The death of Rik Mayall means the passing of one of Britain’s most talented, unique and pragmatic comic performers – a walking, talking snarl of a man who well and truly kicked comedy up its backside and then hit it with a frying pan.
Mayall’s break-out role was as the pompous would-be anarchist Rick in his co-written ’80s sitcom The Young Ones. Centring around a house full of undergrad students, it was a bold, surreal and alternative reaction to the status quo. As well as making a name for its co-writer Ben Elton and co-star Ade Edmondson, it also established the off-the-wall riotous tone that would define Mayall’s comedy career.
Comic Strip Presents
Mayall was one of the founding members of The Comic Strip: a collective of alt comedians, including Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, who would go on to bigger things. Starting out as a live show compered by Alexei Sayle, it became a Channel 4 series called The Comic Strip Presents… in 1982 known for attracting complaints from viewers. In fact, the last episode of its first series was considered so vulgar, that it was pulled entirely… The Comic Strip Presents would later transfer to BBC, and then back to Channel 4.
Rik Mayall made his first appearance in series one of Blackadder as Mad Gerald in 1983. That’s not the Blackadder role he was best known for, though. That would be Lord Flashheart, a perverted force of nature who entered every scene in a blaze of catchphrases (“Let’s do-oo-oo it!”), incredible boasts (“No, not in half an hour you rubber desk-johnny! Send the bitch with the wheels right now or I’ll fly back home and give your wife something to hang her towels on!”) and enough sexual charisma to whisk away any woman in the room.
1987’s The New Statesman gave Mayall his first starring role, as the odious and wonderfully named Tory MP, Alan B’Stard. A snarling satire of the Conservative government of the time, it was hugely successful with both critics and audiences for its irreverence, slapstick and black humour. It ran for four series, with Mayall saying of the role: “In the first series people were saying ‘Gosh, isn’t Rik Mayall good-looking?’ but by the second they were saying ‘Gosh, isn’t Rik Mayall a good actor?’ and that’s all I ever really wanted.”
Although very obviously rooted in the chaotic style of The Young Ones, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson ’90s collaboration is a far darker beast. Set in a dilapidated Hammersmith flat, it followed the adventures of Richie (Mayall) and Eddie (Edmondson): two unemployed flat-mates who live a life of filth, perversion and booze. Although very silly and crude, its humour was also nihilistic, with even its slapstick elements going to violent extremes. Mayall himself also showed just how talented a comic performer he was; playing a pathetic loser just as well as he ever did a raging egotist. It’s safe to say that there will never be anything else like it.
More recently, Mayall featured in Greg Davies’ Channel 4 sitcom Man Down: the story of childish, disillusioned teacher Dan (Davies), who’s trapped in the life of an adult. Despite only being ten years older, Mayall was specifically cast as Davies’ father due to their resemblance. Given that the role required him to humiliate and physically abuse Dan at every turn, it was a challenge he was more than happy to accept…