How many times can the word “brilliant” be used in one hour-long television programme? Rik Mayall: Lord of Misrule (Sat), BBC2’s tribute to the comedian who died in June this year, must have set a new record. Here, everyone agreed, was a truly brilliant man.
Simon Callow provided the delightfully effusive voiceover, which played as though this was the very voice of God, broadcasting down from heaven to give Mayall a glowing recommendation. We were also happily reminded of Mayall’s own playful arrogance by some never-before-seen interview footage shot before he died. “Why isn’t Rik Mayall in a three-hour programme?” asked Rik Mayall. “Why is he only in a 40-minute programme, with other actors in it, for God’s sake?!” It was hard to disagree with that.
Mayall would at least have been pleased to note that the topic of his reputedly large appendage was accorded a substantial share of airtime. We also heard from comedians who’d been almost as impressed by his other attributes. Simon Pegg, Michael Palin and Greg Davies from Man Down all praised Mayall’s extraordinary comic talents, while his contemporaries on the alternative comedy scene (Ben Elton, Lise Mayer, Ruby Wax, Lenny Henry) reminisced about the Rik they’d known. The absence of his closest collaborator, Ade Edmondson, was felt, but required no explanation; some prefer to pay their tributes in private.
The praise didn’t stop there, either. Mayall’s good looks were frequently remarked upon, which may surprise fans used to seeing him in character as one of his many grotesques. You wouldn’t describe investigative anorak Kevin Turvey, Rick from The Young Ones, Richie from Bottom or Tory MP Alan B’stard as particularly attractive – but therein lay his talent. Ruby Wax described seeing him do stand-up for the first time: “He was so beautiful that your eyes hurt,” and Ben Elton remembered “a golden youth... he did more wonderful stuff than most, and when it was wonderful, it was very, very wonderful.”
The Young Ones came to define an era, but Mayall managed to maintain that fizz of youthful energy throughout a career spanning four decades. That’s one reason why his passing makes us all feel a little bit sadder, lesser and closer to the grave. Yet this tribute made it impossible to wallow for too long: it was such a warm rebuttal to the “sad clown” trope. Mayall was, by all accounts, both a total genius and a kind, (relatively) sane man. With a huge penis, lest we forget.