Rik Mayall is dead.
This column was supposed to be an analysis of my last Top 50 boardgames video, but I wanted to talk a little bit about Rik Mayall. “What does Rik Mayall have to do with board games?!” I hear you ask.
First of all, Rik Mayall has a great deal to do with British childhood. This is a British website, created by some of the best British writers ever to write about games – your boys Rossignol, Gillen, Meer and Walker. And I bet all those guys, like me, had their childhoods poked at, prodded and given the vicky-v's by Rik Mayall. He was that big. He was that important.
I was a good boy. I was a quiet child. I had (and still have, thank god) a brother and three sisters, but they were (and still are, thank god) a fair bit older than me. When I was a little boy, my siblings were getting on with being teenagers – drinking, socialising, partying.
I played games and I read books and I watched TV. That's what I did. That's pretty much all I did. My parents were older than most parents. I was a late child. My ma had lost two children before I was born. I was the baby she was warned not to try for. I popped out fit and healthy anyway. Fuck it, why not? I wish I'd managed to defy expectations more often. That might have been my one and only miraculous achievement – just getting here. It's enough, I suppose.
My childhood was a good one. I lived in my own little world, of games and sci-fi and horror and nonsense. My parents, already middle-aged, made sure my world was one of Bing Crosby and Perry Como and Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra too. My da, though, was an interesting guy. I've written about him before on these pages. I think I'm probably always writing about him, everywhere. He was interesting because he lived his life with one foot in the past and one foot in the present. And another foot in the future, somehow, despite only having two legs. He was the one who wanted to watch The Young Ones. He was the one I watched The Young Ones with. I was 6 years old.
Did he ban me from watching it, with all its violence and bad language and anarchy? No. He wanted me to watch it, and I remember him watching me as I watched it. The Young Ones taught me to hate Margaret Thatcher and to dance like Alexei Sayle and to love The People's Poet, Rick, who is now actually dead. The People's Poet is dead, as is my da. How awful is that?
“What does Rik Mayall have to do with board games?”
I was thinking last night about Rik Mayall, and The Young Ones, and the alternative comedy movement. I remember how it changed me. I remember how it changed everything. I was a quiet boy, like I said. I cried on my first day at school. I couldn't bear to be separated from my parents, and people were noisy and teacher would shout and it was scary and I wanted to go home. But then comedy happened, and Rik Mayall happened, and I was taught that noise and chaos was amazing and that it wasn't wrong to flick the vicky-v's at people in positions of authority. In Blackadder, Rik Mayall would swing into view and be the loudest guy in the room. Everybody loved him. It was fine to be the loudest guy in the room. It was good to be fearless, loud and funny. It was fine to be a show-off, as long as you had that glint in your eye. It was even good to be an outsider. Hey, it was cool to be an outsider, as long as you had your own thing going on.
Look at comedy today. Much of it is small – a comedy of awkwardness, and little glances to the camera. A comedy of the struggle inside conformity. When I was a kid, comedy was Rik Mayall screaming the most profound obscenities. Comedy was Ade Edmondson alleviating boredom by battering people with a cricket bat. Comedy was Alexei Sayle stamping down the street towards us, shouting about injustice. Comedy, when I was a kid, gave us confidence. It made us bold.
The Young Ones was transformative. It really was. I saw my friends change from tiny little whispering things into yelping rogues who swore like sailors. I watched as my best pals got loud and wild – two things I think any healthy human being needs to be.
I played pen and paper RPGs with my friends. Without the alternative comedy movement, I don't think I could have done that. Kids in a room pretending to be characters? Acting? Trying to make each other laugh? How could we have done that without people like Rik Mayall?
I wanted to bounce off other people. I'd seen how Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson had pinballed against each other. It was intoxicating, and it was how friendships should be, surely? I now wanted my games to be social. I needed to be with people, poking fun at them, making them react. I needed a shared laughter. I played board games that would let me be loud and crazy. To this day, my favourite board games are the ones that let me fully interact with others. I love the board games that let us all go wild.
What would I have been without The Young Ones? What would any of us, of my generation, have been?
“What does Rik Mayall have to do with board games?”
This is the point I'm always trying to make. Let's be straight here – to the uninitiated, board gaming looks like the most square, dull, tragic thing ever. It does, right? But that's not how I play board games. What board gaming is, to me, is a hugely social, funny, loud, wild event. It's all “FUCK YOU!” and smashing dice across the board and crude jokes and uproar. It's why my Top 50 list, particularly in its upcoming Top 10, will show a huge bias towards fun and interactivity. It's why I never really understand people who play solitaire board games. Surely the point is to play with people?
You can't be square and play board games. “We're all going to get together tonight and pretend to be aliens and we're all going to shout at each other and get drunk and swear and laugh and scream.” We play board games, we behave like 10 year olds, right? There's nothing uncool about that. It's totally cool.
Rik Mayall behaved like a 10 year old all his life. He was like a fucking rock star.
There is no The Young Ones for my 7 year old daughter to watch. What would she see if I showed her the comedy of 2014? A fucking panel show, with every guest a middle-aged man? Great, right? It's why it's been such a pleasure making these board game videos with her. We're making videos about her da's toys, like her da is 10 years old or something – and yet thousands of people are watching them. That's hugely exciting to her. Her confidence is growing. She's getting louder.
I thank Rik Mayall, and all of those brilliant comedians who made my childhood so exciting. I idolised that bunch, and they made me a lot less afraid of the world. They made me fall in love with the loudness and wildness of people.
And because I love people, I love board games.
And that's what beautiful, brilliant Rik Mayall has to do with board games.