appeared to rely entirely on its collection of bottom jokes. Curiously, however, this stands as Rik’s personal favourite, although he didn’t think that much of it at the time. “It was slaughtered by the critics and so I believed it was crap. But whenever I sit alone at night, eating cheeseburgers and drinking whisky, watching videos of myself, it’s always Catflap I put on.”

After this critical backlash, he limited himself to the odd, hilarious cameo as Lord Flashheut in Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder, before taking on the role which really consolidated his reputation – Alan B’Stard in the The New Statesman. B’Stard was an icon of the entrepreneurial extravagance of the 1980s in Thatcherite Britain and a character in which he excelled, winning his first Emmy in 1989 as ‘Best Actor’. The series itself also won a number of awards including a BAFTA. But now that the 1990s are here, and considering that Rik has given us three series of The New Statesman, it seems unlikely that we’ll see the most right wing Tory MP in The House on our screens again. “I’d never done more than two series of anything before. I’d like to kind of stop and move onto something else. So when Yorkshire said ‘Do you want to do another series?’ I said no, but I have a good idea for a Christmas special I’d like to do. I thought that if we brought back hanging, it would be really unfestive and would be quite funny. And they said you can’t do a Christmas special unless you do another series of ten. I said, well, make it six, and they said o.k. And so we did it and I’m glad we did because that’s the one that got the BAFTA — the hanging one. Although I enjoyed playing him very much, he’s grown away from that 80s thing. He’s just a classic baddie now. The writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, I’m sure, would write more, but they’re becoming tv producers and buying franchises now.”

Recently, Rik’s other major tv appearance has been in the unlikely area of childrens’ television, where he has been narrating a number of Grimms Fairy Tales. “I don’t think of it as necessarily a childrens’programme. But they’re all actual Grimm’s Tales. There are about 270 and we’ve made 22 of the best ones. They’re not all good you know. Some of them are like The Frog Who Goes To Sleep Once upon a time there was a frog, and he went to sleep. And that’s it.’

However, doing the Grimms Tales has opened up another avenue that he is keen to pursue and he is very interested in developing Rik Mayall as the story teller, but he is painfully aware of all the pitfalls.

“Do you remember a programme called Tiswas. It was brilliant. ATV used to do it on Saturday morning. I used to watch that – on a Saturday morning of course. Grown ups used to watch it vicariously and kids used to watch it with them. It was like a family thing, although ostensibly for kids. Then they said, ok, there’s thousands of grown-ups watching this. Let’s do it on Friday night and call it OTT, and have topless women in it. And it bombed. Alexei (Sayle) was unfortunately involved, he was very embarrassed about it. I don’t want to make the same mistake with Grimm’s saying a lot of adults like this as well, so let’s make an adult one with lots of nudies and shagging in it.”

And his next project? Perhaps a documentary on Nuns in Southern Indonesia, or a focus on the farming communities of Chile.

“I’ve just finished the second draft of a show called Bottom, which me and Ade Edmondson are writing at the moment.”

He confesses to this without a hint of shame. “I think it would be fair to assume that it’s going to have perhaps the odd bottom or fart joke in it.”


“Go on Rik, Swear at Us!”

For TV Guide, 8 – 14th April 1989

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Man of Many Faces

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

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

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

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

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

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