The Meaning of Rik Mayall (These Days and Previously)

Do you have any idea what it’s like to have one of your heroes die on your birthday?

The effect is as follows: you realise ‘it’ – death – is going to happen again, particularly to you.

Rik was one of those aspects of my life that mattered, with direct influence in abundance and a great deal more depth to me than, say, the life of the Queen of England.

There is very little about me that is due to Her Majesty, whereas His-Much-More-Majestic King Rik made me the sort of individual that would write a sentence like this. Although Rik himself wouldn’t write it, he’d dictate it since he’s so gwreeaat.

My involvement with the man was about as meaningful as it is for the rest of us, although there is a difference between the old crowd and the new.

Rik Mayall was not introduced mid-way for me, nor was he something I happily happened upon in my adolescence. Rik was always there.

My brother, doing much as older brothers do (in between punches and acne) gave me the audio cassettes of Bottom’s Hooligan’s Island, as well as various other radio comedies (I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and Just A Minute), and of course, Blackadder.

When I was a child, from about the age of 6, I was and am still unable to sleep unless there is some audio distraction to comfort me. For some reason I was born with a rather cruel ability to see the worst and to dwell on it in my quieter moments. In short, I’d think of death and the effect of that on my family and self.

Horrid and inconceivable, I would dwell till literal bursting and, as my mother puts it: “You just wouldn’t stop running. We’d just find you running around at 1am and we had to catch you to put you to bed.”

So, distractions were inserted vigorously into my ears and, following the charity of my brother, Rik Mayall arrived.

I can remember trying to swear by the time I was 9. I sought maturity and toughness and understood that cursing would signify this to those around me. I recall rehearsing the term: “Shit”, and once being very proud that I used it when I cut my hand. The occasion seemed honestly auspicious to me.

Indeed, I am much surprised that I didn’t pick up on the merrily thrown about ‘Cunt’ as Hooligan’s Island let loose with such compassion. In honesty, I had no conscious idea of the word until the time of my leaving high school, when in all actuality I had it nightly screamed into my ears by Adrian Edmondson (alternatively known as Edward Elizabeth Hitler).

Then, watching Bottom, Blackadder and the Young Ones as an 11 year old- I felt something astonishing: comedy that had always been there was now becoming steadily amusing, even hilarious, and by the time that we are now in, I listen, read and watch the comedy of my childhood with glee and admiration for the work that it was.

We truly are a lucky bunch with our comedy scene from the 80’s and 90’s.

The comedic body of work from the Oxbridge crowd to the alternative Ben Elton and the Comic Strip Presents, followed by all after, is a fortuitous privilege that I really haven’t earned. We have no right to the comic brilliance this nation has spawned, not that I’ll be giving it up at any point.

Of course, looking into the 80’s and 90’s comedy led me to the 60’s and 70’s by which I met Beyond the Fringe, Not Only But Also, The Goon Show, Monty Python and Billy Connolly.

With all these, as well as with arrivals from the states of South Park, the Simpsons and their stand-up greats, I was spoilt and happy.

Though for all these, from the literal genius of Peter Cook to the gasp-worthy edge of South Park, there was still that special connection to Rik Mayall that was never displaced nor over-shadowed by the prominence of any other.

For myself, and an enormous number of other Rik Mayall fans, there is something that Rik Mayall did that resonates with us. And it’s really hard to identify, but I think I have it.

Rik Mayall, aside from the comic and intellectual gifts, aside from the attitude of anarchic gusto (“Take that Thatcher!”), there was an expression of personality that us others feel also.

Rik, I believe, had an inner-wanker, and how lucky he was to have it.

Not to say that Rik was a wanker at all, but rather, he knew what was wanky about himself, and what was wanky about other people. And he nailed it.

From the superb (and personal favourite of mine) journey to the BBC in the Young Ones’ episode of ‘Bambi’, to the expression on his face as he acted a wank…all this was inspirational and extremely familiar. The astonishing ability for such a good looking guy to transform himself to the definition of ‘ugly bastard’ with a manic glee is something myself and others see within themselves and, although it’s bloody odd, are glad to find Rik there being them, for them.

A wanker on our behalf; as it were.

It was always a privilege, and for those around him the end of his life must have been an emotional and heart-breaking smack of reality such as I have now come to appreciate, though I do not doubt I could miss him as much as his loved-ones do.

The People’s Poet really should have a shrine where all the kids could come and read his poems and light candles – where the grown-up stiffs could wonder why all the kids were crying, to which they would reply: “He’s dead! The People’s Poet is dead!”. What a wanky idea. What a funny suggestion. I’d attend most thoroughly.

“And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenage would say”: well. You know. The regular usualness.

At least we have his tapes.

Or, rather much more so: at least we had him.

And indeed, at least we have our own chance.

As Rik has shown us; you are going to die, so get all the frenetic energy from inside to out, and avoid quad bikes. Actually, fuck that, approach them: approach quad bikes.

Because you’re going to die. So live beforehand, you wank biscuits.

You swots – swotting away for teacher – like a girl.

Leave the room and enter something, preferably someone.

Thanks Rik. You’ve certainly left a mark on Earth, and it’s terribly sad that no longer can we leave the punch in this sentence to you.

I guess we’ll have to leave that to the kids.



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