In any case he was still a comparatively young man which of course made his death very sad. It was also shocking, since he was such an intense and lively performer. It was as if everything he did was infused with 10 000 volts of electricity. Because of that freakish presence he absolutely dominated every scene he was ever in.
Not only was he the most compelling part of any production, he was almost always the funniest. That was no mean feat. Such overbearing energy could actually get in the way of making comedy work. This is because it is so highly structured, and needs real focus and clarity to extract the biggest and best laugh from every punchline. Mayall had that in spades, too.
This was obvious from all his work in iconic TV shows like The Young Ones and Blackadder. But you got a much stronger sense of his comic talent close up.
I only saw him do stand up live once. It was back in about 1986 or '87 when he was in Perth. I'm actually sitting across the road from the venue he performed at right now. (I'm writing this in the Dome Cafe in Leederville.)
He did a double bill with Ben Elton. The latter was smart and affable, of course. But there was something a bit condescending about his presence. He clearly saw himself as a superior intellect whose role was to improve us morally with his satirical routines.
Elton's great strength was in his writing. But his delivery was weak. Rather than being a heightened version of himself on stage, or totally inhabiting an invented comic persona, he seemed to be wearing a somewhat unconvincing mask that was designed to charm us en masse so he could "sugar the pill" of right-on social commentary he felt we all so desperately needed.
Mayall, on the other hand, was a less pretentious but more accomplished and memorable performer. He wasn't trying to make us better people. He was just there to make us laugh like drains the whole time he was on stage. And he certainly achieved that aim.
I can still vividly recall his electric presence on stage, the almost frightening intensity of his voice and those wild eyes bulging with rage. He put an insane amount of energy into everything he did which made his act utterly hilarious and also quite exhausting to watch.
That gung ho, balls out quality that he had makes his death a bit less sad, in my opinion. He clearly put everything he had into his art, and gave countless people huge enjoyment. Mayall certainly made very good use of his time on Earth, even though it was cut short.