Week 24: Hero – Rik Mayall

by Jackie_South on June 15, 2014

RikMayall_HeroThis week, comedian Rik Mayall passed away. In tribute, we have given him our Hero of the Week award.

Rik Mayall could do subtle – many of his acting roles in his later career demonstrated that – but it is certainly not what he will be remembered for. His brash, in-the-face brand of comedy redefined it. Whilst the alternative comedy of the 80’s was the product of many, he did the most to popularise it, injecting the energy of punk into the clapped out comedy of sitcoms and racist stand-ups.

I first recall him from The Young Ones, but his first foray into TV was as Kevin Turvey in A Kick Up The Eighties. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a clip:

The Young Ones quickly became required watching at school: the day after the first episode of series 2 aired (“Bambi”) it was all everyone was talking about. Its subversion of the sitcom was inspired, mixing the stereotypes of studenthood with Tom and Jerry style violence, surrealism, toilet humour and band performances that still endure in the mind (Motorhead’s Ace of Spades, Madness’s Our House, Jools Holland’s version of Subterranean Homesick Blues, The Damned’s Video Nasty). OK, that sounds less revolutionary now, but it was The Young Ones that broke the mould.

The violence was of course something that he and Adrian Edmondson returned to again and again, usually with Mayall at the receiving end: the Dangerous Brothers, Filthy Rich and Catflap and reaching its zenith with Bottom. The Comic Strip Presents… Mister Jolly Lives Next Door, where the pair were an “escort agency” who con money out of Japanese tourists by taking them round lots of bars before accidentally getting the job of Peter Cook’s hitman neighbour to “take out Nicholas Parsons” was probably their greatest, but alas no usable clips on You Tube.

I did find this though, a rare moment of non-violence from Bottom where Mayall’s bored, daydreaming monologue seems as if it could have been written by Galton and Simpson: this is pure Hancock or Harold Steptoe. Of course, the pair played a much-praised Waiting for Godot, displaying some depth the tom-foolery belies.

And then there was of course Lord Flashheart in Blackadder and Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman. Perhaps like the furore around The Young Ones it is hard to understand nowadays the outrage The New Statesman brewed up among Thatcherite MPs at the time. Back then though it seemed like two fingers thrust in the face of a Conservative government that had then been all that my generation had known throughout our political consciousness.

Rik Mayall, comedy genius, RIP.

And here’s one of the early stand ups…

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