Rik Mayall died recently, which is a terrible shame. On a coffee break this morning I thought about his contributions to where I am as an amateur creative.
I never really followed his career. I got into the Young Ones during my PhD (about a decade ago, that being about two decades after it aired). I never saw Bottom, nor Guest House Paradiso, nor his stand-up. I only saw Blackadder in the last year and recognized him. But in a really, weird way, I can see influences of him on my style.
Back when I was a wee lad, I was somewhat smart and creative, but never really knew what to do with it. I wrote short stories because that’s what I did. Terrible, sprawling stories. I had no real style or skill. The usual advice for young writers is to find a voice you like and respect, and emulate them. No-one told me this and given my pre-teen idiot brain, I randomly emulated what I liked – dumb 80s action movies and obnoxious British comedy.
Once we had to write a children’s book for English class. Just a small story with some pictures. At the time I was really into Grim Tales, presented by Rik Mayall. The basic idea was that he’d narrate fairy tales in his pajamas, written in his goofy, slightly obnoxious style.
Everyone loves having stories read to them, and this was my after-school treat for however long it was on air. Rik was a master at employing the most potent weapon in comedy aimed at little kids: the word “bottom”. Especially in the phrase “wobbly bottom”.
So when we were asked to write a children’s story, I did what all good writers do and
stole an episode emulated his style. I did actually change enough to make sure I wasn’t in trouble for copyright (pre-teen writers are obsessed with intellectual property law – they looooove to brand every little thing with © Copyright ME!!!)
But I remember trying to capture the right flow of sentences and pauses (and uses of the word “bottom”) to mimic Rik’s delivery. About the same time a movie called “Drop Dead Fred” came out. It wasn’t a very good movie, yet I memorised every single one of Rik’s lines (I’m slightly horrified that I remember all of this video yet can’t recite the Shakespeare I had to learn in high school). I would enjoy finding opportunities to use the line “Is it? IT IS! THE MEGA BITCH!” whenever I could get away with it. I was subconsciously absorbing his timing, quirks and stylistic flourishes whilst reveling in the obnoxiousness of boyhood.
Over the years I kept writing and became decent at dialogue. It did, however, take a while for me to stop writing extravagantly offensive, Mary-Sue style stories, but c’est la vie.
It’s sad to hear of a passing of a comedian that had a small, but interesting role in my own creative development. Could be worse, though. You could be shot with a howitzer…