Ben Elton

Middlesbrough Town Hall, 7 October 2019

Darren Stephens
Oct 8 · 4 min read

Back in the mists of time I had both Ben Elton’s stand-up albums, Motormouth and Motorvation, on cassette. Parts of them are still etched into my brain: double seat, what’s in the lowest circle of hell, and the punchline, “Fuck off, Jesus. No sandals!”

The Ben Elton of the long hair and the sparkly suit is long gone, because times have changed. Sometimes this is a good thing, other times not. It was a good thing that he seemed to have (at least comparatively) discovered his mojo again with Upstart Crow after the raging embarrassment of The Wright Way, so the decision to go see him do some stand-up when he hasn’t for a fairly long stretch was pretty much a no-brainer, really. The pre-show soundtrack of 70s bangers definitely helped.

It’s 15 years since he’s toured, and 35 since he and Rik Matall played here, but boy is he still angry. There’s a theme tonight, and it’s basically, “WTF?” What the hell is going on? How come all the stuff he thought he knew, is wrong. How is he becomIng retrospectively stupid?.

It’s a familiar trope, but he worries that he doesn’t understand the world anymore. He knows he’s getting old, and he doesn’t understand the world his kids inhabit. He wonders how Tomorrow’s World might have turned out if, “Maggie Philbin had told us that she had a device in the palm of her hand that she could use to take a picture of her twat and send it to anyone else in the world so they could revenge porn her later”. He’s pretty scathing about the Internet, and social media’s effect on debate and discourse He’s sixty, so he remembers when you could actually buy things in shops, and enjoy the experience. Then there’s a discursion into the knotty issue of gender and identity politics. He finishes the first half with an impassioned section about his dad dying of dementia, and wondering about why we are keeping people alive in that way, as it was a form of torture for his dad. At this point he exhorts us to take those final years off our life, and go to the bar!

The interval music is still quality stuff

The general thrust of the second half is, “You think you’re young. You’re not”. You think you’re still 21, but you’re 21 when you were 21, not now. Music is different, culture is different, and it’s pointless to even pretend we properly get it. The audience is mostly white. Middle aged and middle class, so the themes do play to us, but it’s not more than you’d expect from a man with this much writing and crafting expericnce. He knows his audience, though as he observes early on, he’s surpised and slightly humbled to see that it’s still there. So the first port of call is music, hence the music we heard coming, and the contrast with what his kids listen to, not to mention how his son has taken control of the car stereo with his phone, and now he can’t get Radio 4 any more…

He returns to the issue of sex, gender and identity in the second half, where he muses on how things have changed for the days of Stonewall and Section 28. In general he thinks this is a good thing, but boy is it getting compicated. He wonders if perhpas there aren’t simpler ways to indicate gender roles and idenity. Simpler ways like: You demand to be the one to assemble the Billy bookcase: you’re clearly a man; you can multi-task: woman; you have stargeies for correct loading of the dishwasher: man; empty a wardrobe onto the bed and complain you’ve nothing to wear: woman. The rules are simple, he says.

And then he talks about Boris Johnson and Tories. As he says, there are nice Tories: we probably even know some; he knows some too (and has worked with one or two as well), but Johnson isn’t one of them. His distate and contempt for him is almost unbounded.

He finsishes on a rather rmore downbeat note, talking about an angry, frigthening heckler in Grimsby who spent a full three minutes yelling “You’re a cunt “ at him at a gig. Having gone thorugh the traumas of the 80s, he wonders why things are seemingly even more angry now, and worries we may be leaving the values of civilised society and reason behind, lapsing back into a kind of dark age. He hopes he’s wrong. He’s not alone.

Make no mistake, he hasn’t lost his edge. He may be older but he’s still angry, still cares, still wants to rage against the dying of the light. And he’s still bloody funny

The final little kick is the music that plays as we leave, which is very specifically (and very funny it is too) referenced in the second half: Khia’s My Neck, My Back.


The only downer was getting out of the show, only to find some scrote had broken into my car. Bummer.

Fifteen Minutes of Mantra-filled Oompah

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