Monday 9 June 2014

Rik Mayall 1958-2014

Other people have died before, of course. And unless we've been horribly lied to, they will again. I might, even. But I suppose I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. Rik Mayall crossed that bridge today, numbingly, crushingly, horribly early. It's perhaps the only thing he has ever done to the British public that has not made them laugh riotously and made them feel glad to be alive.

Because that's what Rik Mayall was. A lightning bolt of energy, a distillation of every good thing about this existence, a cocked thumb at all the shitty things that grind people down. Those shitty things are boring. Rik Mayall was never boring a day in his life.

I was too young to have been affected by The Young Ones but the general opinion - and it's not just an opinion that has been made as a snap judgement before today's tears have dried - is that it was comedy's equivalent of the atomic bomb. A programme that was cutting edge, thrilling, visceral, terrifying; a moment in time after which nothing could ever be the same, even if we decided we wanted it to.

Being too young for The Young Ones had its own benefits, mind you. Most of the people who were so altered by it would probably have been off at university or starting out in their working lives when I was watching Rik present Grim Tales, one of the most dazzling, anarchic and brilliant storytelling exercises ever committed to television, let alone children's television. There was never anyone better on children's television than Rik Mayall. He made all the new things seem scary and impossibly exciting all at once.

There was Bottom, too, of course. For the Oppenheimer of alternative comedy to make such an oddly broad, childish and knockabout exercise in smut and toilet humour should have seemed anachronistic. It never did, though. There's no point in trying to analyse why that was. It just was. Rik Mayall understood what was, understood the absurdity of what was, and made us all shit our pants laughing about it.

In the last part of his life, post quad-bike accident (but I refuse to refer to it as "in his later years", he was only 56 years old, for god's sake) his appearances on TV became more sporadic but no less effective or exceptional. The only difference was that they were an even bigger treat. Last year he played in Greg Davies' excellent Channel 4 sitcom Man Down, a programme which I have only just this last month caught up on. He stole the show, of course, without it ever being to the detriment of the overall piece. Like everything else, it seems inconceivable that he won't be back in the second series.

It seems inconceivable that he won't be back, full stop. Rik Mayall and comedy were indivisible in my mind. People have died before, of course, and we've always found some way to recover enough to laugh again. It feels different this time. Peculiar.

We will all laugh again, of course. Rik Mayall won't be there to hear it, but I like to think that there'll be a small part of every titter, chuckle or guffaw which is a tribute to him, his life and his work. Thank you, Rik.

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