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Barry Humphries

Photograph of Barry Humphries

Lewis Morley, Barry Humphries, photograph: Image courtesy of the artist.

Barry Humphries is first and foremost a comedian and satirist - one of the funniest and most loved performers Australia has produced. Humphries has been a part of our cultural landscape for close to 50 years and has captured the hearts of millions of people from all around the world.

Barry Humphries was born in suburban Melbourne in 1934. From a young age he used to spend hours dressing up and inventing his own characters. School was not a totally enjoyable experience - 'It was quite hard teaching me because I interrupted a lot and didn't always do my homework' - and comedy became a means of expressing himself and achieving acceptance among his peers:

... entertaining people gave me a great feeling of release, making people laugh was a very good way of befriending them. People couldn't hit you, could they, if they were laughing.

While Humphries spent many years worrying about his future, it was art and performing that inspired him. He tried studying law, philosophy and fine arts at the University of Melbourne and began writing and performing songs and sketches in the university revues.

Developing his characters

Sir Les Patterson

Greg Gorman, Sir Les Patterson. Image courtesy of Millmaine Entertainment

Humphries eventually went to London in his early twenties and became serious about acting. In London he wrote a comic strip about the adventures of an Australian bloke called Barry Mackenzie, which was made into a movie, also starring Mrs Edna Everage. His reputation as an actor and writer has grown ever since.

He is most famous for his hilarious and confronting satirical characters that seem to have, over time, become as real as their creator. Whether it was Aussie bloke Barry McKenzie, the grandfatherly Sandy Stone, rabid trade unionist Lance Boyle, or the stomach-turning Sir Les Patterson (a fictitious Australian cultural attache, whose principal interests in life are boozing, sheilas and flatulence), Humphries' characters have gripped and challenged their audiences.

Dame Edna Everage

Dame Edna Everage

Greg Gorman, Dame Edna Everage.
Image courtesy of Millmaine Entertainment

His most famous and enduring creation was Melbourne housewife, Dame Edna Everage. It was Dame Edna - 'internationally celebrated Megastar' - who achieved worldwide fame for both herself and her creator. Her greeting to adoring audiences - 'Hello possums!' - is now a part of the lexicon.

Edna Everage first appeared on the British stage in 1969 in Humphries' one-man Just a Show. The critics didn't know quite how to take it all and the BBC television series The Barry Humphries Scandals did not last long.

Time has seen Dame Edna become better understood and greatly loved. She has since appeared in productions such as Housewife, Superstar!, A Night With Dame Edna (1979), An Evening's Intercourse (1982), Back with a Vengeance (1987), Look at Me When I'm Talking to You (1996), and Edna, The Spectacle (1998).

In 2000 she appeared in Dame Edna: The Royal Tour for which she received a Special Tony Award for a Live Theatrical Event. She has also starred as a regular on the worldwide television smash hit Ally McBeal , which, Humphries points out, is one of Edna's favourite programs:

She likes 'Ally McBeal', particularly because Ally McBeal likes her. And she single handedly brought the series to a close by appearing as a guest actress on the program ...

Humphries himself says that his aim in creating his characters is to 'encourage people to look at Australia critically and with affection and humour, which is what all comedians should do'.

The real Barry Humphries

There is more to Barry Humphries than his comedic creations, although sometimes it becomes hard for him to be heard. In an interview with the Star Tribune's Graydon Royce, Humphries acknowledged the weight his 'creations' have placed on his life: 'I'm very, very pleased that you liked to talk to me because I sort of have a life of my own.'

Humphries is also regarded as one of the country's best landscape artists and is the author of several plays, books, novels, and autobiographies (he won the J.R. Ackerley prize for biography in 1993). A recipient of the Order of Australia in 1982, he is married to Lizzie Spender, the daughter of British poet Sir Stephen Spender, and has two sons and two daughters.

Useful links

Dame Edna Everage

Last updated: 7th February 2007
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