Rik Mayall age 56 was found dead at his home on Monday, the English comic genius will be missed by all who knew him and his work. The actor, writer and comedian who was born in Harlow, Essex was part of the new comedic influences in the U.K. Mayall, Adrian “Ade” Edmondson, Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, et al were a group of comics that became known as alternative comedic pioneers for their brand of comedy.
The above mentioned group were all commissioned to do The Comic Strip Presents at the same time that Mayall’s other television comedy The Young Ones had been approved for the BBC. Two of Rik’s co-stars, Nigel Planer and Adrian Edmondson worked with him on both programs.
In terms of British comedy, Mayall and his coworkers were the new kids on the block. Established comics did not necessarily intermingle with these “upstarts” with their irreverent, almost punk look at the serious business of laughter. Mayall co-wrote The Young Ones which was focussed upon four socially challenged students who all shared digs in a grubby house that saw all manner of strange and unusual character’s parade through. One of these was Alexei Sayle’s “Harry the Bastard” manager of the local Rumbelow’s store.
Anyone living in the United Kingdom who had grown up on a steady diet of Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served? and The Good Life and who thought that Monty Python’s Flying Circus was cutting edge comedy had not met Mayall or the rest of his roommates in this anarchic television show.
Of the four young men in the show, Adrian Edmondson was the one whom Rik bonded with off set. The two men worked well together and would later appear in another anarchic television show Bottom. Before that double act, Mayall would play the unscrupulous politician Alan B’Stard in the television show The New Statesman.
The comic was injured in 1998 after he crashed his new quad bike. Mayall was in a coma, which doctors felt helped the actor to stay still and aided his recovery. After five days went by, medical experts decided to bring Rik back to consciousness. It is most likely that this accident caused the English comic genius’ death at 56. Mayall’s wife has said that her husband’s heart was quite strong so she ruled out a heart attack as the cause of his death. However an injury from back in 1998 could well have killed Rik, in 2014.
In 1982, when the Drop Dead Fred star was one of four in a comedic ensemble piece that took the United Kingdom by storm, Rik played “rich kid” Rick. A nose picking earnest roommate to the other three social misfits in the show The Young Ones. His character, which was just as funny as the rest of the zany crew, was also the most irritating.
With his nostrils in continual flare mode and his eyes consistently over excited, Rik’s character seemed to be a human form of chihuahua dog. All that was missing was the annoying barking and tail wagging. However, despite an annoyance factor that ran off the chain, Rick also had a vulnerability that the others in the cast lacked.
Mayall’s character knew that he did not fit in and his punk, hippy and cool guy roommates all had a better chance of acceptance than he did. All four of the characters were funny and had their own signatures, but only Rik’s had that much depth and it helped make him memorable in the show, despite being initially unlikable.
Any American moving to the United Kingdom in 1982 would have been faced with programs that starred the traditional comics of Britain on one of several variety shows on the three TV channels in the country. Stalwarts like Tommy Cooper – “Bottle glass, glass bottle, bottle glass” – and double acts like Morecambe and Wise and The Two Ronnies all fell under the same comedic roof.
By 1982, the irreverent Monty Python crew had stopped doing their “ground breaking” show and Not the Nine O’Clock News was in its last season. To a young man moving to another country for the first time, who had grown up fascinated by a part of the world that created Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Doctor Who, Rik Mayall and his contemporaries were the face of modern English comedy. The comic genius that was Mayall impressed way back then as one of The Young Ones‘ writers and performers in the show. His untimely death at 56 has left the world a sadder place and all of his guises, Alan B’Stard, Rick, Richie, or even Drop Dead Fred will be sorely missed by all who knew them.
By Michael Smith