Rik Mayall was fearless. In the early 1980s, when British stand-up comedy was chubby blokes in too tight dinner jackets telling jokes about wives, mother-in-laws and ethnic groups, Rik Mayall would walk on stage, looking like a Bowie-fan circa Heroes and recite poetry about his love for Vanessa Redgrave and the theater. Audiences were aghast and unsure whether Mayall was genuinely an angry socialist poet ranting about theater or some kind of bizarre amateur stand-up comic taking time out from his sociology degree.
Mayall was part of the disparate group of comics who were filed under “A” for “Alternative Comedy.” Ye olde comics didn’t like these cheeky young comics, because they didn’t have punchlines, and couldn’t understand why younger audiences found them funny.
From the Comedy Store in London, these Alternative comics made their early appearances on shows such as the rather excellent Boom Boom Out Go The Lights, which launched Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Keith Allen, Alexei Sayle, Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson, and (the sadly forgotten) late-nite-live entertainment series, Friday Night, Saturday Morning, hosted by amongst others, the avuncular Ned Sherrin, the man responsible for That Was The Week That Was and producing musicals like Side-by_Side by Sondheim. Friday Night, Saturday Morning gave air time to Mayall and Edmondson (as Twentieth Century Coyote) and The Outer Limits (Planer and Richardson). These four would later regroup with Keith Allen, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and Robbie Coltrane as The Comic Strip Presents… for Channel 4 in 1982.
Yet, before all that, and even before Rik and co. “kicked in the doors of British comedy” with The Young Ones in 1982, Mayall starred as intrepid investigative Redditch reporter Kevin Turvey on A Kick Up The Eighties—the show which launched Tracy Ullman, Robbie Coltrane, and Mayall, alongside more established actors/performers Miriam Margolyes, Roger Sloman, Ron Bain and Richard Stilgoe. Produced by comedy supremo, Colin Gilbert for BBC Scotland, A Kick Up The Eighties was a mix of Alternative and traditional comedy, which set the tone for other sketch shows such as Naked Video, and (to an extent) even Ben Elton’s Alfresco (with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Siobhan Redmond and Robbie Coltrane).
The stand-out segment of A Kick Up The Eighties was Mayall’s superb “Kevin Turvey Investigates” which presented one of the most brilliant, original and hilarious comic creations of the 1980s. The character’s success led to a one-off “mockumentary” The Man Behind the Green Door in 1982, which starred, Mayall as Turvey, with Coltrane as Mick the lodger, Ade Edmondson as Keith Marshall, and Roger Sloman as the park keeper. The story-line is simple: Kevin investigates what’s going on around in his hometown, Redditch. The answer is “not a lot.”
It’s an astonishingly original piece of television that prefigures the style of shows like The Office, and it still retains its comic brilliance more than 30-years later. Enjoy!
Bonus: Rik reads an angry poem.