2014 has not been the best year for comedy and that is putting it mildly. During the course of the year three pioneering comedians have passed away: Rik Mayall, Robin Williams and Joan Rivers. They have been influential in their respective comedy scenes as well as worldwide, and inspired a great many comedians that followed in their footsteps. Stand up, theatre, sketches, opera, television, film and even a little bit of music: they filled all of it with distinctive humour. There is no doubt that they are sorely mourned, but their body of work will solely bring forth laughter. Here, we commemorate this threesome with a small look at their oeuvres.
Rik Mayall (1958 – 2014)
This burst of blunt British force rose to fame in the eighties. He made a name for himself as an alternative comic alongside his long-time comedic partner Adrian Edmondson. They moved in the same circles as notable figures as Ben Elton, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, and appeared in The Comic Strip Presents and the hugely successful Blackadder series. All of them performed alternative sketch comedy around the same time and were seen as ‘the next big thing’. Mayall and Edmondson became just that with the remarkable show “The Young Ones“, which was partly written by Mayall. The duo also starred in their own shows The Dangerous Brothers and Filthy Rich & Catflap, but their most notable characters were Eddie Hitler and Richard Richard in the slapstick television series Bottom and its subsequent theatre iterations.
Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)
What can be said about the man of a thousand faces, voices and gestures? You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has owned a television or computer and has never heard of or seen Robin Williams. As an actor, he gave his characters unique personalities, humour and humanity, and as a comedian he let his imagination roam free as a hyperactive cheetah. This was a man that could improvise on anything and create a show out of a single atom. His brand of lightning-fast stream-of-consciousness comedy is unfathomably funny and has been unsurpassed for nearly forty years. He still regularly performed stand-up in small clubs – up until his death – because he loved the medium so much. Comedy and love were at his core. For instance, when his friend Christopher Reeve suffered a terrible accident, Robin paid his hospital bills, but not before posing as a foreign physician so he could enter the hospital, visit his friend and insist on giving him a rectal exam. This was a comedian in every fibre of his being.
Joan Rivers (1933 – 2014)
The longest-serving comedian in this article was a pioneer in female comedy. Her first acting credits date back to the fifties, but her big break did not arrive until 1965, when she appeared on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. From then on she was a star. Her performances and prominence paved the way for virtually every female comedian that followed her. On-stage, she displayed a satirical and blunt form of humour, which was often self-deprecating. Occasionally a few of her jokes got her into trouble, but that never bothered her, as she saw her jokes for what they were: jokes. Her taboo-breaking work and her very recognisable personality set her apart from her peers.
Because of the influence these three comedians have had on their respective fields and how great their material is and remains, 2014 is an extremely sad year for comedy. Without Rik Mayall, British alternative comedy wouldn’t have had its vigour and madness. Without Robin Williams, there would be no comedy theatres – no comedian would have been able to make a living if it weren’t for him. Without Joan Rivers, female comedians would not have been allowed to be as nasty as they can be. In short: comedy around the globe would not have been the same if it weren’t for these three. Honestly, 2014 could only get worse if Billy Connolly, Bill Cosby, another Python or Rowan Atkinson snuffs it: we’ve had enough ex-comedians for one year.