Lit Fest: talking to Rowland Rivron

Photo: Paul Mitchell

Rowland Rivron was a stalwart of the 1980s alternative comedy scene who went on to craft a wonderfully varied television career. At the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, he will team up with another veteran comedian, Alexei Sayle, who has his own book, to give the audience a taste of his life.

Rivron is known for his wild and crazy antics and in his new autobiography ‘What the F*** did I do Last Night?’ he re-counts many of the strange, and in some cases death-defying, tales he has collected after 35 years in show business. ELL caught-up with him to talk books, anecdotes and his audience.

You have toured the book in several places, are there any stories that make you cringe or now sound even better?

I try and avoid anything that could be seen as cringe-worthy. Although I did do a show to a room full of young, trendy 20-somethings and I thought my stories about playing football with Diana Ross in her hotel suite and Tom Hanks would really impress them, but they didn’t know who they were really. I usually start off with a bang with a story involving lift doors and my genitals and that grabs their attention. Although once you start like that, I suppose it could go downhill…

How long have you known Alexei? Are you two going to be going toe-to-toe to see who has the best stories in their book?

I have known Alexei for years, so I have too much respect for him to do something like that. I am really looking forward to being on the same stage as him and having a laugh. In fact, he once lent me some money to get some of my drumming kit that had been taken, so he is really nice!

You used to live around Stoke Newington, what did you think of it?

I lived in Newington Green road 20 years ago and it was a shit-hole then, but it’s come up, it is getting very gentrified which can only be a good thing.

How did you get into TV?

I was living with Rik Mayall at the time. We were sharing a house and I was hanging out with a lot of his mates and one of them was the producer Paul Jackson who produced the Young Ones and lots of other things and he asked me if I wanted to do some stand-up for Ruby Wax’s new show called ‘Don’t miss Wax’. That was in late 80s, early 90s. Before I knew it I was working with Jonathon Ross and it all went from there.

Any particular regrets from your TV career?

I did get to host the Playboy New Year’s Eve show one year. Initially that sounded like a great idea but it turned into a bit of a nightmare. I was the only man there, it was just hell, a lot of nakedness and a difficult thing to explain anyway. That’s not mentioned in the book and I’ve only just remembered it now for the first time in 20 years, a pretty low point that one.

What about high points?

High points? Working with the girls [Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders], doing a really good live show with Dawn and Jenny was great, really down to a tee, it was fantastic and really quite rewarding. On TV I did a TV series about six identical brothers called the Scrote Brothers and I’m pretty proud of that as I wrote it and we didn’t write down any dialogue, it was all improvised and people have said it was the first spoof comedy documentary; that was quite good.

You originally intended to call the book ‘Out to Lunch with Rowland Rivron’ before it was changed? Why was that?

The way I tried to construct the book was that I went out for 27 or 28 very ‘drinky’ Italian lunches with people that I had worked with over the last 30 years and recorded them. I was trying to tease out anecdotes and stories from them that I didn’t know, that other people were saying about me. I wanted some people to say that “you were a real c**t and we so nearly sacked you and you don’t know how lucky you are”. Nobody really said that, other than Dawn and Jenny who said one night they were going to punch me full in the face.

Drinking was obviously something that was involved with a lot of things you did. Do you think it was the people you were with that drove that, or like your TV career, did you just see where each night took you?

Drinking was a big part of the culture. I went and did what I wanted with a crowd gathered around me, rather than me being led by the crowd, that’s what usually happened, I’d start with a couple of mates and 16 hours later I would be billy-no-mates sat at the bar buying myself a drink. Deep down all I wanted to be was a drummer, and I had achieved being a drummer and then I thought ‘I’ve done this’ so I was kind of in freefall and kept getting caught up in a lot of things on the way down.

You have had a very varied TV career, but whose idea was your 1990s chat show ‘Rivron’ set on the Thames?

I was doing the Bunker Show and we used to spend a lot of time in the bar at LWT that overlooked the Thames. I just saw it one night and thought look, that’s a fantastic venue and nobody is using it as back then the boats weren’t using it.

I’d had a drink and was mucking about I suppose, but I was with a producer and he said: ‘let’s see what we can do.’ Three weeks later I’m being togged up in a wetsuit with a dinner suit over the top and arse-ing about in East India deep water dock, it was quite amazing.

Being a larger-than-life-character, was it difficult to let others take the lead when interviewing them? Any really difficult interviewees?

Interviewing people for me has always been quite a simple thing, I’m at my best at ease, chatting to people, always happy to throw the focus. Spike Milligan was a bit of an arse if I’m honest. He is a weird kettle of sperm at the best of times and he said he wouldn’t do the show without a particular bottle of wine that was £196. Then, when he turned up, he would sort of ignore anything I said and just ramble on with really obvious jokes and giggling uncontrollably at his own jokes. It was tricky, and I thought ‘at least open the bottle of wine you f***ing bastard!’

You were also the drummer in ‘Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Band’ for a while. I can’t imagine that was as drink-filled as many of your other projects, but any stories?

On the rider there was always a bottle of tequila, we never drank during the show but we took it back to the hotel and christened it and started debating, as once we had all had six neat tequilas we all got very opinionated that was quite good.

Do you look forward to live events like this, or do you get nervous?

I enjoy being in front of the crowd as it is such an unknown thing and as I haven’t performed regularly for a while it is a nice thing to do. People usually want to know about people that I know and they know; dish the dirt on your mates, sort of thing.

What do you want the audience to take away from the show, other than a good time?

I want the audience to take away the idea that you don’t always get what you see. The idea that there is a lot to me that people don’t know, they know some but not all.

Rowland Rivron appears alongside Alexei Sayle at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival on Saturday June 4. Tickets are available for £8 here.

Leave a Reply