Funny what we remember

Last updated 05:00 11/06/2014
Rik Mayall
GARETH CATTERMOLE/Getty
RIK MAYALL: Laughter and tears.

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OPINION: Some say laughter and tears are the same release.

Reports of Rik Mayall's death, accompanied as they were by reminders of his comedic work, were liable to evoke more laughs and tears.

The faraway death of an English comic actor was the most watched story on the Stuff website yesterday for a reason. We tend to build strong emotional connections to people who have brought us to a state of abundant laughter.

It would be stretching things to say that Mayall's comedy was universally enjoyed. But for a great many Gen-X viewers, some of his work was a cultural touchstone. His passing therefore brings extra pangs through its intimations of our collective mortality.

Inevitably, most of the retrospective writing has tended to highlight The Young Ones above his other achievements.

In the 1990s his oftentimes collaborator Ade Edmondson told The Southland Times that the two had a rule - whenever one of them came across a repeat of their surreal breakthrough comedy, he could call the other straight away, for support, comfort and consolation.

Because they were over that series, even a tad embarrassed by it. The pair regarded their later work, the more straightforwardly slapstick Bottom, as much superior.

To be honest, large tracts of The Young Ones were more desperate than amusing. But as a fearlessly over-the-top exercise lampooning new-wave, punk, wilted-hippy pseudo-anarchic rebellion. Then a triumphant moment would emerge; something that struck a legion of fans as howlingly funny. Not bad since these comedians were sending up their own generation.

Edmondson later wrote a comic novel, not a bad one either, called The Gobbler, the central character of which was a barely disguised depiction of, if not Mayall himself, then certainly his persona. Edmondson said at the time that the reaction he hope for from his readers was of exasperated affection. Which is perhaps what Mayall, himself, deserves.

He kept his private life exactly that. The impression, even among fans, may be that he didn't do a whole hell of a lot after his TV heyday. Certainly his forays into cinema were both few and patchily entertaining. But he was at heart a live performer, as a series of hit Bottom tours throughout the UK attested.

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- The Southland Times

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