I'm sorry, but there's nothing funny about Ben Elton

'Any image of the bloke makes me curl into a ball and scream, like when a spider runs across a room'

Share

Generally, I find it's not possible to maintain the levels of vitriol that propelled me through my teenage years. Except in two cases. There must have been millions who reacted to the 6 o'clock news last Friday in the way I did. There was the "bom bom" at the end of the signature tune, followed by a serious looking presenter under a big picture of Thatcher. I sat bolt upright and yelled "Dead!" Then as the story unfolded, "nuur, just ill and silenced, it's not fair."

The only other person who can make me shudder instinctively as they did 15 years ago is Ben Elton. Any image of the bloke makes me curl into a ball and go "weeeuuugh", the way you do when a big spider runs across the room. I'm not sure I can explain why he has that effect, any more than I can explain why the spider does. But now he's written a musical, based around the hits of Queen, that's been financed by the great Robert De Niro. And the two of them were on yesterday's news, sat together as part of the same team. This is devastating, like seeing your best friend going out with a junkie, or Muhammad Ali joining S Club 7.

Maybe Elton's creepiness flows from his overwhelming levels of insincerity. From Saturday Night Live onwards, Elton has never appeared as if he was saying something because he felt it, but because he thought he ought to feel it. In mid-rant he'd yell "I tell you what they say about Norman Tebbit down my way," as if he lived in a pit village. But Elton's father is a wealthy and prominent history professor. So what they might well have said about Norman Tebbit round his way was "Good morning Mr Tebbit, are you going to the Rotary Club this evening?"

It wasn't his background that was grating, it was the pretence. Similarly, he did a typically convoluted piece one night about page-three girls, then added a footnote "mind you, we mustn't blame the girls – they're only doing it because otherwise they'd be starving to death." Yes indeed. If you want to be taken on by The Sun, don't bother with a modelling agency, get yourself in a Red Cross queue for rice in a village in Mozambique.

Perhaps another key to Elton's yuckiness is he appears to be one of those people who never finds anything funny. Sure, he'd smile, maybe even titter, the way a company director or a headmaster does after delivering a borrowed joke before adding "but seriously...". But he's so wrapped up in his own pomposity, he's the type who should be the target of jokes, not delivering them.

So on that form, we could expect this musical to contain lyrics such as "I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike. Because bicycles are efficient and basically environmentally friendly, ladies and gentlemen, which is why we should be able to ride them where we like." Or "mind you, fat-bottomed girls have only got fat bottoms because otherwise they'd be starving to death – my name's Ben Elton, goodnight."

But the radicalism was only ever a left-wing branch of the showbiz insincerity perfected by creatures such as Noel Edmonds and Anthea Turner. Which is why, without missing a stride, Elton teamed up with one of the all-time joke Tory figures, Andrew Lloyd Webber, to write a musical about Northern Ireland.

I said at the time that, although I was never a fan, at least the bloke had possessed a modicum of principles and talent, so whatever led him to toss that away and work with Ben Elton, I can't imagine.

Elton justified this partnership with his usual honesty, claiming that Lloyd-Webber had progressive views on gays and so on. Why didn't he just say he had to do it, otherwise he'd be starving to death.

George Bush must also have progressive views on gays, because Elton was happy to present the musical for him at a private function, completing the journey from insincere radical comic to soulless writer prepared to grovel before the US president. From a left-wing Bob Monkhouse to a right-wing Jeffrey Archer.

Queen, incidentally, were happy to break the boycott of apartheid by playing Sun City. Their justification, like most performers and sportsmen who did the same, was a mumbled "we don't know much about politics – we've been assured this will help break down barriers" etc. They'd be worth so much more respect if they'd been honest and said "Apartheid? I'm getting a farmhouse and a speedboat out of this, why should I give a toss about a poxy township or two?"

So they should get on well with Ben Elton. But Robert, please think what you're doing. If you make any more public appearances with him, at the very least, when he's been drivelling on for 40 minutes, say "Hey Elton – are you messin' wid me? Huh? Huh? You bring me here and this is the show? I loan you my money and the best you can give me is fat bottomed, brain-dead girls? You want to break free, you're too right you want to break free, I tell you – I've had people whacked for less than that, you dumb jerk."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album