In the final part of our two-part interview, Barry Humphries discusses what the next step for himself and Dame Edna, her role as an unlikely gay icon and where all the drag kings are hiding.
Daily Xtra: Without Dame Edna performing, there’s going to be a hole in gay men’s lives. How should they fill that hole?
Barry Humphries: I don’t understand quite what Edna’s appeal is, and I think she’s a very reluctant gay icon. In fact, I shudder to utter the words even, but it seems to have happened. I think it’s because, you know, this element in any theatre audience is amongst the most enthusiastic, and also appreciative of humour and satire. It’s an attitude to life. Not necessarily a frivolous one, but it is a sensibility that Edna reaches.
Naturally, I don’t question this, nor do I analyse any of Edna’s appeal. This is just something I do, some woman I perform, among different characters I do elsewhere, who seems the most popular with all sorts of people. And I also think that there’s a large group of women who find Edna, somehow — and I cringe again to use the phrase — empowering. She’s trying to demonstrate there’s a life after marriage, there is something else that women do.
And also, there are not so many funny ladies, are there? We’ve lost Joan Rivers. Carol Burnett isn’t really shining very much in her firmament. Lucille Ball we don’t see anymore. Funny women! Bette Midler, of course, is a funny woman — wonderfully comic actress, but it’s more the preserve of men, and Edna — who we must regard as a woman — and that’s my aim. It’s not like it’s a drag performance, where you’re thinking ‘oh, that’s a clever man being Marlene Dietrich’ or ‘what a brilliant man he is to impersonate Liza Minnelli or Celine Dion.’ Does anyone do her, I wonder?
In Gatineau, just across from Ottawa, in Quebec, there’s starting a dinner and performance, where drag queen look-alikes will come on, and one of the performers does Celine. Or is going to do Celine, I was promised.
What is odd is that you don’t get women doing men, do you? You don’t get actresses or comediennes doing Leonard Cohen, do they?
There are some drag kings in the city, but not too many comics.
Not too many women doing what male performers do. Impersonating women.
This is Dame Edna’s Farewell tour. What’s the next step?
She’s retiring from touring, I want to emphasize. She may well be doing television, and if there is a corporation in Canada, with plenty of money, Edna would certainly come over and do a special performance.
I’ll go on doing a lot of other things: finishing books, painting pictures, zillions of other things I do. And I certainly don’t see myself as retiring, until I lose the plot. Sometimes it’s hard to tell actors that they’re a little past it. They don’t know it themselves, you see. When I was a kid, my mother would sometimes take me to the theatre, and we would sit in the front row, and the shows we saw were very often superannuated comedians and actors from England, who were long past their use by date. And my mother would whisper, very loudly, “isn’t it pathetic at his age?” The actor would hear her. Today, at a matinee, when I, in the guise of Dame Edna, stand on the stage, and see a woman in the front row whispering to a schoolboy, I know exactly what she’s saying.