Comedian Ben Elton praised for speaking truth about so-called cancel culture and anti-trans hate

Ben Elton wears a suit while speaking into a microphone on stage

Ben Elton has been applauded for saying that cancel culture isn’t “remotely real” and coming out swinging against anti-trans hate in comedy.

​​Elton spoke to BBC Radio 4 before a one-off revival of Friday Night Live on Channel 4 on Friday (21 October) about how a comedian’s job is to speak truth to power and point out those who “purport to represent traditional values are actually the ones who represent most deeply undermining our safeties”. 

BBC Radio 4 host Justin Webb questioned if “another job of the satirist” was to “find people that are in charge even though they say they’re not”. Webb then appeared to try to bait Elton into commenting on the lives of trans people, mentioning the anti-trans dog whistle ‘what is a woman’ question and misgendering. 

Elton said his programme would touch on all aspects of society as life is changing “so quickly” in terms of technology, societal attitudes or “what is sex and gender”. 

Webb butted in: “They’re now in charge, the people who say we need to think…”

But Elton was having none of it and immediately shut down Webb’s train of thought. 

“Are you trying to say that woke millennials are cancelling grey haired voices like yours sir?” Elton said. 

Webb said he thought he was being “subtle” with his line of questioning about the lives of trans people and so-called ‘cancel culture’ in the UK. Elton emphatically told him that the “agenda is clear here”. 

“I don’t believe cancel culture is remotely real,” Elton said. “Of course, there are language rules. There always have been.” 

He continued: “They change. It is the job of the comedian to circumnavigate that. 

“I have always had in mind my language in various ways, and I hope that I have found clever and interesting ways to do that.”

Ben Elton’s comments denying that so-called cancel culture exists and steering the conversation away from another toxic debate on trans rights in the UK were greeted with immense support on social media. 

Comedians have been debating as to whether ‘punching down’ to minorities is acceptable

Various comedians including Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais have been accused of stoking hate by making crude jokes about trans people and the LGBTQ+ community in their specials. Chappelle even claimed he had been ‘cancelled’ despite performing before a sold out show

But Ben Elton said that the current debate about ‘wokeness’ is about accepting the “world is in flux” and “perhaps it doesn’t look exactly like we thought it looked” while “negotiating” that with “good will and respect for all”. 

Elton said he’s not felt like he’s been “cancelled” during his career. He described performing more than 150 gigs where he “spoke [his] mind” about “trans and race and identity” without punching down at the community. 

He added that he’s always tried “very hard not to punch down” as a comedian as he believed such digs are actually just “rabble rousing”, not comedy. 

“Comedy isn’t funny when it merely massages a prejudice,” he added. 

Ben Elton speaks into the microphone during the opening monologue to Channel 4's Friday Night Live special

Ben Elton doesn’t believe so-called cancel culture is “remotely real”. (Channel 4)

Ben Elton also garnered praise on social media for kicking off his Friday Night Live Channel 4 special by warmly welcoming audience members of all genders before sharing his pronouns. 

Elton then flawlessly transitioned to a savage dig at Liz Truss, who resigned as prime minister Thursday (20 October). The comedian described Truss’s short time in office as the “most pointlessly destructive, eye-wateringly expensive, ego-driven, car crash of delusional vanity project since Simon Cowell had his face lift”. 

The BBC faced immense backlash in 2021 for an article that claimed trans women were pressuring cisgender lesbians into sex. The article included an interview with Lily Cade, an openly anti-trans former adult entertainer who had been accused by multiple women of sexual assault. 

It did not include a single interview with anyone who disagreed that trans women are a threat to lesbians. Yet, the BBC has tirelessly insisted the article was impartial and was subject to a “rigorous editorial process”. 

The anti-trans article resulted in protests outside BBC offices in several cities.  

The BBC has also been criticised for uncritically platforming anti-trans lobby groups LGB Alliance and Get The L Out UK, leading to the broadcaster being labelled a “mouthpiece for the right-wing and the gender critical”