|De Vieze Man|
|Posted 17-09-2016 22:57 by De Vieze Man
Ik ook niet, maar ik kan het gewoon lezen?
The death of Rik Mayall hit me like a frying pan to the head. No celebrity’s passing has affected me in quite the same way and I have often wondered why, on that grim June afternoon, I was forced to leave my desk at work and compose myself in a toilet cubicle because of news concerning a man I had never met and now never would.
The first episode of Bottom aired 25 years ago tomorrow, 17th September 1991, on my seventh birthday. While I can accept that David Bowie, for instance, was an objectively superior artist, Rik (always just Rik) might be the only person whose work I enjoyed as much at seven as I did at twenty-seven.
Bottom could just be the most underrated sitcom of the modern era. The generation above mine will always maintain that The Young Ones represents the creative peak for the double act.
To the naysayers, Bottom is just two blokes smacking each other over the head with a variety of blunt instruments while talking about sex in the manner of prepubescent boys. To the fanatics, it’s an absurdist, violent masterpiece with echoes of Samuel Beckett. The truth is that it’s probably a bit of both. More importantly, it’s really funny.
Roseanne Barr once took umbrage with Seinfeld by claiming, “They think they're doing Beckett instead of a sitcom." The problem with this criticism is that it is, in essence, an unintentional compliment. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David might not have been consciously attempting to ape Waiting for Godot but the Bottom boys certainly knew what they were doing.
To the naysayers, Bottom is just two blokes smacking each other over the head with a variety of blunt instruments. To the fanatics, it's a masterpiece
Unsurprisingly, in later years, the circle was completed and Bottom became a huge success on stage with Beckettian lines like, “Oh god, and so it goes on, day after day, year in year out, slime in this ear, slime in that ear, don't you ever yearn for change?” The playwright’s own famous maxim reads like a succinct description of Bottom and its protagonists, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Looking back, it’s easy to see why I enjoyed the show as a child. The characters’ understanding of sex was on a par with my own (references to people “doing it” aplenty) and the cartoon violence was just the tonic for someone who felt they’d outgrown Tom and Jerry but hadn’t really. Now I can see Rik’s Richie and his delusions of grandeur as part of a lineage that stretches back as far as Tony Hancock but at the time it just made me laugh when he filled his pants with custard.
At primary school, my friends and I formed a “Bottom Club” as the only three boys in the class who watched (or were allowed to watch) Richie and Eddie’s antics. I suspect Rik would have enjoyed that name, corrupting our young minds in his own inimitable style.
For my tenth birthday I was bought the script book of the first series and I’m fairly certain it was a revelation that people on television weren’t just making it up as they went along. A decade ago I took a play to the Edinburgh festival involving two blokes sat on a sofa talking nonsense and it was the beginnings of a career as a professional writer. It would not be overstating the case to suggest that, were it not for that gift, I wouldn’t be writing this now.
Bottom seems to take place in a kind of post-apocalyptic universe where literally everyone is awful. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king and somehow Richie and Eddie seem positively lovable in the face of the horrors they are subjected to from the outside world.
If the world of the show seems divorced from reality, so does the television landscape of the early 1990s when viewed from a quarter of a century on. There is such a thing as the tyranny of too much choice and there are days when I feel nostalgic for the limiting qualities of just four channels. At that time, Friday night was Bottom night and it was that simple.
One of the most vivid memories I have of childhood is being at my grandparents on a Friday night and watching the final episode of the final series with my father. As Richie and Eddie attempted to stage a video for Jeremy Beadle's Viciously Hilarious Domestic Violent Incidents, my dad was breathless with laughter, about as out of control as I had ever seen him. Beadle has gone now. Rik has gone now. Both of those grandparents have gone now. But that memory remains.
There’s a moment in the first series when Richie the character discovers he’s won a bet on the horses and utters the immortal words that equally apply to Rik the actor, “I knew I was great.” He was right.