14th – 20th September 1991
Bottom Tuesday BBC2
No longer inclined towards anarchic college humour, Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall can still raise a laugh in their old age. By Richard Johnson
THE YOUNGish ONES
You wouldn’t expect a comic collaboration between Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson to yield jokes that appeal to old men fed on Victorian editions of Punch. And true to form, after the excesses of The Young Ones and Fithy Rich and Catflap the pair penned a sitcom with the working title of Your Bottom. For weeks they indulged themselves with , ‘Hey, I saw Your Bottom on television last night’ and ‘Have you seen Ade in Your Bottom? ‘But we settled on plain Bottom,’ says Mayall. ‘We liked the shape of the word.’
The two were aware that sitcoms can often prove ruinous to a celeb’s career, so Bottom, a story of two bachelors on the bottom of the heap, is tightly scripted. ‘Writers treat the audience as far too stupid,’ says Edmondson. ‘They can usually get the hang of a character in five minutes without saying, “Oh, hello David, you’re the caretaker, aren’t you?” But writing a sitcom is liberating because it’s obvious what the idea is – to be as funny as possible. Not that it’s obvious to go by some sitcoms these days.’
The pair improvise as they write (‘Well, he writes and I pace,’ says Mayall), ‘but we don’t put our tights on and do exercises before we start filming,’ says Edmondson. Mayall hasn’t felt the same about improvisation since the courtroom scene in The New Statesman, when stage instructions read, ‘B’stard gibbers, and pulls faces – chance for a genius to improvise’. ‘I couldn’t do it,’ he says. ‘I was just completely intimidated.’
Mayall and Edmondson have been working together since forming 20th Century Coyote (‘sub-Samuel Beckett’) at Manchester University in 1976. And Mayall, 33, and Edmondson, 34, are growing old disgracefully. As Edmondson says, ‘These days we’ve lost all interest in popular culture. Bottom has nothing to do with pop music or people under 30. And there’s nothing fashionable in it – hopefully.’
‘We’re more interested in the things that have always been there,’ says Mayall. ‘In Bottom, the gas man comes round from the gas board. We have postal orders, post offices and telephone boxes. These are things that have lasted since before 1955 – before Elvis really got going and rock ‘n’ roll started. But all that stuff didn’t happen for these guys. Like it doesn’t happen for us any more. We’re too old.’
Bottom‘s fetid fridge and unsavoury bedsit location will prompt obvious comparisons with The Young Ones. ‘Everything we do will be painted as The Young Ones until we die – unfortunately,’ bemoans Edmondson. ‘Spike Milligan is still called ex-Goon, even though it’s been more that 30 years. It’s an easy way for journalists to talk about things. Like the word “alternative”.’
Mayall and Edmondson have never been best friends with the critics. ‘The first series of The Young Ones was pretty much disliked,’ says Edmondson. ‘It grew up in the playground. Then the reviewers thought, “Maybe we’re not groovy enough. Maybe we should like it”. Then when Filthy Rich and Catflap came out they said, “It’s not as good as The Young Ones, is it?”‘
Even if they are comic actors and writers, they’re not comedians and don’t feel they interview particularly well. ‘We just come across as serious-minded, middle-class wets,’ says Edmondson. ‘We’ve spent six months making three hours of entertainment – that’s what you should be writing about.’ As Mayall says, ‘It’s like a painter standing in front of his picture and you saying, “He’s a nice chappie, isn’t he?” I’d rather stand behind my canvas.’ So we’ll let their Bottom speak for them.
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