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Ben Elton - comedian

By MARK PRICE and TRACEY ROXBURGH

One of Britain’s most prolific comedy writers is fizzing to get back to the land of the long white cloud.

Speaking to Mountain Scene from Australia before his New Zealand tour, which started in in Blenheim on Saturday, the 61-year-old says his last NZ visit a few years ago was “a chance to do what I do in one of the most beautiful places on the planet … and I can’t wait to do it again’’.

The comedian, author, playwright and director has built his international funny-man reputation over three decades.

He’s written TV shows including The Young Ones, Blackadder and Mr Bean, written and directed two feature films — Maybe Baby and 2017’s Australian-made Three Summers — and published 16 best-selling novels.

And he’s written three West End plays, as well as We Will Rock You.

Along the way he’s picked up a couple of gongs for his efforts – three BAFTAs, two Laurence Olivier Awards, The Royal Television Society Writer’s Award, The Golden Dagger UK Crime Writer of the Year Award, The Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the Eurovision Golden Rose D’Or Lifetime Achievement Award.

In publicity ahead of his show, ‘Ben Elton — Live 2021’, which hits Queenstown on May 16, he says the last time he toured he was “still smarter than my phone’’.

“Things have definitely taken a funny turn.’’

While he’s got an extensive list of writing credits for other comedians, including Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson, he tells Scene he also enjoys fronting up to live audiences as himself.

“Stand-up is unquestionably the most vibrant, immediate and demanding part of my life as a writer.

“It allows me to write as myself and not as a fictitious character.

“It also gives me a chance to communicate directly with an audience in a manner that a writer who does not perform — the vast majority — does not get.

“It’s a real and special privilege and one I do everything in my power to justify.’’

Elton — whose third cousin is Olivia Newton-John, according to Wikipedia — enjoyed early career success in the early 1980s writing for student sitcom The Young Ones and then for Blackadder.

But among his successes are some lesser-known works that didn’t find so much favour with audiences or critics.

“I stopped reading anything, and I mean anything, about myself and my work 30 years ago.

“Of course I’m aware when I’m being slagged off and, likewise, when I get a good review because people tell me, but I don’t read either because that way leads [to] insanity.

“As to learning from criticism, I have enough critics amongst my family, friends and colleagues to not feel the need to factor in the opinion of strangers in the media.

“I respect their right to make their opinions public, and I presume they respect my right to try to avoid hearing them.’’

Before he starts his 13-stop tour he says he’s going to check to see which cultural and political references require “readjustment’’ but says Covid-19’s not going to take centre stage in this one.

“Covid is not remotely the centre of what I’ll be talking about, more the ghost at the feast.’’

As to what he will be discussing, modern technology may be on the agenda for the man who says he doesn’t look at any comic material on the world wide web.

“It’s too vast, too overwhelming.

“I’m sure I’m missing out on lots of fun stuff, my kids are aware of all sorts of podcasts, YouTubes and memes of which I am shamefully ignorant, but you can’t keep up forever.

“That’s one of the themes of my show.’’

Footnote: Eric Morecambe is one of Elton’s most admired comedians.

Asked why, Elton responds: “Genius is instinctive. It defies analysis.’’

Ben Elton – Live 2021, Sunday, May 16, 7.30pm, Queenstown Events Centre. Tickets $69.90 plus fees from eventfinda