Ben Elton: Live
- Brian Donaldson
- 11 October 2019
Motormouth strikes again with a great new show that has him struggling to finding his place in the world
Pulling off the twin aims of coming across as curmudgeonly and contemporary is no mean feat. Yet somehow, for his first stand-up tour in 15 years, Ben Elton achieves this near impossible task. Grumpily denouncing the music tastes of his offspring (in full acknowledgment of how decrepit this makes him sound) and the widespread artisanisation of alcohol (he genuinely maintains that such 'progress' is plain wrong), this 60-year-old veteran of the alternative comedy wars from the late 70s/early 80s, still shows more sensitivity of issues revolving around gender and sexuality than many other middle-aged male comics (yes, Richard, David and William, we're probably thinking of you).
Elton might not have been bothered to come up with a proper title for his show, but there is a vague theme binding it all together, instilled in the repeated mantra that 'I no longer get what I once got'. Trying to negotiate a path through this era of the 21st century is confusing enough without it making him question what he previously believed were the old certainties. He even forces himself to make a reluctant nod towards the integrity of deceased right-wing warhorses such as Reagan and Thatcher, who he reckons at least had some principles when set aside the current haphazard leaders of America and Britain. Indeed, our current PM (when last we looked) is given a proper going over in Elton's climactic whirlwind as he takes to task those who insist that Boris Johnson is actually funny.
While much has changed since he last zipped around the country, Elton's trademark breathless style is perfectly intact. Dubbed during his mid-80s Saturday Live heyday as Motormouth, the shiny jacket and dark mullet have gone, replaced by safe M&S polo shirts (he even has a 'costume change' at the interval) and whiter, thinner hair. An ability to leave audiences gasping for air is also still in his armoury, and there are excellent passages about his wife's late-night mobile-phone usage, and imagining what care homes will look like once our millennials are populating them.
There are some who will simply find it impossible to forgive him for his past cultural indiscretions (he's firmly on the defensive here about working with Tories such as Andrew Lloyd Webber) including the likes of Get a Grip (his deservedly short-lived ITV satirical show with Alexa Chung) and risible sitcom The Wright Way which have done their best to stain a TV writing career that began with era-defining landmarks such as The Young Ones and Blackadder. But on stage is where he seems to be at his most productive now. It will hopefully not be another decade and a half before we get to hear more of his 90mph outpourings on cultural and social trends.
Ben Elton: Live is on tour until Saturday 30 November. Seen at Queen's Hall, Edinburgh.