Warm and wise with a black belt in tong-fu: Writer and comedian KATHY LETTE pays tribute to Dame Edna star Barry Humphries after his death at age 88
Australia is home to the world’s most deadly creatures – the great white shark, the funnel web spider, the box jellyfish… and, until yesterday, the Edna Everage.
Dame Edna had the most poisonous humor. She was the Navratilova of the underhanded compliment, able to exalt and then destroy in one breath.
Speaking to singer Michael Bolton about what would be her last talk show in Britain, she purred: “You’ve had nine hits this year…” Just as the singer was brushing herself up, she added caustically: ” On your website.’
But, as Dame Edna herself often remarked, she was “born with an inestimable gift – the ability to laugh at the misfortunes of others.” Equally deadly was her cultural attaché, Sir Les Patterson, a ball-wielding barbarian who thinks “erudite” is a kind of glue.
Sir Les directed many of his scathing remarks at the Lady. “Let’s hear it for Dame Edna,” he would sputter. “When she steps on these boards, I want you to give her the slap she so richly deserves.”
Barry Humphries, who died in a hospital in Sydney, has entertained Australians for seven decades. He created Edna Everage (above) in 1955
A fixture of the local entertainment scene for seven decades, Humphries became an international star
However, the couple’s manager, Barry Humphries, was their antithesis. Warm, wise, frank, kind and wonderfully self-deprecating, Barry was my friend for over 40 years.
I first met him in my late teens at the Melbourne Comedy Awards where I confessed that I felt he might have invented me: Dame Edna has a daughter named Valmai and she married a man named Mervyn and they moved to a blonde brick veneer (a typical 1950s family home) in the suburbs.
My mother’s name is Valmai and she married my father Mervyn and they built a blond brick house in the suburbs. Barry laughed before going into Dame Edna mode, “How spooky, possum!”
For us, it was love at first sight – and we’ve tripled since then. He had a black belt in tong-fu. A dinner party in which he was involved invariably became the Wimbledon of humour, with banter lobbed back and forth with such speed that guests were left with jokes.
We were neighbors in London for 25 years, so I got to experience his wonderfully wicked humor on a regular basis. His house was adjacent to mine. When he returned home after stunning the world, he emailed me, “Kathy honey, I’m waiting at your back door,” or something mischievous like that.
The pandemic lockdowns have been particularly debilitating for artists, and ADD (Audience Deficit Disorder) hit Barry hard.
Only once a week did we get respite as we emerged blinking from various burrows to clap for caretakers. Barry would climb onto his top floor balcony, applaud the heroic front-line workers and secretly imagine himself back in the theatre.
‘I first met him in my late teens at the Melbourne Comedy Awards where I confessed that I felt he invented me’
Eyes twinkling, he was bathed in applause before making a humble bow. He once told me that his favorite part of a hectic day was walking onstage in front of 1,000 people and then sighing with relief, “Ah, alone at last.”
Even though Barry has now left the world stage, he has left us with a legacy of laughter. There is no greater gift.