Bath City Sound win rik mayall

RIP RIK MAYALL; The People’s Poet is Dead

Thoughts on Rik Mayall by Michael James Hall.

When news of Rik Mayall’s death became public yesterday afternoon (9th June 2014) there was an instantaneous outpouring of adoration; social media filled with tributes largely from people of a certain age who had been blindsided by the passing of a radical cult comedian who became a national institution, raising at least two generations of kids via their TVs in the process.

The press have been spectacularly respectful (all of Britain’s major newspapers have Rik on the front page this morning and all appear to treat his work with due care) and have trotted out his credits – everything from Kevin Turvey to Rick in The Young Ones to Lord Flasheart in Blackadder right up to his greatest achievement, the tragic Richard “Richie” Richards in ‘Bottom’ via performances that would perhaps be unforeseen as having such a huge impact on people’s lives – that of the eponymous ‘Drop Dead Fred’ or his stint presenting Jackanory for instance.

Yet a link to a set of clips, a quote about his manic energy, a glib, in-character sendoff (thank you Ade Edmonson) or a somber black and white mood photo (as if anything could be further from the Rik we loved) will never sum up how people feel about Rik Mayall.

For many he was the very first adult we found to be genuinely funny – his manner childish enough to appeal to a little kid, his attitude pompous enough to confirm our suspicions that adults were, in fact, ridiculous. His face was, yes, incredibly animated, his body a joke he seemed to be playing on himself (particularly with those Richard Richards y-fronts and jut-out belly of the late ‘90s), his demeanour somewhere between a carefree imp and a self-satisfied prick. If you didn’t see yourself – or want to see yourself – in Rik Mayall’s characters, then there was definitely something amiss. He was, when I was a child and absolutely ignorant of sexuality or inhibition, the first person I ever fell in love with. I’m sure the case is the same for many others.

People treasured Rik Mayall, they enacted scenes from his shows like mantras, pulled inadequate versions of that face, dropped Mayallisms into their daily conversation, wished they could take a frying pan to the head with such grace and lack of consequence. The characters he most famously played were absolute losers, deluded, violent, hateful, self-righteous bottom-of-the-barrelers who never, ever came out on top (let’s take Flashheart as the exception that proves the rule) and yet his enthusiasm, his connection with life, his electricity always shone through and pulled us in, that toothy snarl like a tractor beam.

Those feintly tragic characters had a lot to teach us while we were growing up. Not only did those slouched shoulders and that greasy mane combined with a desperate patriotism and inflated sense of self send us all back to discover Tony Hancock , but, like Hancock they taught us about despair. How frustrating despair is, how hilarious its consequences can be. Yes, there is sadness – here it is – shows like ‘Bottom’ seemed to say between cock jokes – but don’t worry because it can be really, really funny. An ability to laugh at life is an incredible thing to have taught to a bunch of kids.

As a teenage group my friends and I would spend hours reeling off his catchphrases, shouting along with older brothers’ VHS copies of The Young Ones or Comic Strip PresentsBad News and generally becoming as much like Rik as was possible. When we had the opportunity to see Bottom live we grasped it, two nights in a row in Cardiff St David’s Hall. They made the same ‘mistakes’ both nights. We cared not. We were enthralled. When presented with the chance to see them perform Waiting For Godot we leapt at it – and to this day I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed a theatrical production anywhere near as much. Seeing he and Ade, this pair of clowns, interpreting this existential text filled me with an inkling that things could be more, have more substance. Comedy was commentary, it could be profound, it could be important and it could move you. It was also important to make jokes about blouses, dicks and poo.

Ade and Rik’s chess game scene in the episode ‘Culture’ from series 2 of Bottom defined absurdism for me and my sense of humour knew exactly where it stood from that moment on, cemented in silliness. Shouting “Put a bit of sellotape on the fridge” is hilarious whichever way you look at it. Looking at it through the eyes of a teenager who was absolutely miserable in so many other ways it was something like a lifeline.

Rik stayed with me over the years – a box set was never too far out of reach, I made new connections with new people based around a shared love of him – but I picked up and quickly put down his biography feeling I’d heard the joke once too many times and, even though I sent him a get well card after his quad bike accident (true fan boy material) I was remiss enough to miss out on much of his later work including his most recent tour as The New Statesman (always more a favourite of my mum’s than mine – can’t be doing with ITV). Ade Edmonson choosing not to work with Rik on a new series of Bottom disappointed me – but perhaps not as much as the show itself might have. Perhaps it was best left where it was – golden, laughter-tear drenched, a revisited remnant of wonder. Though I may have drifted, wavered a little, as many did I’m sure, it breaks my heart that it has taken his death to refocus and remember.

I’ve not given you dates, lists, links, a bunch of quotes or a real biography here – there are a thousand places you’ll find that. I felt the only way to pay tribute to such a great hero and beloved man was to speak in personal specifics. I feel like my experiences will mirror those of many others. I’ll cry now and then for Rik Mayall, lost to us far too young, as I did last night whilst watching an episode of The Young Ones, but mostly, like you, I’ll remember how ridiculous we are, how the sadness can be the funniest thing of all, and I’ll laugh and laugh and laugh. Thank you Rik. We love you.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.