Arts & Culture » The B-List

Forty years in a dress



I can't do this forever. Seriously. Bitch-lipped mockery of the seldom seen isn't the sort of fare that screams "shelf life," after all.

But maybe I'm wrong.

Barry Humphries, a straight dad -- and Australian landscape artist -- has been pulling his Dame Edna Everage schtick since 1955, gracefully offending everybody, and traveling the world to do so. I may have a future as a drag queen.

On the horn Humphries -- as the Dame -- is far more charming than I expected. Not funny, mind you, but charming.

"I think in a way, Disneyland tends to marginalize Orlando itself, doesn't it?" (s)he drags. "A big shadow of a mouse. I never thought it looked much like a mouse, did you?"

Well, yes. But tell me more.

"You better not tell your readers this," she coaxes. "But, of course, I can't remember what I did the last time I was in Florida."

Edna's show is popping through Florida as we speak, and she's clearly aiming at local color for comic effect. So what's the show like, lady?

"It's like a group therapy," she overstates. "But no one's feelings are hurt. On the contrary, people find it an inspiration. They've even asked me in this spooky old country of yours, particularly in Florida, if I'd like to start my own religion. The Church of St. Edna.

"I said no, that I thought that might be a bit blasphemous. 'It could be quite big business,' they said. And they meant it! Isn't that sickening?"

Well, yes. But it's reasonably funny. Maybe if peppered with a little local racial slur, it could truly pop.

"I don't know how I go with the Hispanic community" she slurs. "But I think they'll enjoy the color and the movement."

Anyway, it remains hard for me to believe that Edna's straight, considering her weighty influence on bitchy, gay dialect. You would think that 40 years in a dress might have some psychological effect.

"How does it feel to be a nongay, gay icon?

"Well, people have told me that," she demurs. "I've never, between you and me, known what that means. It's a bit hard to define. In a sense, it's a slightly sexist thing to be. I like to think that we're all a family, really."

Yeah, and I've got all my sisters and me. Some of them drag queens.

"The fact that people impersonate me," she waxes, with poised astonishment. "I mean I've heard only recently that I'm 'done' at parties. Well, if only people would tell me!"

Nyuk, nyuk.

"I think that people find me a little bit more difficult to impersonate than they think," she powders on. "I mean, I'm an extremely subtle woman. I'm not two-dimensional like some I could mention, but I won't."

Whitney? Mariah? Cher? Liza?

"By the way, do you know that the little man who married Liza Minelli, Mr. Guest, proposed to me once," she proposes. "I adore her. And I said, 'I have a little friend, and I'm enjoying my widowhood, but I've got an adorable little pal that I think you could get along very well with.' So I'm a bit of a cupid there."

"Did you ask him if he was gay?"

"I didn't ask him. I'm not interested in that sort of thing," she evades, again.

Edna's dead hubbie, the fictitious Norm, inspired her to form the fictitious, although funny, "Friends of the Prostate" organization.

"That's always been a big concern of mine, in memory of my late husband, Norm. He was a very important person, but I thought he was my husband."

Whatever. My prostate has enough friends. Time to change the subject.

Which brings us to the spectacular resurgence of Australian influence in film and music. Or, more particularly, Kylie Minogue.

"Kylie?" she perks up. "I gave her her first start. Did you know that?"

No, but I figured it.

"She was a little singer. She was extremely fat -- very, very fat -- dreadful hair, and very, very bad skin."

She finally makes me laugh, albeit uncomfortably.

"But there was something about her. Her funny name, 'Kylie,' which is an aboriginal word. Did you know that?"

No, but I figured it.

"I think it means 'throwing sticks.' They throw sticks at each other, the aboriginals. Bless their hearts," she sneezes. "I always think that's the most patronizing thing you can say to anyone: 'Bless them.' You can really bad-mouth someone, as long as at the end, you say, 'Bless them.' But you might have to put a racial epithet before that."

Back to Kylie!

"Sometimes her gratitude is sickening. But she's a lovely kid. She's still there, even as people like Britney fade," she fades. "It's difficult for the women, I think, in show business, because so much of their popularity is based on appearance. And I include Leonardo DiCaprio in that category."

OK, then. Back to racial epithets!

"And another thing," she Dangerfields. "I've recently discovered that I'm Jewish because I can play mah-jongg without anyone teaching me!"

Bless her heart. Clearly, I can't do this forever.

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