3 min

Cookie does The Dame

Simple Aussie 'housewife' claims she started the women's movement

Credit: Dame Edna

“You know, I’ve never been to Vancouv-ah,” Dame Edna says to me over the phone in her lilting Aussie accent. “I don’t know what to expect and that makes it even more exciting.”

She’s in Boston performing her one-woman show, A Night with Dame Edna, which will play the Vancouver Centre for the Performing Arts from Oct 24 to Nov 3. I get the impression she’s run-down, but doing her best to hide it. The poor thing is so media-blitzed, she keeps thinking I’m in Toronto.

“And I might ask your guidance when I’m in Toronto,” she says, “that you might show me around.”

A lesser queen might have corrected her, but not Miss Cookie. I know she means Vancouver and that’s good enough. “If you want to slum it,” I offer, “I know all the places to go.”

That gives her a chuckle. “Oh, I don’t think I want to slum it. Don’t tell me about the slums.”

“I thought you wanted to meet the lowest common denominator?” I say, misunderstanding part of our earlier conversation. (Dame Edna had told me: “One of the reasons that I’m coming to Toronto [sic] is that I want to meet non-entities and get to know them. I want to meet nobodies. I want to befriend the least-likely people you could imagine me mingling with.”)

“I don’t mean in that sense,” she corrects, “I mean ordinary folk. Honest, nice people.”

To recover from my error, I ask if she’s any thoughts on why she is such a celebrity.

“I don’t question what Dame Nature gave me. I think I was given a gift when I was a little baby. And the gift was given with a little tag on it, not a price tag, but a little note that said, ‘This gift is yours if you promise to give it away on a regular basis in your shows.’ And that’s what I do, I hand it back to the audience and their laughter is their expression of gratitude.”

Enlivened, she adds, “How about that?” I could hear the enthusiasm in her voice, a sparkle of her stage presence. “I made that up just now. It’s beautiful. Won’t it look lovely in print in your gorgeous glossy magazine?”

I don’t dare tell her Xtra West is newsprint. “You’re growing into quite the icon,” I say to distract her.

“Oh, I hope not, dear,” she moans.

“Do you ever walk down the street and see yourself on a T-shirt or toilet seat and think to yourself, ‘Oh it’s beyond my control?'”

“Oh, yes I do, and I shiver a bit to think of it. Many of these things, you see, are knock-offs, as you say in America. I receive not a cent from them and I’d be very happy if the money went to my favourite charity.”

“What’s that?”

“Friends of the Prostate. It’s been going for quite a number of years, since the death of my husband. It’s a world-wide organization, Friends of the Prostate. We have a World Prostate Day on the 17th of February. And I founded the Prostate Olympics in Australia-it’s a big deal.”

“Speaking of the prostate,” I segue, “you’re awfully popular with the gay community; there were full-page ads in our paper here. Why would a humble-housewise-turned-megastar-sesquillionaire appeal to the male homosexual?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never been able to analyze my appeal, and it’s been very widespread; I mean, senior citizens adore me, children adore me. It isn’t just what you call the gay community, it’s a very wide audience, and it’s a big compliment to me, I suppose. I try to keep modest about it, but I think it could be because of my glamour. The gay community has always loved beautiful people and beautifully dressed women. I think it must be due to a mother fixation of some kind. They look up to a certain type of woman as a sort of ideal mother. Now I wish I could say that in reality I lived up to that, because my own family is sadly dysfunctional.”

Being sympathetic, I tell her I know she was a career woman well before its time. Why, she likely started the women’s lib movement.

“I did,” Dame Edna says approvingly, “because Germaine Greer was a pupil of mine. She was a next-door neighbour-you know, she wrote The Female Eunuch-and she used to come and visit me. My husband was always doing the household chores, and I think I, in a way, unconsciously pioneered feminism. Of course I’ve unconsciously pioneered so many many things, but I remain very approachable. I am fundamentally an Australian housewife who got lucky.”

Being the young starlet that I am, I wonder if her warmth, her approachable-ness, is her secret to success.

“It’s very hard to gauge my appeal,” she muses, “except too, I’m meant to be funny. I don’t try to be funny, but I think your little gay community is not called ‘gay’ for nothing. I think they like humour and wit. And it seems I have these in abundance.”

I’m sure that’s true. Soon, our little gay community will have two full weeks to see her abundance in person.


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Oct 24 – Nov 3.

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