A generation of comedy lovers wept on Tuesday with news that British black humorist Rik Mayall had died at the too-early age of 56 at his London home.
If the Monty Python crew rewrote the rules of comedy in the 1970s, there is no doubt Mayall and his comedic partner Ade Edmondson started an anarchic joke in the 1980s that changed the way we laughed forever.
The pair met at university in Manchester in the late 1970s and befriended Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, both of whom would become key creative colleagues in the following years.
While Mayall and Edmondson would break into the British comedy with their double act, 20th Century Coyote, it was the farcical The Young Ones in 1982 that would push Mayall into the international spotlight.
Mayall and his then girlfriend Mayer wrote The Young Ones with Elton for the BBC in 1982. The four unforgettable characters vile punk Vyvyan (Edmondnson), stuck-up wannabe anarchist Rick (Mayall), slow-talking hippie Neil (Nigel Planer), and the suave but shady Mike (Christopher Ryan) were everything young and brash teenagers wanted on televison.
The success of the show’s dark humour heralded a new era of funny for Britons and soon the rest of the world. It appealed to a new generation of viewers crying out for an alternative to the stereotypical British humour force-fed to their parents.
Mayall’s feral sociology student Rick, who harboured a strange obsession with Cliff Richard, was a love-him or hate-him character who shook up Australian TV instantly. Just like The Chaser, The Young Ones managed to tap directly into the irreverent undergraduate humour of Aussie students.
Australian-based British comedian Elton credits Mayall with bringing him on board of the legendary series.
“I owe him so much, he changed my life utterly when he asked me to co-write the Young Ones and he was with me here in Australia on the day I met my wife,” Elton said in statement on Tuesday.
Elton once described Rick’s character as the “try-hard wanna-be Leftie” often found on university campuses. It’s probably why the series resonated so strongly with students across Australia, if not their parents.
The role was one of several Mayall played in cult classic comedies that were popular Down Under. He was in the final episode of the first series of Blackadder as Mad Gerald and also had roles in follow-up series as Lord Flashheart.
There was also the devious, selfish, greedy politician Alan Beresford B’Stard in The New Statesman. One of his best lines, many would say, still applies today.
“You know the really great thing about a fudged Coalition is that neither of us need to carry out a single promise of our election manifestos!” Mayall said as B’Stard.
Aussie audiences then watched Mayall cross over to mainstream entertainment as the imaginary friend in Drop Dead Fred opposite Phoebe Cates.
He would appear in dozens of roles over the next 30-odd years, but his role in creating and starring in The Young Ones shook up the staid Australian television landscape at the time.
Here’s his legacy.
The Young Ones
Even if you didn’t like the grotty Rick, Mayall left a black stain on comedy that would see him forever remembered.
Mayall at his best with partner in crime Edmondson, Bottom was the unforgettable slapstick series about flatmates living on the dole in Hammersmith, London.
The New Statesman
As Alan B’Stard on the satirical show about an extreme right wing backbencher, Mayall was brilliant.
Mayall appeared as Lord Flashheart in the cult British show Blackadder in seasons two and four.
Drop Dead Fred
Mayall took his form of revolting humour to the hilt in this classic 1991 film.
And finally … the best of Mayall