Interview: Rik Mayall
Published on April 28th, 2010 | Jonny Abrams
Yes, Rik Mayall. As in the genius (along with Ade Edmonson, of course) behind seminal British comedies The Young Ones and Bottom. The Comedy Store pioneer, undisputed master of the knob gag, Alan B’stard, Lord Flashheart, (Drop Dead) Fred…and now the man to rally a nation together in time for this summer’s World Cup.
Back with rabble-rousing World Cup anthem ‘Noble England’, in which he recites an adapted speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V with characteristic gusto, Rik Mayall granted an honoured Rocksucker the chance to pose as many questions – and we had many – as we could squeeze into the available time. (We even ended up letting slip a supposed nugget of information pertaining to celebrity fans of his that appeared to thrill him as much as his time thrilled us, but you’ll have to read on for that.)In a day and age where someone can be branded a ‘legend’ merely for getting a round in, it’s a welcome return to the fold for someone who is fully deserving of the term. Rocksucker caught up with Rik Mayall while he was purring with inspiration having just been for a drink in a pub across the road called The Cock…
How are you, Rik Mayall?
I’ve just done an interview with Robert Elms. I was being as good as I possibly could. I just said ‘bastard’ a couple of times and ‘bugger’ once and they made an enormous fuss. Apparently you can’t say that on the radio any more. I should point out that Robert’s great, though. I’m a pan global phenomenon, not a f***ing celebrity. We don’t do celebrities – we do pan global phenomena.
So, the song…
Waaaay back in time – I’m talking 18 months ago – Exeter University invited me down and I thought, “Hmm, what’s this?” They said, “Rik…” and I said, “Yes?” – because that’s my name – and they said, “Rik, we’re going to bestow upon you an honorary doctorate of literature.” I said, “Whuuut? Git tha f*** outta here.” They said, “You are now an honorary doctor.” A doctor. Of literature. How about that? I think it’s for all the knob jokes I wrote with Adrian.I was really enchanted that I got this doctorate and I thought, “Right…what in the name of c**t shall I do now I’m a top writer? I know what I’ll do – I’ll bring out a single to win the World Cup for England! That’ll really underline the meaning of my doctorate of literature. That’ll validate my honourer. Yes, I’ll write an anthem! I’ll need Britain’s top writer – got him, that’s me. And I’ll need Britain’s second top writer – gotta be Shaky Bill, Bill Shakespeare.” So THAT is why I brought out my single, ‘Noble England’.
…which is available when?
Well, that’s the fantastic thing! Because you’re the first person to interview me – apart from the great Robert Elms – it’s out today, the 26th. Did you know that Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day?
And died on St George’s Day, no?
…AND died on St George’s Day. Well researched. Good lad. So I wanted to bring it out that day but it’s difficult because there’s such a noise about everything else. Today, interestingly enough, is the day that Shakespeare got baptised, so I thought, “Why don’t we bring it out on the Monday?” Singles are always out on Monday, anyway. “So, after everyone’s recovered from their patriotically English hangovers and washed all the drugs out their blood, THAT is when we’re going to bring out Rik’s single.” So you can now download all over yourselves.Now, it has to get to number 1 because what you need if you’re going to win the World Cup is a MASSIVE army of supporters. Yes we’re English, yes being Shy and Quiet and Polite – like myself – has always been our middle name, but Fighting Violently has also been our other middle name. So I thought if I bring it out now then by the time the game starts on the 12th of June against the Yanks… interestingly enough, the 12th of June is the Queen’s official birthday…
It’s true! So, we should be number 1 by then and what I want to do is amass an army of 52 million English people. English men, English women, English girls, English boys, English pensioners, English CITIZENS – the greater the support, the greater the players will play. That is my belief. So here I am, the average man on the street…I’ve always been known as Rik ‘the man with no ego’ Mayall – that’s what they call me…but just for once I am going to pull it out and stand up for my country. Because that’s my duty. It’s every Englishman’s duty to stand behind his team, no matter who the leader is. After the election we’ll just have another leader but this is a REAL leader. I’m talking about Rik, leading his vast army of supporters to help this poor band of eleven men to victory on foreign soil.
Who would your character from The Young Ones vote for nowadays? Would he be a Tory?
I wouldn’t like to say. I think he’d just be a sex god. But I wouldn’t like to get into politics right now because this goes beyond politics and into basic English patriotism. Look, a long time ago, before time itself even began, there was Britannia. Britannia is the mother of England and, as you know, she has a trident. Now, Britannia’s trident has three prongs on it – do you know this?
These three prongs represent England’s three greatest contributions to global culture. We have prong one (Rik triumphantly holds aloft his middle finger) – England’s invention of football. Prong two (the index finger now joins in for a hearty ‘go forth and multiply’ aimed squarely at Rocksucker) – the plays of William Shakespeare. Prong three – Rik Mayall.
Now, if we combine those three prongs – football, Shakespeare and Rik Mayall – then we have everything that England needs. Yes we’ve got nuclear missiles, armies and an air force, but this is a football anthem and that’s what those three prongs represent. When Cool Britannia got it on with St George – bear in mind, the man fights dragons – so when those two got it on, their lovechild was………Rik Mayall. And I am eternal. Which is why occasionally I come back.
One of my past representations was Henry V. In 1415, he won the Battle of Agincourt. That’s when a small band of determined and brave Englishmen went across to a foreign land in muddy soil where they were massively outnumbered by Belgians, French, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Norwegians and possibly even Spaniards. They were all phalanxed against this small band of Englishmen and yet, with their bows and arrows, they defeated this massive number of beautifully armoured and massively poncey foreigners. This little band of men.
I mean, the parallels with the World Cup are just so obvious. Here we have a band of eleven men going to a foreign country to beat every other country in the world. I think back to Britannia’s tripod – yes, we had World War One (another middle finger is aimed at Rocksucker), which we won. Yes, we had World War Two (swiftly followed by another V sign), which we won. This is World War Three…which we are going to win. See what I’m talking about?
Whether you’re from Liverpool, London, Birmingham or Newcastle (each place name is pronounced with the appropriate regional accent, with varying degrees of accuracy) – this is the single for you to buy, for you to stand behind, for you to learn, for you to sing. Because Henry V was such a hero that occasionally, when England needs him, Henry comes – or the persona that he is within and, at this moment, Rik Mayall is the persona that Henry is within.
Shakespeare was a bloody good writer, he bloody was – he could squeeze a nib – and when he needed an eternal hero he thought, “When was England at its most heroic? The Battle of Agincourt!” So he wrote a very good speech, the most heroic war speech that’s ever been written in the history of writing. (Rik sighs) Shakespeare was perfect but he couldn’t do knob jokes. Have you ever heard a Shakespearean knob joke? There isn’t one. I am the other half that Shakespeare’s always needed. We write together.
It’s a serious song. It’s a serious issue. I can’t think of a speech that was ever written to, or accompanied by, music. Can you? There was the occasional Ian Dury where he was sort of talking to music, but I don’t think there’s ever been a powerful speech set to music. I don’t think Adolf did it. Nor Churchill nor Kennedy. ‘Noble England’ is a sort of cross over between singing and speechmaking. It’s kind of a new art form and I’m actually really rather proud of it. It’s there just to uplift the crowd. Get an English audience howling that speech out at the enemy…wouldn’t that be magnificent? It would freak out them out.
And the players, probably…
An Englishman cannot be frightened by great poetry. He cannot. This I know. Sorry, I’ve been going on – what’s your next question?
Do you mind if I dip into the achievements of great Rik Mayalls of the past?
There is no past. Everything is present.
Were you aware at the time of how many people from my generation were furtively watching The Young Ones and Bottom from an early age? Many of us spent a lot of our childhoods watching those shows, even though we probably weren’t supposed to be. At least, those of us who found Mr Bean to be too much of a pussy.
My dad used to tape The Goon Show and, very much like you, my brother and I used to steal the tapes from my dad and listen to them. Until my dad found out, at which he gave us our own reel-to-reel tape of it. So we were laughing at Eccles and people like that. When Ade and I were in our late teens, we used to watch a lot of Laurel and Hardy and we learnt a lot of violence from that. Funnily enough, I always identified with Oliver Hardy and Ade always identified with Stan, which is bizarre when you look at Richie and Eddie – they’re very different creations. It’s Ollie’s vanity that I always loved and Ade always loved Stan’s idiocy.
You can sort of identify the link when you see Richie and Ollie as the ones who always get wound up while Eddie and Stan are a bit more blasé and happy-go-lucky.
Well yeah, it’s just file of life then. Things get broken and they wonder off, which is a very funny joke in itself, whereas Ollie and Richie can make a terrific fuss over something very small, like a spoon that’s in slightly the wrong place. Great comedy is often about laughing at something that you could see yourself doing. Someone once told me that good acting is not about pretending to be someone else but is about being a part of yourself that you have tried to hide for many years. (Pauses for thought) Comedy is a dangerous subject to talk about because you could easily say something embarrassingly grandiose. I don’t like being called a ‘comedian’ or a ‘comedy actor’. I’m a pan global phenomenon – that’s what I like being called!
A good funny man is usually quite shy. It’s very liberating as you expose all the stuff about yourself that used to embarrass you. I can’t speak for Ade and I wouldn’t dare to, but…no, I shouldn’t be saying all this. Giving away the secrets, like a conjurer showing you how to do a trick. I don’t know. It’s subconscious, but in the best sense. You don’t intellectualise it…although this is turning into quite an intellectual conversation…I always loved Little Richard. He used to come on stage and just go beserk, working his band so they were really tight, really precise.
Ade and I also used to love Tom & Jerry, the original Fred Quimby ones. The violence was f***ing great. Really good, not soft and pitiful. All that gorgeous violence, meanness and nastiness. Who was it who told me that a laugh is a civilised snarl? (Pauses in thought) If you watch a cat or a dog, if they want something to go away then they snarl at it – they go RRRAAAWWWRRR and bare their teeth at it. Whereas a civilised snarl is if you just go (Rik performs an insincere and toothy kind of laugh), i.e. I bare my teeth but I am not like that. I find what you’re doing ridiculous and inappropriate and therefore I am not in your group. I bare my teeth at you and laugh at you – HA HA HA! It’s a civilised snarl. Do you see the point I’m trying to make?
That’s the benefit that humanity has from laughing. If we weren’t capable of laughing then we’d be terrifically violent. Then some sh*t-snorting c**t stench tells me that my laughs are too violent. Well they can go f*** themselves with some kind of bottle opener, nastily. F*** ’em. Bastards. There’s far too much censorship these days and not the same freedom of speech that there used to be.
Do you have sympathy, then, with South Park creators and confessed Bottom fans Matt Stone and Trey Parker? They’re involved in a bit of a censorship sh*t storm at the moment…
(Focussing on the part where I mentioned they’re fans) Really? F***ing wow! I’m profoundly honoured. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. South Park is magnificent comedy. It makes me fill my trousers with laughter. Genuinely fabulous. To hear they like my stuff is a massive honour. You’ve made me very happy, thank you!
Ok, moving swiftly on. Who is the modern day equivalent of Alan B’stard?
That’s a very good question and I admire you for it, however I would be the last one to speak about the election at a time like this. I was very proud of the way that I got rid of Mrs Thatcher for this country with Alan, and then I went on the road with Alan and, towards the end of the tour, Tony Blair resigned. So I cleansed the country of both Thatcher and Tony Blair. The talk now is of taking Alan to Europe and becoming a member of the European parliament. It would be very interesting if the Liberal Democrats won this time around as I wouldn’t be surprised if Alan had their colours.
Were you feeling competitive whenever you made your sporadic appearances as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder? Was there a sense of one-upmanship on the set?
Yes, massively competitive. One of the peaks of my acting career was roughly around the year 2000 when Ben Elton and Richard Curtis were generous enough to ask me to play the part of Robin Hood, who was a sort of child of Flashheart, and I got to snog Kate Moss. I managed to get nine takes in before they told me to stop it. Kate was very much my pinup and my heroine and I shall stick her on my arm whenever I can.
What are your thoughts on Universal Studios commissioning a remake of Drop Dead Fred starring Russell Brand in your role? Is it needed at all?
I hadn’t heard about that. Good luck to him. It’s a good part. Did I tell you about the Mayan people’s pyramid?
The Mayan people, five and half centuries ago, built a pyramid along the side of which is a calendar written in their own script. Some architects and intellectuals had a look at it and they found out that that entire calendar comes to an end at eleven minutes past eleven Greenwich mean time on the 21st of December 2012. This means that all time and all space will stop and absolutely nothing will exist after that time.
So this is the last World Cup ever, which is why everyone in this country HAS to support England. It’s our last f***ing chance. I’m going to be in Buckingham Palace gardens with the World Cup, and let me tell you now – I’ll be there with Her Majesty the Queen. And I’m going to give it to her.
Along with Sir Ashley Cole, Sir Robert Green and Sir Peter Crouch?
I don’t mind who watches. She can knight me while I do it.
Doctor Rik Mayall, thank you.
Rik Mayall’s World Cup anthem ‘Noble England’ is out now!