Toronto
2 min

Edna etiquette

She's doing us a favour

KNOBBY NOBLESSE OBLIGE. The straight didgeri doo doo on Dame Edna. Credit: Xtra files

Instructions on how to interview Dame Edna are issued from her protocol office: Call the hotel and ask for Barry Humphries. When connected, you will be speaking with Dame Edna. Please refer to Humphries in the third person, only.



Okay. I get it. I’m interviewing the Dame not the man who plays the Dame. No problem.



So I follow the instructions and a very nice man, clearly not Dame Edna, answers the phone. It’s her “assistant” and he regretfully informs me that Dame Edna has a terrible cold. I ask if she’d like to reschedule. No. I am welcome to talk to her manager Barry Humphries.



Okay. I get it. Now I’m interviewing the man who is Dame Edna. No problem.



So I follow the instructions and I get Dr Humphries – the man, who is more than willing to talk to me about Dame Edna in his capacity as her manager.



Okay. I don’t know who the hell I am talking to… but he/she is hysterical.



Between my efforts to keep the pronouns straight and Dr Humphries – whose voice is clearly exhausted after performing two sold out shows in Minneapolis – occasionally slipping into the first person when referring to Dame Edna, I thought my head was going to explode.



Humphries is most likely a member of MENSA. I’m serious. He’s smart with a capital “S,” not to mention enormously gracious. I may not have been talking to Edna, but she was clearly being channeled through Humphries.



Channeled with an edge, of course. According to manager Humphries, “With a client like Dame Edna, I’m the forgotten marginal character.”

And who exactly is this woman who is the centre of his universe? Well, the story is that Humphries was doing a university review in the early ’50s in which he was attempting to satirize suburban life.



Coincidentally, Edna Everage, a simple Melbourne housewife, had just won “a lovely mother competition” and was on TV doing an interview when Humphries realized that she was who he was trying to portray. So they brought Edna in as a consultant who quickly became his understudy and before he knew it, “like an Australian Eve Harrington,” she was the star.



Humphries says he’s tried to preserve a small part of his own persona living in the shadow of Edna by writing (a novel and an autobiography), and performing small movie roles. (He last appeared in Canada in 1961 playing Fagan in Oliver Twist at what was then the O’Keefe Centre.)



When I try to tell him that I’ve seen a lot of drag but that his act is something else, he quickly responds, “Well, I would hope so. Edna would be upset if she thought you thought she was some kind of awful impersonator. You know, women who do well are always rumoured to be men. Look at Margaret Thatcher.”



Dame Edna’s special Tony Award-winning show is not your typical theatre piece. Her interaction with the audience is a large part of the performance. Humphries says it creates “an exciting tension, an electric atmosphere.” Because it is not a set show, “all kinds of things could happen.



“Edna doesn’t like it when they answer her back. She gives them a bit of rope and [lets them] say what they have to say.” But he cautions: “Be prepared to lose the battle. Edna doesn’t perform because she needs the money – you obviously need the money.



“Edna doesn’t stand before her audiences as supplicant, she’s doing it as a favour to us.”



DAME EDNA ROYAL TOUR.

$41-$76. 8pm. Tue-Sat.

2pm. Wed, Sat & Sun.

Tue, Nov 7-Dec 17.

Pantages Theatre.

244 Victoria St.

(416) 872-2222.