Ben Elton in Stellar: Ben Elton’s plea to Australian TV networks
Comedian Ben Elton opens up about getting older, but definitely not mellower, being a Pom in Australia and the “deeply, deeply, deeply dispiriting experience’ of his failed show Ben Elton Live From Plant Earth.
You’ve recently toured the UK. It must have gone well because your shows sold out.
It went wonderfully; I can’t lie. I didn’t know what was going to happen after 15 years away from the road, whether there was going to be an audience or what I was going to say to them.
You exploded onto the comedy scene more than 30 years ago. Are you less angry than when you emerged in the 1980s in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain?
I’ve been asked, “Are you mellowing?” in every interview since the 1980s. I don’t think I am at all. I don’t ever feel I was an angry comedian. I always say I was a passionate comedian. I was a passionate young man, and now I’m a passionate old man; I’m 60.
I’ve been away for six months because I have been on the road, and prior to that working on the stage version of [TV series] Upstart Crow. But the past 10 years I’ve been Australian, based in Australia, an Australian taxpayer, a full-scale Australian. We decided we would give the kids their primary-school years in Britain, and then switch and give them their high-school years in Australia.
How do you prioritise between writing novels, TV and screenplays, and performing?
I go where the muse takes me. I’ve been so f*cking lucky in my life. I left university and within eight months I was earning a living doing exactly what I’d wanted to do since the age of 10: write comedy.
I didn’t imagine I’d be a performer. I did that because I needed to find work, so I invented myself as a comedian. But I was a comic writer. I wanted to write plays but, of course, moved to TV, novels… and I’ve earned a sufficiently good living at it right from the start, which has meant I could do what I like.
That’s why you never saw [me write] Police Academy 6: The London Beat in 1988, because when it was offered to me, I turned it down.
You tried a live comedy show for the Nine Network in 2011 called Ben Elton Live From Planet Earth, but it was a high-profile bust. How do you feel about it now?
It was a deeply, deeply, deeply dispiriting experience. I was outraged by what happened. Channel 9 did something extraordinary, backing a return to Australian local content. I am an Australian, I was an Australian citizen when they did it – I wasn’t some f*cking Pom who couldn’t get work elsewhere, believe me.
But there was a feeding frenzy; it was ridiculous and wrong. If The Young Ones had been judged after two weeks, it would have been dead on its arse. It had the worst reviews. Blackadder the same; its first year was not considered very good and it nearly got cancelled.
My advice to an Australian broadcaster is if you’re not prepared to let it go for a series, then don’t start and break everybody’s hearts.
You’re touring Australia this year. Why the return to stand-up?
It’s a family thing. I toured Australia in 2006 when my kids were five, six years old, and I missed six months. And I didn’t need to do that as I’m a writer with other options. Now my time’s my own again and Sophie said, “If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it.”
Well, we’re looking forward to a calmer, mellower Ben Elton.
I’m a lot older, maybe a little calmer, but not mellower!
Ben Elton’s Live 2020 national stand-up tour begins on April 20; livenation.com.au.
Originally published as Ben Elton’s plea to Australian TV networks