Metro 119

Richard Herring: Rik Mayall shaped my comedy

Like seemingly every member of my generation, my world was torn apart this week by the unexpected and premature death of Rik Mayall. It hit me very hard. I haven’t cried when some people I’ve known in real life have passed on, but I cried for Rik.

Fittingly, given Mayall’s love of lavatorial humour, I was on the toilet when I got the news. Once upon a time deaths were announced by telegram or solemnly on the national news. Now we find out via Twitter whilst on the s***ter. It’s not dignified. But I think it’s what he would have wanted.

No, he’d have wanted me to fall in.

This man shaped my sense of humour. I didn’t care much for pop music, but loved comedy so comedians were my idols. It was Monty Python and Derek and Clive that first piqued my interest, but they were from the past. They did not belong to me. Then Kevin Turvey appeared out of nowhere, followed by The Young Ones. They were mine. They were like me, but slightly more idiotic, so I could feel superior. I spent my schooldays impersonating Rik and so, it seems, did most of my fellow comedians. We got our first laughs being him and because of him. I might have been a comedian without Rik Mayall but I wouldn’t have been the same comedian. My teenage hero is dead. And the teenage part of me that still lives inside me and dictates about 60% of my actions is diminished.

Selfishly I felt annoyed with Rik’s poor timing. Last month I had written a first draft of a script for the fabulous Channel 4 sitcom Man Down, in which Mayall was cast as doppleganger Greg Davies’ dad. I had been thrilled to be writing words that would one day come out of his mouth. I was particularly proud of, ‘I am your father. I bore you in my testicles for maybe five minutes. These balls were once high and tight, but thanks to your massive freakish spermatazoon weighing them down they’re practically on the ground now.’ I hoped it would make him laugh and he’d ask who wrote the joke and demand to meet me and become my best friend and then we’d divorce our wives and get married to each other. But instead he had to go and snuff it. The bastard. I am the main victim in all of this.

Even now, as I’ve just proven, my comedy is just a pale imitation of him.

He was much too young to die. But we nearly lost him 16 years ago in that quad bike accident. Apparently he just felt glad to be alive after having been as near to dead as you can be without being dead for five days. He appreciated the extra time given to him. He got an extra life, like a video game character. And so maybe we should also celebrate the fact that we got that extra 16 years of Rik. But I wish it had been another 46. He’d have been such a brilliant old man.

I never met Rik, but about seven years ago I found myself standing behind him as we queued to pay for petrol. I was inches away, but too nervous to tell him how much he meant to me or even say hello. I hope he knew how much he was loved by everyone. But I properly regret not thanking him for everything. So, too late, thank you Rik.

And, in a small nod to the University Challenge episode of The Young Ones, RIPrik.