How can Rik be dead, if we still have his poetry?
Sometimes you see a new comedy, and you think, this is fantastic, really funny. But sometimes you see a new comedy and you think, this is not just funny, this is so new, so inventive, so different from what you've been led to believe comedy can be, that it changes your life.
It's not happened that often with me. Monty Python did it. Mystery Science Theater 3000 did it. And The Young Ones did it.
Here was a show that, frankly, just did not give a shit about the rules. It would be dazzlingly clever and outrageously juvenile in the same minute. It was as bright and loud and ludicrously violent as the silliest cartoon you could imagine. It was a sitcom and a sketch show at the same time. On those occasions where narrative poked its head through the chaos, it was only for a minute before cutting to a puppet show, or a commercial parody, or a performance by Motorhead. We who experienced it when we were young were never quite the same - it was impossible to watch that show and come away thinking about entertainment, or comedy, or life, just as you had before you'd turned it on.
And while there were many elements to The Young Ones, and Nigel Planer, Adrian Edmondson, Chris Ryan, Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton - along with guest stars skimmed from the cream of alternative comedy - deserve much credit, there was never any doubt who the heart of the show was. The centre, the apex, the soaring firework that demanded your attention, the super-magnet you couldn't take your eyes off, the fizzing, freakish, fabulously funny genius driving the show to astounding heights of boundless hilarity.
Rik Mayall. There was nothing subtle about him. He threw his vulgar, brilliantly stupid comedy straight in your face with never the slightest hint of restraint or doubt. He knew what was funny, and if you didn't, he would make sure that was amended by the time he was through. There may never have been a comedic performer so utterly dedicated to doing anything for a laugh, never been a comedian who cared less about anything besides making the audience explode with delight.
If there is a pantheon to which the absolute titans of British comedy belong, Mayall is there, well deserving of his place alongside Cleese and Cook and Milligan. There are many people who do comedy - there are only a few in whom comedy flows and throbs and lives, for whom the ability to make people laugh is less a skill than a vital organ. Laughter is their blood and their marrow and the air in their lungs. Rik Mayall was as great an example of this as there has ever been. Those who knew him were as much in awe of his gobsmacking talent as those who watched him from their lounges.
This lunatic clown, this breakneck grotesque, this bizarre, shrieking, demented, glorious creature. He was as clever and as idiotic and as absurd and as insightful and as rude and as revolting and as childish and as charming as he ever needed to be, because he knew how to be funny the way a tree knows how to grow. When the world could seem grey, Rik Mayall crashed into it like an explosion in a paint factory. When all around seemed enslaved to sameness, Rik Mayall could've had his portrait in the dictionary next to "different".
The characters he played were ridiculous, bigger and madder than life, but they reflected what he represented as a performer. Rick from the Young Ones aspired to anarchism, but Rik, in the Young Ones, embodied it, the spirit of lawless riot in the comedy world. Rik was Lord Flashheart, the most interesting and magnetic person in any room, making people cheer when he arrived, winning hearts and inspiring hero worship through his charisma and daring. Rik was Drop Dead Fred, the naughty child in everyone, the mischievous imp breaking the rules, smashing the conventions, doing what respectable folk never would for the sake of a laugh. Rik was Alan B'stard, reaching the top of the tree by dominating the duller, less imaginative minds around him. Rik was Adonis Cnut, simply better at everything than everyone else. And Rik was Mad Gerald, inhabiting an insane world of his own and doing his own thing regardless of what was happening in the world around him.
I'm not sure there's anything more beautiful than a life lived to make people laugh. The heartbreak when such a life ends - it is hard to bear. But when someone's life has created joy, that joy is indelible - it doesn't end when the life does. The great consolation of mortality is that we can leave behind magic: Rik has gone too soon, but we'll never lose him. The People's Poet can never die.
I hope when he went, he knew how happy he'd made us.