I am hosting an event in celebration of Rik Mayall next month, so I revisited the words I wrote about him on the day he died.
I wish I’d called this blog post – But We Still Don’t Know, Is John Noakes’s nob really bigger than Heathrow Airport?
I walked out of a toilet cubicle to see Michael Legge standing motionlessly in front of me. He stared at me, as he often does after standing outside toilet cubicles, but then started to say something in the manner of mournful bad news, “Rik Mayall is dead.” We walked through the streets of Leeds curling our lips and reciting Rikkeries.
Rik Mayall was my comedy idol.
My first memory of a 1980s obsession is sitting in the back of a Capri with my sisters insisting I do my Kevin Turvey impersonation. I needed little encouragement for my unbroken voice to attempt the swoops of outrage and incredulity, and snorts of self-congratulation, that drove Rik Mayall through Kevin’s failed attempts to examine sex, work and tarmac.
This was my first taste of alternative comedy, followed by Alexei Sayle’s appearances on OTT. These were the things that made a nearly teen realise what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. This was my punk, and many others too. We were just too young to have our future shaped by listening to The Clash and The Sex Pistols, we had new wave and two-tone to be box bedroom rebels to, but it was alternative comedy that had the cultural kick to knock us into teenage shape. Here was comedy your mum and dad didn’t understand – sweary, dirty, snotty, loud and stupid. Here were the lines drawn between youth and age. To further the delight, Rik also mocked exactly that rebel pose. We were drawn to the People’s Poet to laugh at him, while also knowing we were him…just a little bit…maybe a little too much…how many political badges did you have on your Oxfam suit jacket?
Colin, pisspoor bassist with Bad News, who is mainly in the band as he has some money, was a similarly deluded middle class kid pretending he was an edgy hedonist who sometimes caused curtains to catch fire as he was snogging women.
Rik Mayall was a great at playing deluded virgins, which is exactly what we were.
The utter commitment, the feral energy, the wide-eyed indignation, the violence, he was a dervish on stage and totally mesmeric. All words I use fail dismally to capture the tears and spasms of laughter that he generated in me. How many times did I watch every episode of The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents… Their potency never seemed to dim.
Rik Mayall stepping sliding in dog shit, then stepping in it again in a socked foot after removing his shitty shoe, hobbling cak-footed to his front door and shouting, “mummy. mummy. MUMMY!” – I fell from my seat at the Prince Charles cinema, gasping.
A few months later, I saw a cinema double bill of Mr Jolly Lives Next Door and Didn’t You Kill my Brother? Oddly, looking back, I adored Alexei Sayle’s film, but found Mr Jolly just too loud and chaotic. Once it shrank back to TV size for its Channel 4 outing, I realised it was a vomity masterpiece. Rik Mayall’s grotesquerie was maybe too much for the cinema screen, but it jolted the small screen to manic life.
I used to study him and wonder what it was that made him so funny.
I pondered the eyes – the irises of his eyes were small enough that the white of the eye could be seen all around them, that wide-eyed intensity looked right at you. It grasped you and never let you go.
The lips – sneering lasciviously, sneering arrogantly, snorted up with flared nostrils like Kenneth Williams with bloodlust.
His face and body were jittery and anarchic, just the right amount of fear of the unexpected in the audience to enrich the laughter further. In The New Statesman though, he moved like a slinky reptile, the loungiest, and lizardiest of them all.
His voices were the sort of comic voices everyone thought they could imitate, they infected you.
And then there was that energy, that “fuck you, I think you’ll find the next scene you’re playing with me will be mine, just relax and watch, then start acting again when I walk out of frame, though give it a few moments for my love and applause to die down”
The people’s poet is dead…but how can he be dead when we still have his poems
Fart gag follows.
In a burpier, fartier, stupider way, Rik Mayall inspired my generation as much as Joe Strummer inspired the ones a few years previously. There are writers, comics, and actors whose possible futures changed when they saw him for the first time. I grew up to be a professional idiot, thank you Rik.
1574 gin and tonics please Monica, large ones.
The Slapstick Festival is next month in Bristol including events with The Goodies, Simon Callow on Chaplin, Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton’s Film collaboration and a Young Ones event with Nigel Planer, Alexei Sayle and Lise Mayer. Much more besides, all details HERE.
Michael Legge and I continue to rip off the great Mayall on our music podcast
There will be a screening of Mr Jolly Lives Next Door, plus clips and a conversation with alexei Sayle on 26th October at the Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted. More details soon.
By the way, I wasn’t exaggerating, Rik Mayall’s influence on many of us really was huge, possibly bigger than John Noakes’s nob (even erect)
(I saw Rik in Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit with my friends Heather and Carolyn – we only had shop assistant jobs then, but we still spent all our money to make sure we could get front row seats. We looked up his nostrils for two hours)
I love the line about the comedy being your punk. Me too, I never realised it until now. I was waiting for Rik et al to come along. I was ready for it before I knew it even existed. I have been so upset today, but as soon as I remember any if the many sublime characters, I find myself chuckling, like that thirteen year old that he will always make me feel. Lovely piece about a really wonderful man. Thank you.
That was really cool Robin.
The dog poo bit from Bad New 2 I think. I agree. So funny.
I’ll never be able to seriously announce…’right that is it!’ in a final act of desperation without raising a smile.
I saw him in New Statesman in Brighton 2 years ago or more I think. Crap seats I remember.
We went to just look at him really because he was Rik Mayall.
Really loved him.
Special club including Kenny Everett for me.
Excellent article, made me well. 3rd time today.
he was a bloody icon
Loved Rik, like every conedy fan worth their salt, but there was something more to him, possibly preternatural – harking back to every archetypal Lord of Misrule – which ‘Grim Tales’, ‘Drop Dead Fred’ and some of his ‘Rik Mayall Presents…’ Episodes tapped into.
While he never became the Box Office star he could have – the UK’s Steve Martin, Robin Williams or Jim Carrey perhaps – he did, ironically, seem constrained by film.
His latter years were ill-fitting. Post-quad-bike accident it seemed his whole personality altered. His politics, performances and professional choices seemed to become the inverse of pre-crash Rik.
His Bombadier ads and Bottom-esque turn as Greg Davies’ father in ‘Man Down’ showed flashes of the lightning he’d had in bottles in the eighties and nineties. A true comedy one-off, we just need to place one hand on our hip, push our too set teeth against our bottom lip, flare nostrils, snort and make a “peace” “V” with fingers and we’ll be recognised as doing an impeccable Phil Cool. Sorry, Rik Mayall.
Nice one, Robin.
A fine selection of quotes sir. For punchiness, I’d like to offer Bad News’ “But I’ve got a cut.”. Novices will have to seek it out for context.
Nice tribute. Fully endorse. Incidentally, I blogged the notion that alternative comedy was our punk rock when Mel Smith died…. http://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/alternative-comedy-was-our-punk-rock/
My thoughts (and a lot of peoples) put eloquently with love, understanding and appreciation, I feel indebted to Rik for all he gave me. He was THE comedian of the 80s for kids of our age. If he was in any scene, I was watching him. Most of us could intimidate Rik but no one could ever be him, no comedians could copy what Rik had, he was unique. Thanks Robin.
Must have been great to have seen The Common Pursuit – I saw Rik and Ade in Waiting for Godot – which was fine but strangely unnecessary cos they’d been playing Didi and Gogo for years by that point.
That sums Rik up perfectly! And as for the comic strip presents, which I really loved, I for one was always a bit dissapionted when Rik wasn’t in them! He was a genius and will be missed!
Re first footnote – if long defines big then Rik Mayall’s influence reached from UK to NZ. Huge influence on us kiwis too
Nice one Robin. Sums up the influence of Rik and others perfectly. A good actor too, my friend Georgia worked with him on ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans’ and of course he was amazing in The New Statesman.
I remember Kevin Turvey too. A great character (Rememba Kevins ear).
Rik would just walk on screen and you knew something great was going to happen and the laughter muscles were about to get a work out. The cheers from the audience to almost every line of his in Blackadder Goes Forth is a fitting testament.
Get some gin!
Great article, I went to see them on a theater tour just before the Young Ones came on TV. Was Kevin Turvey and the Bastard squad featuring the young ones, or something like that. I was 12 years old.
He just touched a nerve, and in fairness so did Ade, at that age you are looking for an identity, and there it was, larger than life.
Always kept a picture of him and Ade in classic Hammersmith Bridge pose in my wallet, I used to show it to people and introduce them as my parents! They had such an influence.
Be very sadly missed, huge talent gone too early, he would have played some spectacular older characters if he had the chance. We’ve been robbed..
Comedy as punk…it’s a great line. Great column, Robin (oo-er)
I wanted to add that I’ve been reading a lot how part of the attraction of Rik and Ade, et al, was how it was comedy your parents didn’t understand. My Dad adored The Young Ones, and he was in his 50’s then. A frying pan in the face, pliers clamped to nose … we’d watch it together, weeping with laughter.
Plenty of parents loved the Young Ones.
My mum (huge Cliff Richard fan & well into her 40s by the time it aired) wouldn’t miss an episode and she and I would rock with laughter while my poor dad sat shaking his head, unable to find anything even mildly amusing.
Agreed. I watched The Young Ones with my mother as well, and she would have been in her 50s by then.It wasn’t old people who didn’t get it, but rather people with an old mentality.
A great tribute. I was so gutted when I read the news. I still can’t believe it. What a huge loss. The last thing I saw him do was “Last Man Standing”. He still stole the show, like he always did.
I mean “Man Down”! Apologies.
Remember Kevin’s ear, we, are, the, dangerous, brothers. Vivian![pose] – unforgettable genius, sad loss.
Who Dares Gins! Come in if your saucy! I been uot with Nichola Parsons
I run the DreamyTime Escorts twitter account and just feel lost. I don’t know whether to carry on or not. The follower count is rising fast, but I always tweeted as a couple (‘we’, ‘us’, rather than ‘I’ or ‘me’) and saying us seems strange when Rik has gone. Although I suppose the DreamyTime Escorts are as real today as they were a week ago?
“The utter commitment, the feral energy.”
Yes, this nails it perfectly.
For me, everything I understand comedy to be was shaped by Rik Mayall. I cannot compute that he is no longer here.
I was always awestruck by The Dangerous Brothers. Well, when I say awestruck, I’ve only ever seen one of their things because I was never allowed to watch them when I was younger. But that small glimpse through the crack in the door is a precious memory.
I’d say with the exception of Grigson and B’stard he played pretty much the same character with varying degrees of stupidity. B’stard was no doubt his reply to Rowan Atkinson’s brilliantly reworked character Edmund Blackadder (blackadder II), I can imagine Rik who played Flashheart in the first episode saying “If I had been edmund…”. The new statesman was written by the same guy who wrote bird of a feather and goodnight sweetheart. Without Rik Mayall it would have been another yes minister. We used to sit in English in school and recite the ENTIRE script of bad news (the album, not the TV programme) when we should have studying Shakespeare. I would say it’s the end of an era, but to be honest that era has been gone for quite a long time, it disappeared down a hole at the end of (Riks) bottom.
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