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Rik Mayall Has the Last Laugh (A Tribute)

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published June 9th 2014
(L-R) The Young Ones - 1982: Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson), Neil (Nigel Planer), Mike (Christopher Ryan), Rick (Rik Mayall) SOURCE: www.telegraph.co.uk


When I was in the gym, getting changed, the somewhat Orwellian flat screen TV permanently tuned to BBC News 24 reported that Rik Mayall died. On hearing these words ,I pouted in disappointment saying: "Aw, he was one of the people who inspired me to start writing." The words "comedy genius" are oft bandied about to every comedian who dies, but if he is one of the people who inspires you to write, then there must be something in those two words.

Characters Mayall played were sometimes the people we loathe, such as Alan B'Stard. As a teenager, I wished I was the New Statesman, for the simple reason he was the biggest badass I could imagine. He did was the good guys secretly wished they did, not to mention getting away with it. Cartoonish as his characters were, they really captured the spirit of the age. From the hypocritical anarchist, Rick, In The Young Ones to the Aforementioned Right Dishonourable Member for Haltemprice to Bottom's slapstick straight out of Viz (which emerged at the same time as Mayall and Adrian Edmondson). Mayall captured the spirit of the age by taking punk's cartoonish aspects and manic energy, then slapping everyone in the face with it to show what was wrong about Britain and why it was funny. When I was recently commissioned to write an essay on stereotypes in British and Australian humour, I took the opportunity to watch my favourite Young Ones episode that had my favourite comeback line. When Neil tries to follow the Protect And Survive booklet, he paints himself white to deflect the blast. Rick responds, disgusted:

"Well, that's great, isn't it? Racial discrimination, even in death!"

Mayall slapped the lefties in the face with the wet fish of mirth and ridicule with his portrayal of Rick, whose love of Cliff Richard was a subtle allusion to a secret reactionary stance and the possibility he's just an adolescent who will end up as a Tory Grandee when he is older. Rick was a send up of the trendy lefty student, much Like Student Grant was in the 1990's.

But trendy lefties were not the only target, as Alan B'Stard shows. The excesses go both the eighties and Thatcherism were writ large and refracted through the "Do What Thou Will Shalt Be The Whole Of The Law" ethos of the time being taken to grotesque proportions before the wet fish of mirth was forcefully applied. B'stard's Machiavellianism was really funny in his battles with Piers Fletcher Dervish, such as B'Stard explaining how a hot seat works. This was the Pierrot and August tradition reinvigorated and made to show how politics can demean people, yet it was just a form of slapstick on steroids, a theme that ran through Mayall's work from the beginning.

From The Dangerous Brothers, right the way through towards Bottom, I laughed at the punches being thrown and teeth knocked out and if you can get drunk on laughter, I would have been having a Glaswegian Siesta in the local police station's drunk tank. I even thought to myself: "If Biffa Bacon was on television, it would be Called Bottom."

Thanks People's Poet, whoever you were.

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Your Comment
I never watched 'The Young Ones', but saw him on 'Black Adder'. Heard about the news when it was first announced on the 6 o'clock BBC News. Very sad.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11900) 1494 days ago
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