I was obsessed with Rik Mayall when I was a teenager. He was my first ever proper crush. When people went to school with pictures of Johnny Depp and Keanu Reeves on their homework diaries, mine was covered in Rik.
I don’t know why I liked him so much, when there was so much more “obvious” fare available to teenage girls. I think it was because he was so intelligent. Humour is intelligence. And who can’t be joyful when they’re being made to laugh?
He wasn’t just funny and smart, he knew shit: to create a character like Rick in the Young Ones, you had to be in tune with youth culture, music, politics. Rick, the character, was a twat, sure, but inside there was a softness, and I couldn’t help but have a sense of only child solidarity: yeah!
When I was 15 I bought the complete set of the Young Ones on video (yes, I had a video). It cost me $120. A friend said: “You’ll regret that.” I never did. We watched them over and over. My friends quoted them endlessly at school. Typical teenage girls, we were each betrothed to someone in our heads. Eireann’s man was Keanu Reeves, Helga’s was Alec Baldwin and mine was, slightly odd as usual, Rik Mayall.
I didn’t remember him so well when I watched the Young Ones as a kid. And I have a theory that that’s because he’s too complex a character for kids to grasp. They remember the orange-haired punk and the long-haired hippy, but a badge-wearing political poet? What is he on about? He was the most sophisticated and interesting character on the show.
He was sexy too: those stove-pipe jeans, tight jackets, badges galore, strange pig-tails in the hair and the red boots. Oh, those red boots. And he was actually pretty handsome when he wasn’t screwing his face up in a grotesque expression.
Of course, I’m describing the Young Ones Rik, but I also fancied all the other Riks. I remember when I first saw Drop Dead Fred with my family. I sat in the car for ages afterwards feeling “strange”. Did I have a crush on this dreadful imaginary creature? How could that be possible? His storytelling in Grim Tales was unique and wonderful. I remember sitting cross legged in front of the TV after school one day when I noticed he was wearing a wedding ring. I fell backwards to the floor. I guess our promised love was not to be. After I got into the Young Ones, I went back and found every back catalogue item he ever did – the obscure stuff like The Dangerous Brothers and Kevin Turvey Investigates. And this was before the days of the internet.
Now I’m older, I actually think he looks quite good in the Bottom years. Yes, yes, I know, but I have a thing for floppy hair, and beneath the stained y-fronts there beats a heart of gold, or at least of slightly tarnished silver.
Then, of course, there was that terrible quad-bike accident, that took him away from us for a while, when we first nearly lost our comedic hero. In some interviews he did for the Young Ones DVD box set and he made light of his ordeal, clutching his long hair and telling us that he nearly died, but “came back as Jesus”.
I wish he would come back now.
There’s something beautiful in someone who will happily make himself ugly. When most of us are obsessed with being pretty, there’s something cool about someone who’s unafraid to be unattractive and vile. As Rik laughed at himself and we at him, he was really letting us laugh at ourselves. We have a little bit of Rik in all of us. Or as I like to say, even the people at the top have a bottom.
Rik brought us intelligence, wit, sensitivity and awareness – all masked in a slapstick package. The types of characters he played may have seemed base, but they were in fact complex, social rejects who had an inner code of their own.
I guess that’s why I liked him. I suspect I am drawn to lovable losers. People who are overlooked by the rest of the world, but have unique, attractive qualities. (No offence to my past lovers.) Even the main character of my magnum opus is a lovable loser. I’m drawn to the gems hidden in the rubble. People who shine where the light doesn’t. Frogs who you may kiss and they end up staying frogs, but who says a frog ain’t cute anyway?
Of course, the real Rik was a huge success, a comedy genius who won the hearts of many, not just mine, not a loser at all, but someone who reflected part of ourselves back to us: the unwashed side, the grimy side, the funny side, the exaggerated side, the human side. I’m very glad he existed, even if it wasn’t for quite long enough.
I’ll leave the last words to the People’s Poet: “I feel sorry for you, you zeros, you nobodies. What’s going to live on after you die? Nothing, that’s what! This house will become a shrine! And punks and skins and Rastas will all gather round and all hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader! And all the grown-ups will say, ‘But why are the kids crying?’ And the kids will say, ‘Haven’t you heard? Rick is dead! The People’s Poet is dead!’ And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, ‘Why kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?’.”