Rik Mayall 1958-2014

I remember the first time I ever watched The Young Ones on MTV. It was probably early 1987, after I’d started watching 120 Minutes, taping episodes and watching them later that week. At first I only taped 120, but as I would start the VCR timer a few minutes early, I’d always catch the last few minutes of whatever previous show was playing. They were no longer playing music videos but some loud and wacky UK show, so I thought I’d give it a go, set the timer a half hour earlier.

The “Bombs” episode was the first one I’d taped and watched. The first thing you see, after stock footage of a fighter plane dropping the titular bomb, is a close-up of Rik Mayall’s character attempting to pop a zit in the bathroom mirror, spouting ridiculously bad political poetry and singing the Beatles’ “Revolution” while putting on deodorant. Within minutes he’s having an argument with his roommate Vyvyan, and things head downhill from there. It’s loud and boisterous, quite often in poor taste, and VERY of its time of Thatcher’s early 80s Britain. And it’s goddamn hilarious.

Rik was often my favorite character on this series, taking everything to brilliant and often absurd extremes. Vyv might be the amusingly destructive punk, neil the lovably dim hippie, and Mike the shyster and person in charge (read: the only roommate with somewhat of a brain between his ears), but Rik was the character who sang to me. He was the most vocal character, unafraid to cross lines in his dialogue, sometimes completely unaware that there were lines there to begin with. He spoke what was on his mind, regardless as to whether it made sense.

In “Bombs”, each roommate has their own reaction to finding a bomb in their kitchen, blocking the refrigerator. Vyv attempts to set the thing off (and delivering my favorite non-sequitur of the entire series when he fails). Mike is cool-headed, already planning to sell it to the highest bidding government. neil appropriately freaks out like any good hippie should, and prepares himself for the fallout accordingly. It’s Rik who has the most realistic scheme, immediately deciding to use it as collateral against Thatcher’s rule. He too completely fails, but not before he manages to go on a number of lengthy political diatribes. Most of them are extremely leftist and completely absurd, and ultimately brilliant satire.

Ultimately, I think The Young Ones influenced my outlook on life from my late teens onwards; life just seemed to be much more agreeable if I remembered just how absurd it often is. Rik Mayall often played those types of characters; hapless bassist Colin Grigson in the “Bad News” episodes of The Comic Strip, the moral-free but ultimately kind-hearted titular imaginary friend in Drop Dead Fred, the over-the-top military hero Lord Flashheart in Blackadder II, and the ridiculously conservative MP Alan B’stard on The New Statesman. He was never big here in the US other than in The Young Ones, but he definitely left a mark on me.

RIP, Rik, you right bastard…thanks for all the laughs.

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