Interview: Adrian Edmondson On The New Bottom Documentary

New Documentary Probes Mayall And Edmondson's Bottom

BOTTOM: EXPOSED is to be broadcast on Thursday, 18th April at 9pm on GOLD. CONTRIBUTORS include Chris McCausland, Lee Ridley (Lost Voice Guy), Maisie Adam, Lisa Maxwell, Alexei Sayle, Kevin McNally, Ed Bye and Thanyia Moore. Read an in-depth interview with Adrian Edmondson below.


How did you and Rik Mayall used to feel about retrospectives of your work? Rik was always dead against them. He would have told these people to ‘f*** off!’ (laughs) There was a time in the early 2000s before The Trip came out with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon when Rik was so keen to make something. I had kind of wanted to stop. I said, ‘Well, why don’t we just make a documentary? Why don’t we just visit all the places we’ve ever been to and chat about them and they can fill it in with clips?’ Rik said, ‘That would be like writing your own gravestone.’ I know what he means.

Are there a lot of conflicting emotions watching someone who is so very funny but who is no longer with you?

We always had the ability to divorce ourselves from the programme. I’ve directed things and edited things. You always end up talking about yourself in the third person. ‘What if he came in there?’ I do that with Rik when I watch programmes of us. I think of him much more when I see personal photos. I found a photo of him and me at his mum and dad’s house. That’s much more personal. It’s been 10 years now nearly since he died. It was a very shocking thing. An absolute genuine surprise because he was fairly fit. He had stopped drinking for several years. It was weird to have a heart attack when you’re not really heart attack material.

Are there particular Richie moments of Rik’s that still get you even though you know what’s coming? I remember mostly the joy we had in the writing room. That’s the funniest place I’ve ever been. We used to have a little room above the entrance to a pub. It was rather convenient. We laughed harder in that room than I’ve ever laughed before or since. It was an absolutely joyous experience. It was a real kind of communion. "Rik was dead against retrospectives"

Was that bond there from when you first met at university?

We were a bit shy. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? We were a bit shy of joining in with other people. We didn’t really feel confident enough of ourselves, so we made each other laugh. We were each other’s audience. When we met at uni we were slightly outside the way the other students were presenting themselves. They were quite serious. They were doing experimental Edward II in a cage in the nude sort of things. We were just desperate, absolutely gagging for a laugh. We had a shorthand of things that we discovered about each other. We both liked BonzoDog Doo-Dah Band and we both had the same dressing-gown that our mums had given us from C&A. And we both had an absolute abiding conviction that Waiting for Godot was the funniest play ever written in the English language. And still do. Ours has always been that bleak, existential crisis comedy. ‘Why are we here?’ That’s what they are always thinking in Bottom. Richie mainly. They are in a sort of parallel universe to the real world. They are stuck in this circle of hell with only each other for succour. I don’t know. We must have related to something in that concept. We always felt like outsiders within the traditions of comedians before and since.

Is it satisfying that many comedy fans now consider Bottom not The Young Ones their favourite series of yours and Rik’s?

It’s bizarre. I know it was popular with the populace, but it wasn’t popular amongst critics or anyone at the BBC, to be frank. I think Alan Yentob was always vaguely embarrassed by it. So, there has been a revisionist approach to it of late. I’ve taken overfrom Jay Raynor on a podcast called Out to Lunch. I take people I really want to meet out to lunch and just talk to them. It’s the dream job. I was talking to Bridget Christie the other day and she started telling me how much she enjoyed Bottom as a child. Caitlin Moran said the same thing. There was a piece in some posh paper a year or two back doing a look back and saying this was ‘genius.’ So, I’m aware there is a reappraisal of it, which is very heartening. There was always this sniffiness around Bottom that it was vulgar and childish and puerile. Puerile was a word they used a lot in the papers, but we of course thought we were two Samuel Becketts. 

Is there an episode of Bottom that you love more than you used to?

I don’t sit at home like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard watching my past glories, but I do catch it occasionally when you are changing channels. You end up on Gold and you think, ‘Oh, there’s Bottom on!’ You stay watching it till the end. I saw the one set on Wimbledon Common (‘S Out). I thought that one was quite smart. There was some funny stuff in it. Some really good ideas for getting a tent peg pole in the eye. Dashing your head down onto it and coming up with the entire thing. We were always very keen on Wile E. Coyote. We were doing a human live action version of that and I don’t think we had seen people do some of those things before. I mean Laurel & Hardy did a lot of it. We did a film that was not quite Bottom called Guest House Paradiso. We’re running a little guest house and one of the guests has trouble with English. She’s Italian or French. She wants her salad served undressed, so we turn up naked with a salad. A couple of years later I was watching an episode of Laurel & Hardy and they did it. We’d stolen it. I thought that was ours! We didn’t steal it on purpose. It was just lodged in there from some old Bob Monkhouse programme we used to watch that showed silent movies.

Is there a stunt you are particularly proud of?

There’s a bit of violence that gets a very big laugh and works very well but isn’t actually violent. It’s where Rik stabs me in the genitals with an umbrella and then pushes down on the thing that opens the umbrella and every time that he does that it apparently causes me more pain. It’s bonkers but it works very well. It’s got a great steam punk noise on it. "We were doing a human live action version of Wile E. Coyote"

How perilous was setting your apron alight in Carnival?

We did quite a lot of fire. There’s a very good one where all four of us eat sprouts and each of our arseholes is a little Vesuvius of flame. There was a lot of careful setting of gas pipes. It takes an awful lot of grown men doing technical things tomake stupid things happen and we trusted them implicitly. We had an extraordinary relationship with them from The Young Ones onwards. There was this special effects unit with Dave Barton and Jim Francis. They had a sort of Nissen hut behind the BBC. It was like World War II. We used to go down there and see what they were working on. They loved us because we had no obvious desire to live. They could do dangerous things with us. Set us on fire. Fire us out of cannons. Throw us off buildings. My youngest child was reading my autobiography recently and she said, ‘I never realised you were actually a stunt man.’ And we were. We were stunt man comedians basically.

What makes a classic Bottom joke?

There is the moment where we beat the gasman to death in Gas. Caitlin Moran mentions that in How To Be A Woman as a realisation of what comedy can do. It is an extraordinary moment. It’s a joke we often went for because our jokes weren’t always jokes. It was about pumping up hysteria and not having jokes. I think I hit the gas man 17 times with the frying pan. And Rik punches him 21 times. It takes nearly a minute of constant hitting. You can hear the laugh from the live audience starts very conventionally. Someone laughs very loud when I first twat him with the pan. And then it sort of dies off a bit as they obviously become psychotic. Then the longer it goes on the more hysterical it becomes. It’s one of the most satisfying things – free jokes but you haven’t really rehearsed those bits. They just kind of happen. "Our jokes weren't always jokes"

What are your memories of filming with guest stars like Lisa Maxwell and Roger Sloman?

It’s weird isn’t it because people like Lisa it’s the only time I’ve ever worked with her. She was probably in for the week – four days rehearsal and two days in the studio – and every time we see her it’s like we’re the best of old friends. It’s bizarre what a bond like that can cause. The same with most of our guest stars. We were just overjoyed to have people like Roger Sloman in it. We loved Nuts in May, the film he made with Mike Leigh. I watch it about once a year. It’s just one of my favourite films. It only lasts about 70 minutes, but it is hysterically funny. And sad.

What can you say about The Search for Series 4 segment in the new documentary?

People are making a big deal about the search for series 4. It’s just a sad story. I kind of opted out of Bottom in 2003 after the final tour because I thought it was heading downhill. I thought we weren’t as good as we were, and I didn’t want to carry on.Rik kept on wanting to resurrect it. After about 10 years I said, ‘Alright.’ We’d been cancelled by the BBC anyway after three series. It wasn’t that we stopped making them. They didn’t want any more. I said, ‘No one wants us to make them.’ So, my plan was to write one very quickly, send it in and then let them cancel it and it wouldn’t be my fault. We wrote one very quickly and unfortunately, they wanted it. Then I had another problem because it just wasn’t as good. There were a few little ideas for a 4th series that people talk about that we’ve mentioned in interviews, which we should never have mentioned. It wasn’t good stuff. It was sub. You don’t want sub-Bottom, except in speakers. "There were a few little ideas for a fourth series"

Are there any misconceptions about Bottom that you think this documentary might set straight?

The strange thing about Bottom and its enduring appeal, is it’s not what people imagine. They think it’s about vulgarity and violence, but it is actually about how great it is to be alive, obliquely. It’s not the primary message but I think that’s why people really like it. It’s life affirming by looking at how bleak it is for these two people. Does that make sense? It does to me.

Is it also about friendship?

Yes, I explain this in the doc a bit. We used to write each other’s characters more than people imagine. As Ade I was in love with Richie and Rik was in love with Eddie. I think that love shows. They are like alter-egos of each other. Eddie is my alter-ego. I mean properly. We’re quite similar and Rik’s quite similar to Richie so it’s about our love for each other.

What other shows were inspiring to you as writers and performers?

We were terrified of being sued. When we watched the first episode of Bottom go out live on television it was somehow different. You’re watching it with all the other people watching it and we suddenly realised we’d completely ripped off Hancock and Sid James. Or Steptoe & Son. In sitcoms there is always one aspirational one who wants to get out and one grim, philosophical slightly violent one. But then we realised that Galton & Simpson and Clement & La Frenais and us had all just stolen it all from Laurel & Hardy. These are probably ancient ideas, but Laurel & Hardy were the first people to record them.I bet there were vaudeville acts in the 1860s or 1790s that had the similar dynamic. One who wants to do everything and one who wants to bring everything down. I bet it’s a double act that has gone on since The Greeks. "It's about our love for each other" 

Interview/picture supplied by UKTV




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