Rik Mayall R.I.P.

Rik Mayall as Richie

Rik Mayall as Richie

On the sad news of beloved UK comic Rik Mayall’s passing, we look back on Managing Editor BOB GORDON’s interview with Mayall and his partner-in-crime, Adrian Edmondson, upon the release of their film, Guest House Paradiso. (X-Press Magazine, #702, Thursday, July 27, 2000).

Rik Mayall & Adrian Edmondson 

Interesting New Work With Fart Jokes

You’re the first interviewer we’ve had… and the nicest.”

It wasn’t one of these serious film interviews, frankly. And thank God for that as Rik Mayall (he of the above) and Adrian Edmondson indulged in a battle royale of fact and underpants talk on the campaign trail for their new film, Guest House Paradiso.

The pair again join forces as Richie and Eddie, the proprietors of a rundown hotel somewhere in England where the only thing exceeding their extreme behaviour to their guests and to each other is the 15 minute vomit frenzy that makes up the film’s closing sequence.

By this time of course, Mayall and Edmondson are dab hands at comic extremities. The pair met some 25 years ago at Manchester University and while they both have found success doing individual projects, their jointwork has been their most successful from the seemingly unforgettable The Young Ones To Filthy, Rich And Catflap, The Dangerous Brothers and Bottom.

Co-written by the pair and directed by Edmondson, Guest House Paradiso is their first film together and is every bit the punch-throwing, piss taking, bottom-burping rollercoaster that has characterised all of the pair’s previous work. This week’s X-Press Interview was conducted down the line to Melbourne a few weeks ago. Chockful of banter, it seemed Edmondson would often open the line of answering, with Mayall coming in secondly to take the joke just one step further. Kind of like everything they’ve ever made, really.

When did the concept for Guest House Paradiso come up and what were the seeds of the idea?

Edmondson: It came up during the last tour, we do these Bottom tours, two hours of live sitcom. We tour around Britain and we stay in a lot of hotels. We’ve stayed in a lot of crap hotels and the idea sort of grew from that.

Yes, you’d both be quite au fait with hotel life. What would be the worst you’ve stayed in?

Edmondson: It was actuary one in Scarborough (UK). It wasn’t actually a really bad hotel but the week after we left it, it fell into the sea. That s actually true (laughs).

Mayall: They had this nice sort of wing sticking out the side and we were there. The Scarborough Theatre was a bit odd, the dressing rooms were a bit pokey, it was like getting changed in a cupboard. We thought ‘things should be better than this’. We went to the hotel and stayed there and thought ‘this is a bit crap actually’. We left and a week later the fucking hotel fell into the sea! The bit we were staying in as well.

Edmondson: I think it was because Rik left his pile of porn mags in the room (laughs).

Mayall: I’m just laughing modestly… but I had a couple of my Fiestas with me.

The initial thinking that people have about the film is to draw co with it to Fawlty Towers, but beyond the hotel based scenario it’s a whole different frenzy…

Edmondson: I think that’s right. There obviously are similarities… you know, its a hotel (laughs). He treated guests badly and so do we. But he didn’t ever catch anyone’s nipple ring on a fishing rod.

Mayall: He didn’t get blown up in the oven like that.

Or wear 10 foot wide red plastic underpants for that matter…

Mayall: No (laughs). I don’t mean to badmouth John Cleese at all…

Edmondson: But he was crap wasn’t he?

Mayall: Well no, no… he did hit a car with a twig. Very quickly.

In the area of underpants humour John Cleese was sadly lacking.

Mayall: Yeah. He never put a chef’s hat on his knob.

Is creating such an energetic and physical brand of comedy a funny process in itself, or is it simply too demanding to be like that?

Edmondson: It’s very good fun. To get a look of anarchy on screen you have to be very organised, ’cause real anarchy is just deadly dull. When you try and film it, it just doesn’t work, you can’t catch it properly. One of the reasons we wanted to make a film is that we could properly film and get the proper framing for, you know, kicking the knackers.

All the kind of violence we do, we do in a hurry, normally. We wanted to film it like a cartoon, like a Roadrunner cartoon. This gave us the opportunity to do that. Not to say that it’s not very funny, take after take of trying to get Rik’s testicles in a pair of nutcrackers (Mayall laughs uproariously) is a rather amusing way to spend the day.

How long did the crushed nuts scene take to film?

Edmondson: Well actually that scene took about two-and-a-half days. The whole scene with the fight in the kitchen.

Mayall: One of the things I’m really proud of is that fight in the kitchen. T’was fantastique. It was done with such care and such precision. Three days, a total fight and a big one as well. Ade was directing and he was very careful and everything was great, never touched each other, didn’t even hurt once. Then he goes ‘okay we’ve got it, fantastic that’s a wrap’. I said ‘fantastic’, turned around and walked into the camera and knocked myself out. It’s true! (laughs).

Adrian, as a director for the first time, was the world on your shoulders?

Edmondson: It was in a way, but it’s probably like childbirth — there’s some kind of drug in your body that makes you forget the horrible bits. I love doing it, it’s a fantastic thing to do. It’s like being given a huge box of paints and being allowed to paint on the walls. It’s a childish joy.

Rik, did he wave the big stick, or the big paintbrush for that matter?

Mayall: Well, he was so disciplined, not on himself…

Edmondson: Are you talking about my S&M fetish?

Mayall: Oh God, that was marvellous! (laughs). But he did run a very tight ship. He brought it in on time, and brought it in slightly under budget as I remember it.

Edmondson: (Assumes arty arty voice) It was a real artistic success, it was under budget (laughs).

Mayall: (Laughs) I was quite happy with the film, because he cast Ed very well and he pointed the camera at me a lot. So basically, he knows how to direct.

In reference to the much discussed closing sequence, the film’s production notes allude to a ‘tsunami of vomit’. That’s possibly the first time the words ‘tsunami’ and ’vomit’ have appeared together in the same sentence. That’s probably a good thing.

Edmondson: We’re very proud of the fact that we had this little man from the special FX department who kept sending us videotapes of different kinds of vomit, different colours and different textures of vomit. Instead of being a special effects coordinator or whatever his title was on the film we gave him the credit ‘Vomit Technician’. I think it’s the first film ever with a Vomit Technician (both laugh).

Did you originally imagine the scene to be such a crescendo of bile or did it just keep building upon itself?

Edmondson: No, it was written a lot longer, and a lot larger (laughs). It was a written with Titanic-like corridors of vomit, but it was a low budget film. So we ended up doing a parody of the Harrison Ford film, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, with the ball of vomit. It was actually a lot funnier.

So if the nut crushing scene took two-and-a-half days to shoot, how long did it take to film the ‘tsunami of vomit?

Edmondson: That was a week, I’m afraid. A week in the vomitorium.

Mayall: It went from the vomit corridor to the vomitorium.


A week of wading though all that gunk?

Edmondson: Oh, it was fucking horrible. There was this poor grip, who pushes the dolly along, he was running up and down the corridor all week long and he had this sort of yellow plastic bag with a couple of eyeholes (laughs). He kept getting stuck in the vomit because there was bits of foam in it to give it texture.


And no one to blame but yourselves…

Edmondson: I know. Although we very cleverly wrote it that we didn’t get any vomit on us (laughter). Which is just such a great idea.

Mayall: The nearest to angry my director ever got — ’cause we were under the gun a bit and we had to get it shot in only a week — was when I ran down, running away from the huge ball, turned left to get down the stairs, slipped over and got a load of puke up my arse. It was all in my costume. So he was a bit grumpy because I had to change my costume, which cost valuable time. I had to wash my hair and then dry it.


What are your writing sessions like? It seems quite easy to imagine you both sitting around a laptop gesticulating quite madly, unlike most writers who just sit there plodding away …

Edmondson: Well that’s exactly right, that’s what we do. It’s not that we don’t enjoy making them and performing, but I think the writing process is when we laugh more than any other time. We laugh at our own jokes endlessly, you know what I mean? They’re fantastic times, it’s when the jokes are born, really. So we hear them for the first time.

Mayall: That’s the best part.

Edmondson: People around the house… I mean I’ve had builders in my house for it seems like 10 fucking years, but they’re always coming up and complimenting me on how funny my writing must be. ‘I was coming downstairs and all I could hear was this laughter all day long’.


You’ve commented that Richie and Eddie are the only two characters you can play and you’ve been playing them since the ’70s. Are they good to return to when you’ve both been off doing your individual projects?

Edmondson: Yeah they are, because they are part of us. I don’t mean a part of us because we play the characters, I mean there’s a lot of us in them.

Mayall: But we’re both actors as well. In as much as we’re interested in acting. So sometimes we go away and pretend to somebody else for a while and earn some money. The basis of our ouevre — that s the right word isn’t it? — is Richie and Eddie. Ooh-er-vre!


We alluded before to underpants. Can you expand on the recurring presence of underpants humour in your work?

Edmondson: They’re just the funniest thing in the world. The very word, ‘underpants’, is a word that seems to avoid the detail of what they do. They should be called…

Mayall: Penis drip catchers! With knocker holders (laughs).

Edmondson: (Laughs) A lot of our comedy is about embarrassment. And people avoid embarrassment. Underpants seem the pinnacle of people involving the issue.

Mayall: And it’s so fucking English. You guys love the English so much over here, that I think there’s some kind of connection.

I’m not sucking your knob, I mean I’d like to (laughs), but I think that’s why the Aussies understand it so well, because they understand what arseholes the English are. What tossers they are. They understand the embarrassment and the pretension which is what Richie and Eddie are all about. Failure!


Is the key to your partnership’s longevity attributable to years of near violent behaviour? Not so much venting spleens as rupturing them?

Edmondson: No, it’s mostly blackmail that’s kept us together (laughs).

Mayall: Um… there is a terrific pride in our work. I mean there is. We are constantly exploring new ways of doing some gag that we have not done before. Sure, there’s always the punch in the face, but that’s the baseline.

Edmondson: It’s our stock and trade.

Mayall: It’s our stock and trade. There’s other ways of doing things, I thought the nutcrackers was really masterpiece, but also the pencil up the arse isn’t bad.

Edmondson: The nipple ring was a new horizon in British slapstick I thought.


You’ve each done a great deal of work but especially in Australia one of the first links always made is ‘Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson from The Young Ones’. Could you have imagined that the series would have such a long-lasting impact?

Edmondson: Not really, although it depends what day you wake up. I mean some days you wake up and it doesn’t seem very long ago and some days it seems like years ago. There’s no problem with it at all, I’m very proud of The Young Ones and it’s fantastic that people still watch it. I wish they’d pay (laughs). I wish we’d been paid properly when we made it.

Mayall: Whatever strange deal the BBC did — of course I know nothing about it — but Bottom didn’t get released in a bigger way in Australia. But then I think it takes a bit of time for our stuff to catch on, which is why The Young Ones over here is the main thing.


Nigel Planer recently appeared in a Castrol as Neil, could you imagine donning the togs again this far down the track?

Edmondson: Well it’s easier for Nigel isn’t? ‘Cause he is a fucking old hippie (laughs).

Mayall: Donning the togs (laughs), for one more time… its like strapping the guns on isn’t it?

Edmondson: You know Richie and Eddie are really Rick and Vyvyan older. It’s the same relationship and the same impetus behind those two characters. So it’d be harder for us because there aren’t any kind of 43 year-old punks. Not that I know of.

The Sex Pistols are still out there somewhere…

Edmondson: Well exactly, I’d look like Johnny Rotten does now (laughs). Some fucked old windbag, endless complaining and getting into limos.

Mayall: (Laughs) Poor darling tosser!

Edmondson: The strange thing about Nigel’s character is that that hippie does still exist exactly like that. There’s 70 year-old hippies like that.

Mayall: That’s true, down in the West Country in England there are a lot of Neils about.

On the internet there was talk of a sequel to Guest House Paradiso, is that on the cards?

Edmondson: I don’t think there’ll ever be a sequel to that story, but I think there’s acres of potential for another film with Richie and Eddie in it. Not Guest House II, but in some other situation.

Mayall: Laurel & Hardy would stride onto the screen and sometimes they’d be in a policeman’s uniform, or they might be in foreign legion outfits or convicts, you know? So definitely.

What about Hollywood?

Edmondson: Well… we’re not really very popular there. So we don’t think about them.

Mayall: (In a dramatic saving of face) No! We’re enormously popular there. Almost too popular. We’re surrounded by autograph hunters who normally work as film producers.

What’s up for the future?

Mayall: Mainly trying to clear the space to write with Ade. I think it’ll be the beginning of next year when we start getting together. We have got a very funny title for the next one and it does involve the word ‘shit’. We’re beginning to worry about that (laughs).

There won’t be any 15 minute dosing sequences we should be worried about?

Mayall: (Laughs) With shit? There is the possibility. We’ve done vomit now, excrement is quite wide open.


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