It seems so surreal; Rik Mayall, dead at 56. For so many of us, Mayall has been a scampering, shrieking staple for our entire lives. He’s been tears-down-the-face funny forever, honing the same shrill human tantrum into perfection, a snotting, griping, back-stabbing coward; a chaotic imp; a petty, hateful loser; a genius. Bursting through in the early 80s riding the cultural palate cleanser of punk, Mayall sprang onto a comedy world brimming with musty old men sporting ugly tuxedos and telling jokes about Pakis, and kicked it the fuck in the teeth.
His comedy was political without being partisan – as Rik in the Young One’s he mercilessly picked apart student politics, always on hand with a crap poem, and a cry of 'fascists' -
Then, as Alan B’stard in The New Statesman, he created a savage satire of Thatcher’s Conservatism, harping on about English values one minute, weaselling every sly perk he could the next. This minute long B’stard rant about the NHS is terrifying, largely because under our current government it appear to be travelling from sharp satire to painful reality -
Naturally there was only one place for B’Stard to go when the Tory government collapsed –in Mayall’s words he became ‘truly, truly evil. Like Satan’s brother’ – he had joined New Labour…
There was plenty that Mayall did outside political satire – in ‘Filthy, Rich and Catflap’, ‘Bottom’ and ‘Blackadder’, he relented to anarchy, presenting a selection of gleefully horrible shits. As Richie in Bottom he delved into body humour, slapstick and farce, creating a character who’s every move was self-serving, unpleasant, and doomed to fail. With Ade Edmonson as a foil – and there was never a straight man in their double act, they were more a set of charged Tessla Coils sparking lightning – Richie lied, cheated, murdered and desperately, desperately tried to find someone to fuck. He was a true anti-hero, completely dislikable, and utterly watchable, as English as wet weather and institutional abuse. I don’t think I ever laughed as much as a teenager as I did to the Gasman episode, and clips from it still crack me up –
And now he's gone, far too soon. It's pointless to wonder what he may have acheived in his later years, having done so much in half a century. But we can only ask where comedians like Rik Mayall are now? Frankie Boyle is unpleasant, but generally pointlessly so. Political satire is pretty much dead unless Charlie Brooker has one of his too infrequent shows on. The comics of the mainstream – and Rik Mayall was mainstream - are largely woeful, the kind of smug pricks he ousted at the start of his career, less racist maybe, but with the same bad hair, establishment arse kissing and shiny suits. We can only hope that the public outpouring of affection weling up with the passing of a genuine national treasure will inspire someone to take up the baton - until then, we can leave the last words to Rik himself -
"And punks and skins and Rastas will all gather round and all hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader... The people's poet is dead..!"