By Mark Searby
There are just some people who you never expect to die. Some people who should be immortal. Some people who know no bounds. These people are the ones you grew up with. Normally they are family, but they can also be the ones who formed a lasting impression on you during your teenage years.
Rik Mayall was just such a man to me. Never has a man I’ve never met been such a huge part of my life. Yet it’s not just me; there are millions of people out there who were transfixed by Rik’s work. Some of them older than I am and some of them are younger. That’s the thing with Rik – no matter how old he was, he always appealed to the angsty teenager. The spotty dork we had all grown out of by our mid-20s (possibly). But when Rik was on screen, we all reverted back to that age of when we first came across this brilliant English comic.
Mayall was a massive ball of energy. The guy seemed to operate on a different power cycle to everyone else. His constant one-upmanship against everyone was the ultimate way to see Rik at work. He wouldn’t be beaten by anyone ... and it was pure comedy gold to witness. A man so entrenched in being an obnoxious that you couldn’t help but love him, or at least love to hate him.
Everybody knows his hits – The Young Ones, Bottom, The Comic Strip, Blackadder, The Dangerous Brothers, Drop Dead Fred, The New Statesman, Kevin Turvey ... the list speaks for itself. Yet Rik also did straight roles as well. Some of his finest work came in his own Rik Mayall Presents. It was a show that didn’t do well for ITV at the time, but has aged very well – the dark, gross-out humour of Briefest Encounter. Or the all too real TV show host that loses it in Micky Love. Or the wonderfully written and acted rom-com Dancing Queen, starring Helena Bonham Carter.
His constant war with best mate Ade Edmondson is what Rik will be remembered for by most people. Their slapstick antics never failed to raise a laugh. Even when the rest of the comedy world was going against what they were doing, their live shows would still be huge successes around the country. Nobody bashed a face in with a frying pan quite like Mayall and Edmondson. And when they fucked up and went off script, well those were extra magical moments for thsoe who were lucky enough to be there. Only last year was there talk of Bottom: Hooligan’s Island the TV show. The BBC asked the two of them to write a couple of episodes and they loved what they saw. Yet both of them felt they needed to be older and had put it back on the shelf ready for 2023. On that shelf sits comedy gold never to appear.
Mayall had balls as well; he was one of the most confident comedians ever. His no-shits-given attitude was what set him apart on screen. Even down to calling his autobiography Bigger Than Hitler – Better Than Christ. The first paragraph in that books starts: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was Rik Mayall." He had the guts to joke about his near-death experience on a quad bike during Easter 1998, saying he was dead longer than Christ but still managed to rise up. So that must make him better than Christ. The fucking balls on the man to keep repeating it. But that was Rik through and through, everything was a joke.
For the past year I have been in regular contact with his manager requesting an interview. Each time I would be turned down because he was busy. His agent was always super nice and would always check with Rik first. Granted I’d be disappointed not to get an interview with one of my heroes. But on the flip side I was excited to hear he was working full-time again. It meant the world wouldn’t be deprived of Mayall as it so was for many years after his accident. Only last year were we treated to Mayall back to his best during his turn as Greg Davis's father in the TV show Man Down – a role that was so gleefully repulsive that he was the main reason people tuned in, and he only appeared on screen for a few minutes each episode. But it would be glorious minutes of unadulterated anarchy that really he should have been too old to do but he never was and never looked like being.
That interview will now never happen. On a personal level, it makes me sad that I never got to meet one of my all-time heroes. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I think we all know that if we had met Rik then it would have far exceeded our expectations. On a professional level, it’s a massive disappointment that we never got to see Rik talk about his entire career. He wasn’t much for interviews anyway (preferring the quiet family life), but hearing him wax lyrical about his years on stage and screen would have been a riot of comedic proportions. It seems the big red book of This Is Your Life eluded him as well.
As I stare at my book shelf that holds a signed copy of his autobiography (found at the back of a Waterstone’s store years ago) I wonder where UK comedy be without him? What would life have been like? Where would the anarchy have come from? Would he have flicked the V-sign at me or give me a quick feel-up?
The final line in his autobiography reads:
My work here is done. The rest is silence, all that remains is dust