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Ben Elton

British comic writer Ben Elton has had a hugely varied career since he first exploded onto the scene over 30 years ago, penning everything from novels to musical libretti. Now, having had to postpone his first Australian stand-up tour in 15 years, he’s finally hitting stages around the country with his new live show.

Rita Horanyi caught up with the veteran funny man and chatted about the impacts of the pandemic on his humour, the challenges of stand-up, and more. 

Ben EltonDid postponing your Australian tour last year change your show at all?
I was worried that COVID – which was such a bruising experience for everyone – would cast a shadow, and that some of the stuff I was talking about would appear in a different light. But the basic nature of being human doesn’t get any less absurd because we’re living through a pandemic.

For instance, I do a little riff about the modern habit of sharing your condiments and now with COVID and everyone avoiding each other … you can certainly work that into the routine.

On a bigger, more difficult subject, I do a piece about aging and the fear of dementia. My father faded away with Alzheimer’s. It was the most brutal end. It’s quite funny but it’s also quite serious. I often take on serious subjects and see the funny side – you can see the funny side of anything.

But now there’s this extra dimension where most people my age are beginning to think, “Gosh, I hope I go before I lose my faculties”, and people are thinking about voluntary assisted dying, and we’ve got the whole world trying to keep everyone alive – which is great, but it adds an extra element to my musings.

What was the inspiration behind your new show?
The inspiration for stand-up is connecting with an audience. It’s a chance, after all those years writing novels and directing musicals, to get back on stage. As a comic writer nothing, nothing is more confronting, but also more inspiring, than going head-to-head with your audience.

Your Australian tour comes off the back of your critically acclaimed stand-up tour in Britain, which was your return to the form after 15 years. How does it feel to be back on stage?
I never, ever imagined that my return to Australian stand-up after 15 years would coincide with the end of the most brutal year for culture in my lifetime. It’s just been catastrophic for those who work in the industry. And for the community as a whole, because we need live theatre and we need live entertainment.

There’s been live theatre in Australia for 80,000 years because ritual and gathering to dance and sing, religious ceremony – that’s all theatre – and that’s what led me to the need to come together and celebrate our common humanity.

I feel very moved to be back, because when I say to friends in Britain, I’m on the road, they can scarcely believe it.

You spend a lot of time in both the UK and Australia. Are there any differences in how your comedy is received in the two countries?
Not really, you know. Some comedians have to work very hard when they go to a new place, but my material is really about being human and it tends to be more general. Most of the stuff I’m talking about is global – ‘Me too’ is global, identity politics is global, the trans debate is global. I deal with our common humanity, and humour is a fabulous way to celebrate our common humanity.

Any new projects in the pipeline?
Amazingly, I’m in a bit of a renaissance. At the moment, I’m writing the screenplay of the new BeeGees biopic to be produced by the people that did Bohemian Rhapsody. So that’s very exciting!

“I love the fact that there is such a thing as a free street press – they used to be such an essential part of growing up... I’m glad that there’s still one [in Darwin] because there’s not many of them left now.It’s an essential service.” - Ben Elton

Ben Elton Live
SAT 5 JUN | 7.30PM
COST $62-$73


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