Rik Mayall died today. He was aged 56.
Rik was, one way or another, among the most influential strangers in my life. Whilst fighting, and failing, to resist the urge to go straight to social media, the word ‘hero’ was the one which seemed naturally to sum up the way I felt about him. In some ways that seems absurd. Rik Mayall made me laugh, not through the sharpness of his wit but through the brute force of his thrusting, foolish crudity.
Does that make him ‘a hero’? To me it did, in this way. ‘The Young Ones’ ran between 1982 and 1984. I was 11 when it started and 13 when they drove that bus into and over the cliff. In that period I left junior school and had to try to find a person to be at high school. I reached for the people around me, ones I knew and ones I had only seen and heard at a distance. Like most people I’ve been plundering these people to assemble a personality ever since.
So call them what you want. ‘Influences’, if you like. They feel like parts of me, the people I could never be, the people I didn’t need to be because they were already here and I was able to find them. I call them ‘heroes’, even though, for the most part, the only person I know they saved was me.
Rik Mayall was the right man at the right time. Rick the student protest poet was the embodiment of inter-generational rebellion in all its incandescent energy and ludicrous futility. He showed me that you could be a complete berk and still be funny. That you could be very, very stupid and clever at the same time. That you could rebel, angrily, and achieve nothing and yet somehow that was still better than doing nothing in the first place. He showed me that larking about with your friends was as much fun as you could have. And he reminded me that smacking people around the head with a frying pan, squirming about with a ludicrous smirk on your face, acting the prig in a stupid voice and swearing and farting could still be funny in the world of grown-ups.
He was also one of the first breaks I made with my parents. I don’t recall anything pre-Young Ones that I loved so much and which they did not understand. Rick, and a year or so later Morrissey, would become the first two people my Mum and Dad would actively take the mickey out of me for liking. And there is something very important in that, boys and girls. That, I think, is when you know you’re onto something.
Even though he was a caricature, a warning against, he still showed me ways to become an adult. He taught me all the above. Even more importantly he taught me that if you can spend your time with people who make you laugh uncontrollably, no matter how, you can be happy.