Having impotently watched his father succumb to Alzheimer’s, Ben Elton is justifiably concerned about losing his wits in a world where so many of his former certainties are being overturned. But having raised his family in Australia, experiencing success and stinging criticism for his other creative endeavours, the loquacious 60-year-old “farty’s” return to stand-up with his first UK tour in 15 years is impressively vital, relevant and passionate.
Ben Elton, Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow ****
These are interesting times and he’s an interested observer, with cancel culture an ever-present threat for performers deemed out-of-touch. Drawing a through-line from his bafflement with his son’s music tastes to the care home purgatory awaiting us all, the clashes of baby boomers and millennials, the one-time upstart, PC firebrand is delivering superior grumpy old man shtick.
Excessively ragging on the craft beer revolution and nanny state alcohol guidelines, he further plays to his Scottish audience by sniping at Alex Salmond and acknowledging his sexual awakening to Lulu. But these diatribes are part of broader arguments whereby he, as a self-aware, white, middle-class, middle-aged man wades into identity politics, feminism, social inequality and toxic internet discourse, advocating collective male responsibility for the sins of Weinstein and his ilk, while revisiting some of his most right-on, celebrated routines of the eighties and finding them wanting.
With avowed empathy for the new gender spectrum, he nevertheless waggishly risks some generalisations about men and women. And while he’s lately found himself reassessing even Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, he minces few words in his condemnation of the Tory party. Offering a sober analysis of Brexit and the backsliding of Enlightenment debate, he builds to a lethal character assassination of Boris Johnson. Jay Richardson