I had a lovely email recently from a fan called Merel in The Netherlands, who came across an interview Rik Mayall gave to a Dutch reporter in 2003. It was published in a magazine by Dutch broadcaster, VPRO. Merel has kindly translated the text for me as good as she could.
In Holland VPRO (a broadcast company for a left winged, intellectual audience) and it has broadcast most of Rik Mayall’s material: The Young Ones, Bottom, Drop Dead Fred (with Dutch director Ate de Jong) Rik Mayall Presents and Believe Nothing. Here is the English version of their current site : https://www.vprobroadcast.com/
Merel told me: “The journalist for this interview is Gerhard Busch; a film journalist who worked for the VPRO at the time. He’s on Linkedin. Rik Mayall is not a phenomena in the Netherlands, for most people his name does not ring a bell. But a lot of people (mainly 40+) know his work. When you talk about the guy from The Young Ones, Bottom or Lord Flashheart in Blackadder they will say something like: “Oh yeah, I’ve seen him, he’s funny”. The New Statesman is even less known and that’s a pity because in our parliament is now a right winged, opportunistic and devious MP like Alan B’Stard and if more people had seen this series, he could be more ridiculed like the Brits do so well.
Good luck with your scrapbook, I like it very much and I’m glad I could add a little piece.”
Interview by Gerhard Busch 2003
Rik Mayall Every Night Sex with 2000 People.
He became known to the general public for his role in the outrageous TV series The Young Ones in the early ‘80s. But fans of typical Rik Mayall humour also know him from the series Bottom and The New Statesman. De VPRO (a Dutch broadcaster) will broadcast his new comedy series Believe Nothing starting next week. With Mayall as professor Adonis Knut. VPRO magazine interviewed Mayall about the series, his sparring partner Ade and his almost fatal accident. “Maybe I’ve been to heaven, but they sent me back down here.”
“It sounds a bit pretentious to call myself a comedian, don’t you think?’ I prefer phenomena.”
The first answer by comedian/phenomena Rik Mayall makes you suspect the worst. Previous interviews show he tends to shroud himself in funny business. So the real Rik stays out of sight.
And that while Mayall, a star from the early ‘80s thanks to The Young Ones (he was the pedantic, pimply Rick) must have a lot to say. About this long career for example, about the Profession, about his profound friendship with college Ade Edmondson (punk Vyvyan in The Young Ones) or about the serious motorcycle accident in 1998, leaving him in a coma for 5 days while the doctors gave up hope. And of course the new comedy series Believe Nothing, which will be broadcast by VPRO from next Monday.
Because Mayall is buzzy shooting for a movie and writing for a new Bottom-roadshow he can only be interviewed by phone. It works out well, because it’s not easy to stay funny on the phone, without the reaction from your audience.
And so Mayall calms down in the first five minutes and answers the question how he managed to stay at the top for twenty years?
“I only do stuff which makes me laugh myself. And the subject is mainly my own inability. The only reason I know how to survive in society is playing away all what’s bad in me.”
Is that why you manage to make even the most cocky, vulgar, vengeful violent and corrupt character sympathetic?
“They don’t have to be sympathetic, only credible.”
But they seem to be sympathetic.
“That surprises me sometimes. Maybe it’s the honesty with which I play a part. People see sides of themselves reflected in me. I like humour that touches reality. If I hit Ade with a frying pan, it has to look as if it hurts terribly. Compare it with the characters of Jacques Tati. Despite of the silly walk and the ridiculous pipe, you can believe that someone like monsieur Hulot could have existed.”
There is the exaggeration of slapstick in it
“Slapstick was considered a dirty word in the UK. Maybe because nobody did it. Ade and I are like living cartoons. We love Roadrunner.”
“Yeah, that one. We like the style of Wile E. Coyote. The plans, the violence.”
You often talk about ‘us’. How important is Ade?
“Just say: of vital importance. We are a double act and now about 28 years together. God, is it that long…’75,’85,’95 yes, good god!”
We met at Manchester Univesity. A small miracle afterwards, actually I should not have been admitted. My laziness and my libido got in the way of good grades. Luckily for me everyone was so bad that year that I was allowed in through a backdoor. Ade is still teasing me with that, his grades were good enough to be admitted all at once.”
But he’s not casted for Believe Nothing
“No,the funny thing is that during the recording I developed a strong bond with Maloney, who plays Albumen, my butler and slave in the series. Ade pretended in interviews that I had cheated on him. As a revenge, he now has his own sitcom in which I am not allowed to participate, Haha, no it’s not. We are busy writing for the autumn tour of the fifth Bottom-roadshow.”
Believe Nothing did not receive overly enthusiastic reviews.
“The first Blackadder series was not an unqualified success and see what it’s ended up being. The possibilities in Believe Nothing are unlimited. Adonis Cnut is a modern version of Alan B’stard (from the comedy series The New Stateman) And where Alan was misbehaving in the UK, for Cnut the whole world is open.”
The name Cnut I made up. You know the English fashionbrand Fcuk? This is alike.
Cunt is the most filthy word in British language, an absolute taboo on television. But because in the 7th century there was a king called Cnut – pronounced Canood- I could use this name legitimately.”
Did you have a lot of influence on the writers, duo Lawrence Marks and Maurice Gran?
“Of course. We are good friends. I do understand why not everyone was enthusiastic. The first series was a bit too much. Too many words. The second series – lets hope it will be made – will be more physical, more vital.”
Last year there was some commotion because you appeared as Hitler in a commercial against the euro. Ein Volk, Ein Reich Ein Euro.
“Yes, haha. Questions were even asked about it in parliament. Now I am vain, but questions in parliament… What’s the name of that jerk again, Presscot. He said something like: I don’t think it’s funny. It’s not funny at all. As if he’s the one to decide what’s funny or not. I don’t even know what I think of the euro. I just felt like putting on a Nazi-suit. I would even love to perform in Europe. I love live performances.”
“That’s how I am. Even in television shows there’s always a live audience”.
Don’t the producers hold up any signs with ‘laugh now’ on it ?
“Only signs with ‘Stop laughing now’ or ‘Stop giving your phone number to Rik’.
Or ‘Be nice to Ade and laugh at his jokes too’ No, seriously. I am being uplifted by the audience, they make me a funnier man. I need them.”
You compared it with sex one time.
“Vanity and libido, two important motives for me. And both are fulfilled by sex. All my characters yearn for sex. Not for the actual act, but to impress women and to impress their friends. It’s a perverted form of sex. It’s all about the ego.”
Does that also apply to Mayall?
“Hahaha. You got me there. No, it does not apply to me. I’m still a virgin. Although my wife claims not, just like my three black children.”
You’ve been with your wife for many years. You seem to have your libido under control.
“She knows how to keep me calm. I think I’m just happy.”
Five years ago everything almost ended for you
“Aah the accident. The day before Good Friday, we call it Crap Thursday at home. I went for a ride on the quad bike. One of my daughters came along. But because it started to rain I brought her back to the house. After that I don’t remember anything. I was in a coma until Easter Monday. All the respect for Jesus, but I beat him with 5-3. I was out of the world for 5 days, he only 3.”
Did the accident change your life?
“I don’t think so. I am at most more relaxed. I am happy with every extra day. The time I was in a coma it felt like someone invisible, someone very big was standing next to me. I can’t describe it well, I now have more peace, more confidence. I see it this way: I was standing on the edge of the cliff and was looking over the edge. The annoying thing is, I can’t remember anything of what I saw. Maybe I’ve been to heaven, but they sent me down again. Satan was calling : oh no, not that bastard!
So I had to go back to the circus we call life.”
Are you completely recovered?
“I take pills to suppress epilepsy seizures. One of the consequences is that I am not allowed to drink alcohol. Funny, when I tell people about the accident they react like: Oh dear a motorcycle accident? Five days in a coma? That’s quite a thing. WHAT? No alcohol?? As if that is the only thing that really matters.
The first time I was on stage with Ade after the accident, I was hit on the head. I turned towards the audience and everybody laughed. I didn’t understand but I thought I was sweating a lot. And then there was this red mist. It turned out I had a huge cut above my eye. I hadn’t felt anything.”
“Something like that. But also the rage of the performance. You don’t exist on stage.
You are the collection of the desires of everyone in the audience and you give them what they want. Sex with 2000 people. Mentally and physically. That’s my heroine, my alcohol.”
Under photo, Believe Nothing
The comedy series Believe nothing about the equally arrogant and brilliant quadruple professor Adonis Cnut (pronounce kanood) was written specially for Rik Mayall by Lawrence Marks and Maurice Gran, the duo Mayall knew from the series The New Statesman. In this series he plays the role of the self-righteous MP Alan B’Stard. Adonis Cnut is equally vain and selfish and is a modern variation on B’Stard.
Cnut is assisted by butler Albumen (a well done job by Michael Maloney) who is in utter devotion and a comic understatement almost as funny as Blackadder’s Baldrick.
The third character is the neurotic Dr Hannah Awkward of the Faculty of Pedantries, the only woman who can resist the charms of Cnut.
After seeing the first three episodes of the series I hope that ITV decides to continue the series. Maybe it’s a bit too much ( ‘too many words’, as Mayall says) but often very funny and Mayall at his best. Who else can make a silly pun like: “Yesterday the sperm bank called to ask for a new donation, but I don’t give a toss” sound funny?
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