It seemed like a Monday much like any other; there I was, browsing through twitter, when suddenly there was the tweet that told me TV would never be quite the same again. At first I honestly didn’t believe it, desperately hoping it was another of those bizarre ‘death hoax’ stories sweeping social media. Half horrified, half desperate for the truth, I took a deep breath and typed Rik Mayall into my search engine. Tragically there it was, the story that I had been dreading and which hit me like a punch to the stomach, the great man was dead, and at the unfeasibly young age of 56, from causes, likely to be cardiac related, yet still to be fully diagnosed. I felt sick, winded and totally gutted; in fact I was so shocked that my loud despairing gasp caused questioning looks from those around me. Still struggling to comprehend what I’d just read I tried to compose myself. How could it be that this comedic genius, this whirlwind of tireless energy and enthusiasm had gone? The man who inspired a generation of us with a whole series of his crazy, yet loveable losers and sex crazed rogues.
From poetry writing student Rick in The Young Ones, to eternally horny virgin Richie in Bottom, and countless other unbelievably funny character incarnations in between, the abundance of comic talent Rik Mayall possessed was truly unmatched. He even managed to break into the American market with his inspired performance of the imaginary and entirely inappropriate friend we all wish we’d had, Drop Dead Fred. The role could not have been more perfect for Mayall, which enabled him to fully embrace his hilariously infantile and foul mouthed alter ego for all it was worth. Completely inhabiting this dream of a role, he was once again given carte blanch which he took full advantage of, continually shunning the authority, rules and serious business that is adult life in general and proving once again he really was the coolest adult on the planet. Upon the reappearance of Lizzie’s domineering mother, (who Fred refers to as the ‘mega-bitch’) his decision to peer up her skirt leads to the hilarious exclamation – ‘Cobwebs!’ Straight away setting the scene for the kind of unpredictable and chaotic world we are about to be introduced to. Though his talents weren’t simply limited to the slapstick world of comedy, with Rik taking on a range of more serious roles and proving yet again his talent as an actor was not one to be overlooked.
As many agree, Rik Mayall had an incredibly animated face which he used throughout his career which allowed the viewer a unique insight into every thought he was thinking, his legendary gurns became synonymous with his archetypal way of connecting with his ever loving audience. This technique proved perhaps the most effective throughout the many series and live shows of his TV programme Bottom; and which incidentally is how, (in my younger days) I was first introduced to the legend that was Rik Mayall. Here, with long standing friend and collaborating partner Ade Edmondson was a show which, in my opinion, is so close to true comedic nirvana you would more often than not find yourself physically in pain through laughing so much. I remember my first gleeful encounters with the programme, which, as any adolescent of a certain age can relate to, was to me and my brother the best thing we’d ever seen on TV! For what could be better than two hopeful adults, shouting loads of rude words and constantly beating each other up with frying pans, cricket bats or whatever else was closest. The perpetually drunk Eddie, still always managed to get the better of the more sensitive Richie, yet despite their seeming distaste and frequently violent actions towards one another; the underlying bond of two people who desperately needed each other and only had this one real friendship to cling on to was in the end always apparent.
For me, Bottom really was a show you could even enjoy with your parents (apart from the odd scene when you pushed them out of the room of course!) Despite its reputation for toilet humour and mindless violence to dismiss this as pure slapstick is to miss the incredibly clever writing and superbly timed jokes woven in to each episode’s enfolding madness. Often veering off on surreal tangents, the silliness and often absurdity of it all frequently had my family howling with laughter and in complete hysterics. ‘The duck’ scene from episode ‘Carnival’ will go down in history, and forever remain my all time favourite comedic scene, not just from Rik Mayall, but indeed of all time.
After growing up with this dynamic duo, when the opportunity to see them live finally came I jumped at it. Suffice to say I was not disappointed, the atmosphere at “Bottom: An Arse Oddity” was electric and the sheer force of energy from both Ade and Rik was an absolute joy to witness and almost poured off the stage onto the erupting yet entranced audience. As always Rik Mayall put his heart and soul into the performance, with the show ensuring everyone was crying with laughter, many of us almost doubled up on the floor. I’m immensely glad to have experienced this legend live in the flesh and to have witnessed his charisma and pure magnetism first hand. It will always remain a major highlight for me, though my one big regret is not seizing this opportunity to try and actually meet my hero.
Since Monday the heart-warming tributes and condolences have flooded in, with social media awash with the millions of fans anxious to pay their respects and share their fondest Rik Mayall memories and TV moments. I found best pal Ade Edmondson’s particularly moving; his sad yet poignant quote seemed to sum up their friendship perfectly. “There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard.” There is also a nationwide campaign to ensure Rik Mayall’s ‘lost’ 2010 World Cup song secures its rightful place in the charts. DJ John Morter, (who helped to ensure Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ was Christmas number 1) has created a Facebook campaign, to honour the late star. The DJ is hoping this epic anthem will reach the coveted number one spot, and with current reports are suggesting it will easily make the top 5, hopefully all those fans lefts to download it will do so before tomorrow!
So, how to conclude this personal tribute to the great man? An iconic legend, genius and all round amazing talent which will ensure his place in history’s roll call of comedy giants. I can’t imagine growing up without this maddest of characters, this champion of the rude word, and I feel to have witnessed his work is to truly have witnessed a glimpse of pure magic unlikely to be matched for a very long time. Rik Mayall was undeniably a true one off when it came to talent, and his memory will live on through each of his fans and their favourite Rik character. In between the gluttony of football matches I shall be dedicating my next few days to happily reliving a marathon of Rik Mayall performances, but before I go may I just say “what a smashing blouse you have on.” RIP Rik you noble Englishman.