Rik Mayall – self proclaimed as Dr. The Rik Mayall, the Pan-Global Phenomenon – was one of the leading British Alternative comedians of the 80s to the critics, was a “firework” to his show business friends, and was Rik fucking Mayall to the rest of the world.
Let me explain.
Rik Mayall was born Richard Michael Mayall, a shy boy from Worcestershire, England, under drama teaching parents. He received his education from drama school, and was influenced by Monty Python, Laurel and Hardy, punk rock music, and 70s cultural wave which was mostly about fearlessness, readiness to change the conservative world, sex and drugs, and thirst for new things. With his mates, including life-long friend and fellow comedian Adrian “Ade” Edmondson, he was a part of the British comedy club The Comic Strip, where people like Michael Palin of Python fame, Jack Nicholson(I don’t know why, he seems to be everywhere), and Robin Williams often visited. The Comic Strip members led their careers to television, and they made The Comic Strips Presents… – a TV series showing different short comedy films each week. The series started the history of Channel Four. Then The Young Ones, Kevin Turvey, The New Statesman, Bottom, Drop Dead Fred happened and made this man who he is. But this isn’t all to Rik Mayall.
Rik had a unique charm of having two different faces; the shy, introverted family man who always spared time for friends, family and fans, and the wicked comedian who would flick the two fingers at police officers. As an actor, he exerted incredible energy by being confident. No matter what happened, he was going to do his act. But this confidence seemed like it was from nowhere. He was an introverted, private man in real life. He barely had jokes in his pocket because his characters were his material. He played people who had no reason to be confident. He played a reckless teenager, a corrupt politician, a sex-driven mad general, a young ‘investigative reporter’ who reports about nothing, and a broke, unemployed, perhaps stupid, virgin man who lives with a bald friend who is no worse or better than he is. It seems impossible to draw so much confidence. Confidence from nothingness – this is what made Rik Mayall an acting master in his own right.
To be honest and to make it a little bit personal, Rik Mayall made me want to become a stage actor. His energy not only enabled him to portray such confused characters so entertainingly, but also let him become confident. He was free on stage – the place which makes every human being tremble their body like a vibrator. In common standards, it’s impossible to be free on stage; it should be the opposite – unable to breathe, unable to find the audience to talk to, unable to pronounce properly, and unable to calm down the vocal cords. But for him, the stage was the playground; he could do whatever he wanted. At the end of every stage performance of Bottom stage tour(5 productions, over 50 performances each), after the curtain came down and up again to reveal the two actors, Rik and Ade, they danced to the music, and then said farewell to the audience. They looked happy, grateful, and sweaty, which adds to the effect of “hard day of work”. This moment liberated something in me, and since then I thought acting should be fun and freeing. I try to perform that way.
As a writer, Rik showed humanity at their most fragile state in their lives, apart from the elderly, the poor, and the sick. He not only represented certain groups of people, but he did an immense study of character, and made each of his characters unique. He wasn’t the likes of Peter Sellers who used thousands of voices, faces, and makeups. Maybe he didn’t need to. He never repeated himself, and allowed each of his roles to have their own personality. How did he do it? He somehow varied wacky behaviors to fit the characters. He conceived unique visual styles to each of his tv shows, and led his characters to belong to their own worlds. For his dramatic moments, he pushed the envelope further by adding a little bit of himself, his decency and warmth, to the roles. And this is as far as I can figure out.
Behind the camera, he was a proud father of three beautiful children. They grew up to be a makeup artist, a musician(plays drums for a band), and a college student respectively.
He died suddenly on 9 June, 2014, and thousand of British fans and millions of Drop Dead Fred fans around the world mourned him. He is remembered as whomever the character the fans loved, but hardcore Rik fans will remember him as an extraordinary human being and actor. His legacy is hard to ignore, and must be respected.
Rik Mayall, 1958-2014, fearless comedian with a huge heart.