A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

View previous topic View next topic Go down

A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Wed Apr 13, 2011 1:58 am

First page of the old ATU thread:

LINK EXPIRED.

This one needs rebuilding.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Thu Jun 02, 2011 7:32 pm

This is a good place to start: the best book I know about Barry Humphries:


eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Thu Jun 02, 2011 7:38 pm

Apart from Dame Edna (above^), this is probably Humphries' best-known stage character:


The positively Aristophanic Sir Les Patterson, Australian Cultural Attache to the Court of St James.


Last edited by eddie on Thu Jun 02, 2011 7:43 pm; edited 1 time in total

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Thu Jun 02, 2011 7:42 pm

The man behind the masks:


Barry Humphries in 2001.

Wiki:

John Barry Humphries, AO, CBE (born 17 February 1934) is an Australian comedian, satirist, dadaist, artist, author and character actor, perhaps best known for his on-stage and television alter egos Dame Edna Everage, a Melbourne housewife and "gigastar", and Sir Les Patterson, Australia's foul-mouthed cultural attaché to the Court of St. James's. He is a film producer and script writer, a star of London's West End musical theatre, an award-winning writer and an accomplished landscape painter. For his delivery of dadaist and absurdist humour to millions, biographer Anne Pender described Humphries in 2010 as not only the most significant theatrical figure of our time … [but] the most significant comedian to emerge since Charlie Chaplin.[1]

Humphries' characters, especially Dame Edna Everage, have brought him international renown, and he has appeared in numerous films, stage productions and television shows. Originally conceived as a dowdy Moonee Ponds housewife who caricatured Australian suburban complacency and insularity, Edna has evolved over four decades to become a satire of stardom, the gaudily dressed, acid-tongued, egomaniacal, internationally feted Housewife Gigastar, Dame Edna Everage. Humphries' other major satirical character creation was the archetypal Australian bloke Barry McKenzie, who originated as the hero of a comic strip about Australians in London (with drawings by Nicholas Garland) which was first published in Private Eye magazine. The stories about "Bazza" (Humphries' nickname, as well as an Australian term of endearment for the name Barry) gave wide circulation to Australian slang, particularly jokes about drinking and its consequences (much of which was invented by Humphries), and the character went on to feature in two Australian films, in which he was portrayed by Barry Crocker.

Humphries' other satirical characters include the "priapic and inebriated cultural attaché" Sir Les Patterson, who has "continued to bring worldwide discredit upon Australian arts and culture, while contributing as much to the Australian vernacular as he has borrowed from it", gentle, grandfatherly "returned gentleman" Sandy Stone, iconoclastic 1960s underground film-maker Martin Agrippa, Paddington socialist academic Neil Singleton, sleazy trade union official Lance Boyle, high-pressure art salesman Morrie O'Connor and failed tycoon Owen Steele.


eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Thu Jun 09, 2011 7:01 am

Description of John Lahr's Barry Humphries bio:

John Lahr is one of the most celebrated critics of the performing arts. Winner of Britain's 1992 Roger Machell Award for the best writing about public performance, Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilisation is an insider's account of a great clown and a great act. It takes us backstage at London's Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, with Barry Humphries, and into the weird and wonderful world of his show-stopping creation--Dame Edna Everage.

Humphries is a prodigious comic talent. His copresence in Edna-- a character so real to the public that her autobiography, My Gorgeous Life, appeared on the nonfiction list--actively invites speculation about reality and fantasy, male and female. With her "natural wisteria" hair and her harlequin eyeglasses, Dame Edna was the first solo performer to sell out the most famous theater in England, and she also took the United States by storm, filling theaters from coast to coast. Hilarious and malign, polite and rude, highbrow and very low, the character Barry Humphries inhabits is a bundle of contradictions.

John Lahr, the son of another comic genius, takes us behind the scenes to investigate how a provincial dandy from Melbourne transformed himself into one of the most unlikely megastars of today. In showing the connection between Humphries's comedy and the life it parodies, Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilisation goes beyond reportage to an exploration of the nature of comedy, a subject that Lahr has pursued over the years in his acclaimed biographies of Bert Lahr, Noël Coward, and Joe Orton. Richly entertaining and engagingly written, this book is an anecdotal treatise on the nature of comedy and an absorbing inquiry into what makes us laugh.

Reviews:

"A brilliantly dramatic evocation."—George Melly, Sunday Telegraph

"Lahr has now immortalized Barry Humphries. . . . An exhilarating and highly intelligent book, full of laughs."—Michael Davie, Spectator

"Brilliantly precise, exhilaratingly perceptive."—Hilary Spurling, Daily Telegraph

"A fascinating book, a worthy tribute to one of the few true comic geniuses of our generation."—John Wells, Sunday Express

"Lahr merges the toughness, the compassion, the brilliance of The Dame with his own unique expertise. He writes from his guts, as the son of a great clown, of the irresistible mystery of comedy. This is John Lahr's best book."—Richard Avedon

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  Doc Watson on Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:54 am

One Christmas morning he went to a busy railway station in Melbourne walked to a rubbish bin , pulled out a chicken wrapped in foil and prceeded to eat it . much to the disgust of onlookers.
Needless to say he had had it placed there prior to his arrival.

Doc Watson
Titanium Member

Posts : 1428
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 66
Location : Australia

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  Doc Watson on Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:55 am

The Wellington boot filled with custard was called Pus In Boots

Doc Watson
Titanium Member

Posts : 1428
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 66
Location : Australia

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  Doc Watson on Fri Jun 10, 2011 11:03 am

One afternoon when Humpheries was a schoolboy the headmaster of his school was strolling around the grounds one lunchtime. He noticed a large group of boys in the quadrangle. He went closer to the group and he saw Humphries in the middle of them .
As he watched he saw he was miming . After a while he saw that Humphries was imitating a teacher . He was impressed at how Humphries managed to get the mannerisms etc down to a T and was laughing along with the boys.
Suddenly he saw Humpries start a new impersonation .
For a while he could not work out who this teacher was then he realiased "oh my God that is me"
He then exited the gathering.
In his final year exams one of Humphries subjects was English Literature . It seems his paper was so incredible that the board of Examiners held a special meeting to see if he failed or was given a first class honour.
They awarded him a first class honour.

Doc Watson
Titanium Member

Posts : 1428
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 66
Location : Australia

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:54 am

I believe that Precinct may have already posted this photo of an early Humphries character on another thread, in quite a different context:



Sandy Stone, a frail Australian ghost, whose gentle reminiscences were acknowledged by the stern literary critic Germaine Greer to be both minutely accurate and devastatingly desolate.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  Doc Watson on Tue Jun 14, 2011 12:22 am

eddie wrote:I believe that Precinct may have already posted this photo of an early Humphries character on another thread, in quite a different context:



Sandy Stone, a frail Australian ghost, whose gentle reminiscences were acknowledged by the stern literary critic Germaine Greer to be both minutely accurate and devastatingly desolate.
His observations of Australian culturee and lifestyes are spot on.

Doc Watson
Titanium Member

Posts : 1428
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 66
Location : Australia

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 14, 2011 2:43 am

Doc Watson wrote:The Wellington boot filled with custard was called Pus In Boots

In the steaming heat of a Melbourne Summer, the custard-filled boot featured in his exhibition of Dadaist art rapidly attracted a large number of flies. Inadvertently, Barry had anticpiated Damien Hirst by 30 years or more.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 14, 2011 2:52 am

Here's the sometimes pompous but often perceptive fellow ex-pat Oz critic and broadcaster Clive James on Barry Humphries in The London Review of Books:

********************************************************************************

Approximately in the Vicinity of Barry Humphries



Snails in the letterbox. It is a surrealist image which might have been cooked up by Dali in the presence of Buñuel, by André Breton in the presence of Éluard. But the words were said by Barry Humphries in the persona of the ruminating convalescent Sandy Stone, and in the Australian context they are not surreal. They are real. Every Australian, even if he lives in Sydney’s Point Piper or Melbourne’s Toorak, has at some time or other found snails in the letterbox. When you step outside on a dark and dewy night, the snails crunch under your slippered feet like liqueur chocolates. Snails in Australia are thick on the ground. Nothing could be less remarkable than a cluster of them in your letterbox.

But Humphries, through Sandy’s comatose vision, remarked them, and his countrymen shouted with recognition. In Australia the familiar is seen to be bizarre as soon as it is said. Or else the English language, fatigued by 12,000 miles of travel, cracks up under the strain of what it is forced to connote. There is a discrepancy between fact and phrase, a discrepancy which Humphries, linguistically more sensitive than any Australian poet before him, was the first to spot.

Laughter at his discovery was immediate, but honour came slowly. The man who makes people laugh is rarely given quick credit, even in those fully developed countries which realise that serious writing can take a comic form. In Australia, whose literary journalism has sometimes attained vigour but rarely subtlety, the possibility that Humphries might be some kind of poet has been raised more often than analysed, and most often it has been laughed out of court. Even as a man of the theatre, he has usually been put in that category where freakish spontaneity is held to outweigh craft, and where the word ‘effortless’, if not pejorative, is not laudatory either. His popular success has served only to reinforce this early interpretation. Australia was the country in which the swimming performances of Dawn Fraser, who went faster than anybody else and with less training, were belittled on the grounds that she was a natural athlete.

Yet a detailed appreciation of Humphries’s poetic gift is a prerequisite for criticism of his work. Otherwise approval becomes indiscriminate gush, and disapproval, which it is sometimes hard not to feel, degenerates quickly into the cutting down to size of someone who, beyond a certain point, can’t be cut down to size: as a pioneer in Australia’s sense of its own vernacular he must be allowed his stature even if his theatrical creations are found unsatisfactory either individually or all together. Humphries, for reasons of his own, seems determined to present at least one alter ego during the evening who will offend you whoever you are. As it happens, I can just stand Les Patterson even when he belches while dribbling on his loud tie, but to sit there with your eyes closed is sometimes to wonder at the price of the ticket. Other people find the trade-union con-man Lance Boyle hard to take — offended in their radical beliefs or having decided (correctly, by his creator’s own confession) that Lance has set out to bore them rigid.

No matter how rebarbative the preliminary acts, Aunt Edna saves the night in the second half, but not even she has escaped worried objections or been guiltless of deliberately provoking them. There is a self-mortifying element in Humphries’s theatre which is all the more striking because the selves are multiple, and which goes all the way back to the beginning of his career. But so does his extraordinary sense of language, best studied in the monologues of Sandy Stone, a character so enduring that he has proved unkillable. Like Conan Doyle precipitating Sherlock Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls, Humphries at one stage compelled Sandy to drop off the twig, but he came back from the dead more talkative than ever.

Talkative but torpid. You have to have seen the shows, or at least listened to the records, to realise that the Sandy transcripts collected in A Nice Night’s Entertainment (London, 1982) falsify the character by moving as fast as you can read, whereas the sentences should produce themselves the way Sandy speaks, glacially. A valetudinarian Returned Serviceman — not even Humphries is sure which of the two world wars Sandy returned from — he has always been laid up. Twenty-five years ago he was tottering around the house: the famous Kia Ora, 36 Gallipoli Crescent, Glen Iris. Later on he graduated to a repatriation hospital and eventually to the beyond, back from which he rolled in the same hospital bed. On stage, he has always been mainly a face in soft limelight, thus betokening the acknowledged influence of Samuel Beckett on his creator. Combine the Beckettian talking head with the pebble-collecting word-play of Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, cross the result with The Diary of a Nobody and you’ve got the beginning of Sandy, but you have to slow it all down even further, not just from 45 rpm down to 33 1/3, but all the way down to the rarely used 16 2/3. Sandy in his own mind is a dynamo. ‘I got home in time for a bit of lunch and then I had to whiz out again to the football.’ But on record you can hear the effort it takes him to say the word ‘whiz’ and on stage you can actually see it — a little heave of the shapeless body as he evokes the memory of his dizzy speed.

On the page, it is impossible to savour Sandy’s eloquent silence. ‘So, Beryl and I went to bed.’ On stage, his eyeballs slowly pop and then roll slightly upwards after that line, telling you all you need to know about the hectic love-life of Sandy and Beryl. (Not that a torrid romance is any longer on the cards, what with Beryl rarely feeling 100 per cent, although, as Sandy is always as quick as he can be to point out, there is nothing organically wrong.) But there is plenty to cherish in just reading the words, even if you have to fill in the timing and the facial movements as best you can. Sandy’s slowness of speech could be the fastidiousness of the connoisseur. He fondles words like a philologist. A polysyllable is a joy to him, and with luxuriating gradualness he bursts its grape against his palate fine. His circumlocutions — ‘the occasional odd glass’, ‘approximately in the vicinity’, ‘altogether it was a really nice night’s entertainment for us all’ — are a way of getting more to gustate into each sentence. The repetitions are not so much echolalia as a kind of epic verbal landmarking, in the same way that prepared phrases keep on coming back in Virgil and Homer. Sandy had ‘a bit of strife parking the vehicle’ on his first record, Wild Life in Suburbia, back in 1959. He has had a bit of strife parking the vehicle ever since, often several times in the same monologue, when the announcement that there was a bit of strife involved in parking the vehicle usually opens a new phase in his interminable account of a more or less recent nice night’s entertainment or at any rate indicates that the previous phase is over. A recurring figure of speech is thus more a punctuation mark than a sign of impoverished vocabulary. All the evidence suggests that Sandy is lexically acquisitive. The events in his life don’t leave him at a loss for words. The words are at a loss for events.

Clive Nettleton hadn’t had a real break from work since the marriage and she was a bundle of nerves and as thin as a rake, so seeing as they were tantamount to being friends of ours, through the Clissold girls, Beryl and I had a bit of a confab in the kitchen and we intimated to them that we were desirous to mind the youngsters for them over the Easter period while they had a bit of a breather down at her people’s home.

On stage, the word ‘home’ would, in Sandy’s mouth, die the sad death of an overparted substitute for ‘house’, and the duly hysterical audience might forget that the word ‘tantamount’ had made its struggling appearance, incongruous but naturally so, because Sandy’s higher brain centre collects incongruities. Even more than Aunt Edna, Sandy is linguistically a magpie. But he is a magpie in slow motion. Edna attacks, Sandy retreats. He is consequently better qualified than she as an emblem and paradigm of Australian English, which is less fascinating for its newly created slang — Humphries, per media Barry McKenzie, has created a lot of that himself— than for the way old formal utterances have been strangely preserved and may be used in all innocence.

By his original sure instinct, fine ear, and the formidable scholarship with which he later reinforced them, Humphries identified the pristine quality of everyday Australian English, a language which the self-consciousness of a literary culture had not yet dulled. Not having read Shakespeare is no guarantee that you will talk like him, but vividness of expression comes most easily to those who aren’t always mentally testing the way they speak against how someone else wrote. Sandy doesn’t just treasure words, he treasures detail. For him, the dissociation of sensibility has not set in. He is a neo-Elizabethan whose world picture, although restricted to the radius which can be attained without strife by the slowly cruising vehicle, is dazzling in its clarity. Everything is picked out as if seen with peeled eyes.

Beryl had cut some delicious sandwiches. Egg and lettuce. Peanut butter. Marmite and walnut. Cheese and apricot jam. And lots of bread and butter and hundreds and thousands — and one of her own specialties — a chocolate and banana log. She’d only baked it that morning and the kiddies were most intrigued. Beryl said if they promised to behave themselves at Wattle Park they could lick the beaters. We packed some of Beryl’s home-made ginger beer and a Thermos for ourselves but unfortunately Beryl forgot to put the greaseproof paper round the cork appertaining to the calamine lotion bottle we used for the milk with the resultant consequence that by the time we got off the bus the milk had soaked right through the sandwiches and half-way up the log.

The appertaining cork and the resultant consequence are verbose but superficial: deeper down, there is an imagist precision that can come only out of a full submission to the phenomenal world. Sandy is Ezra Pound with the power off. You feel that Humphries himself remembers what it was like to be allowed to lick the egg-beater and bowl. To the extent that Sandy exists on the intellectual plane at all, he is the kind of dimwit who takes anti-semitism for an impressively complicated political theory. ‘Personally speaking, I wouldn’t have any objection if they started up their own golf club.’ But Sandy would never risk the strife of translating his distaste into action, and has probably never heard about the same ideas creating a certain amount of disturbance elsewhere in the world. Hence the child-like vision, which on occasions can express itself with a purity that silences the theatre, as the audience is propelled helplessly backwards into time.

There’s a tennis club right next to the Repat outside my window and I can hear them playing right up until the light goes and the couples laughing when there’s nothing particularly funny and the sprinkler on the spare court and the couples saying thank you to the kiddies when a ball lobs over the fence and I can hear them shut the cyclone gate and the cicadas and the different cars going off into the distance.

The accepted wisdom is that Sandy Stone is Humphries’s most rounded character. If he is, it is partly because of his physical immobility: Humphries is a hypomanically physical actor who with his other characters gets a lot of effects from stage business, so with the catatonic Sandy he is obliged to put more into the writing. But the main reason for Sandy’s satisfying density of texture is that Humphries is not taking revenge on him. Humphries, for once feeling more complicity than contempt, is at his most poetic with Sandy because he is at his least satirical. To Sandy, and to Sandy alone, he is fair — and as Kurt Tucholsky once memorably insisted (in his 1919 essay ‘Was darf die Satire?’), satire is unfair in its deepest being: in satire the just shall suffer along with the unjust, as the Bible says.

Driven to death by the Nazis, Tucholsky perhaps had occasion during his last days to wonder whether satirising bourgeois democracy, as opposed to merely criticising it, had ever been a particularly good idea. Golo Mann, writing after the Second World War, usefully dared to suggest that post-First World War society in Germany and Austria got far more satire than it needed. This suspicion is not necessarily dispelled by an extended study of Karl Kraus, who in my experience becomes more disheartening as you read on through Die Fackel and its attendant works. His aggressive sensitivity to journalistic and political clichés — a critical propensity of which Humphries is a latter-day incarnation — remains a thing for wonder, but we can legitimately doubt whether he had a proper estimation of the forces which held the society he castigated together. Other products of the Viennese cabaret world, most notably the polymath Egon Friedell and the essayist Alfred Polgar, seem in retrospect to have the deeper insight which comes from a greater range of sympathy. Their Kleinkunst, the little art of cabaret and intimate revue, gave rise to a thorough understanding of the modern world, but in the process they left satire behind them, having embraced fairness as a principle. Polgar, indeed, however toughened by the bitterness of exile, is the most heartening example imaginable of just how sweet reason can be.

The rich, doomed Vienna of these brilliant men might seem to constitute an over-mighty standard of comparison, but there can be no doubt that Humphries, by world standards already a master of Kleinkunst, also has a conscious mission to correct taste and criticise morals in the society of his birth. He would be the first to point out that Moonee Ponds is not Vienna. To disabuse the allegedly burgeoning Australia of its notions about a New Renaissance is one of his aims in life. But equally one of his aims in life is to mount a full-scale satirical critique of a whole culture, even if, especially if, it is a culture in which Beryl’s chocolate log counts as a work of art.

He has the required range of talents. As a writer-performer of one-man cabaret the natural figure to compare him with would have to be adduced not from Vienna but from Munich — Karl Valentin. Humphries’s own choice of an informing background would no doubt be Paris. In real life he dresses expensively as an English gentleman, but that broad-brimmed trilby, tending towards a sombrero, is worn at an angle reminiscent of Aristide Bruant. One night during the filming of the Paris location scenes for the second Barry McKenzie film — directed, like the first, by Bruce Beresford — Humphries led a party to see the cabaret at the Alcazar, which was then still in its full glory. As a bit player in the film, I was along for the ride. The Alcazar cabaret had visual effects which I had never known were even possible. There was a Zizi Jeanmaire impersonation in which Zizi’s head appeared from the top of an enormous feather boa while her feet pounded out a frantic flamenco underneath. Half-way through the number the boa underwent a sudden meiosis and there were two Zizis half the original size. One midget girl had been riding on the other’s shoulders.

Humphries drank the spectacle in as if he were lapping fresh water from the source. He is a dandy who has studied Europe’s history of style more intensely than any of its own dandies. But his hunger for this kind of knowledge has never been slavish. Grub Street literary reviewers who find something risible about how the Australian expatriates gulp at Europe often neglect the possibility that there is such a thing as an unjaded appetite. Humphries is among the most adventurously well-read people I have ever met. He has also spent a quarter of a century assiduously collecting Symbolist paintings. He was a pioneer in re-establishing the reputation of Charles Conder and at one time, before a divorce intervened, he had the most important collection of Conder’s paintings in private hands. He is so learned in the more arcane regions of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century culture that there is scarcely anyone he can talk to about more than a part of what he has in his head. Most of us know of Marmaduke Pickthall, for example, only as someone who collaborated with Christopher Isherwood in the translation of the Upanishads. But Humphries has read all the works of Marmaduke Pickthall. And the name Marmaduke Pickthall — I thought Humphries was making it up when I first heard him mention it — is a blazing light compared with the names of some of the composers whose complete recorded works probably exist nowhere else except on his shelves.

As so often happens with the Australian expatriates, however, Humphries discovered his Europe before he got there. When an undergraduate in Melbourne in the early 1950s, he was already a Dadaist — the first Dadaist Australia had ever had, and the last thing it knew how to handle. The story has often been told of how in his first revue, Call Me Madman, the curtain went up only so that the cast could pelt the audience with fruit and vegetables, after which it went down again. Humphries also staged the first-ever Australian exhibition of Dadaist art works, all of them confected by himself. They included a pair of wellingtons full of custard (‘Pus in Boots’) and a large canvas empty except for three tiny newspaper clippings of the word ‘big’ centrally arranged (‘The Three Little Bigs’). If this came a long way after Tristan Tzara, it came a long way before Yoko Ono and was much funnier than either, but more prophetic was his knack for street theatre. Still a schoolboy in Sydney, I heard about these daring adventures only later, but everybody in Australia got to hear about them eventually. Apparently there was a progressive breakfast, in which Humphries, riding towards Melbourne University on a train, was handed a new course through the carriage window at each station by an accomplice. He particularly favoured public transport because of the captive audience. Having had his right leg specially immobilised in a large white plaster cast (the immense trouble he will take to get an effect has been a trademark throughout his career), he would sit in a crowded railway carriage with the glaringly encased leg sticking out into the aisle until everyone on board was aware of nothing else. Then an accomplice would come along and jump on it. Women accomplices were known as hoydens and doxies. He would dress them up as schoolgirls and passionately kiss them in the street until the police arrived, whereupon birth certificates would be produced.

The theatrical gift inspiring all this was unmistakable from an early date. So was the desire to shock. Humphries sprang from the bourgeoisie himself but never seems to have doubted the validity of his mission to shock it. Those of us who think that everyday life in the modern world can be relied upon to be unsettling enough on its own account sometimes find it hard to see why the bourgeoisie needs to be shocked in the theatre as well, but no doubt this attitude is complacent, not to say squeamish. Humphries has always had a strong stomach. One of his tricks as a junior Dadaist was to plant a chicken dinner in a public garbage bin during the night so that he could come along dressed as a tramp in the morning, search the bin and dine gluttonously off what he found. At a later stage, when he started commuting between Australia and Britain on the jet airliners, he would stuff the sick-bag with potato salad early in the flight so that he could conspicuously eat from it with a spoon later. Even today he is likely to fall with glee upon any medical textbook featuring deformities, abortions and disfiguring maladies. His first book, Bizarre, was a freak show that you had to be a pathologist to find funny.

Although this Ubu-esque taste for the manufactured atrocity gradually faded as he uncovered more of the truly grotesque in everyday Australian life, nevertheless his scope of apprehension has remained either bravely comprehensive or morbid, perhaps both. Perhaps he thinks we are not really revolted, just pretending to be. But there can be no question that in the theatre one of his ambitions is to put you off. Les Patterson is hard to watch even from a distance and in the front row you need a mackintosh. He is so excessive a reaction that you wonder at the provocation. Surely the worst thing about Australian official spokesmen for the Yartz since the Whitlam era has been not that they are totally ignorant, but that they do know all the right names yet push them like commodities. I once heard Humphries fondly reminiscing about a mayor of Armidale, NSW, who shook hands, called him Brian and apologised for not having met him at the railway station ‘owing to the pressure of affairs of state’. Probably Les began from moments like that, but in the course of time he has grown into an ogre so colossal as to have lost his outline. Lance Boyle the careerist shop steward is perhaps closer to identifiable reality. One looks in vain for a redeeming feature, but no doubt one would have done the same with the original. Seeing, however, that Lance establishes himself as an unmitigated horror in the first five minutes on stage, when he goes on being horrible for twenty-five minutes more you can be excused for wondering about a point so obsessively made, even if his self-revealing speech patterns are never less than well caught. The same applies to Neil Singleton, the pretentious and vindictive grant subsidised intellectual. He is accurately observed in detail, but he is a perfect monster rather than that more edifying occurrence, a human being gone wrong.

Humphries impersonates these incubi in solo playlets which are astonishing for their stagecraft. As a combination of writer, actor, singer and self-producer he is more plausibly compared with Noel Coward than with any of the cabaret stars. But Humphries, along with the right to shock, claims the right to bore. The originals of his satirised characters bore him, and he takes his revenge by making their simulacra boring in turn. They go on until the audience squirms. On the first night of one of his London shows I saw him nearly lose the audience by giving Les, Neil and a recordbreakingly long-winded Lance one after the other in the first half. The second half belonged entirely to Edna but by the time she got on stage to save the night there wasn’t much of the night left — it was almost dawn. The remarkable thing was that Humphries, with his radar antennae for audience reaction, must have been well aware of the risk he was running. The Devil gets into him, and he seems to welcome the invasion.

Certainly Edna welcomes the invasion. She would, being a witch. Edna incarnates everything Humphries finds frightening about his homeland — which includes its raw energy. At her most philistine when she is interested in art, she breaks the balls of the whole world. She knackers Kerry Packer and she bollocks Jackson Pollock. She has a Balzacian gourmandise. She is a tiger shark wearing Opera House glasses. She is also the active principle in her author’s creative personality, just as Sandy is the passive principle. While Sandy Stone lies contemplatively stationary, Dame Edna Everage, Housewife Superstar, indulges that part of her creator’s nature which craves world fame. Once Humphries searched Australia for a town called Carnegie so that he could stand in front of its desperately unimpressive town hall with his body obliterating the word TOWN and be photographed for the cover of his album. Nowadays Edna satisfies that urge on his behalf. She punishes Australia for its vulgarity by personifying it for a startled world, and especially a startled Britain, where she is a bigger star than her inventor. But she could never have been so terrifying if the docile Sandy had not first gathered the banal information she purveys, and Sandy would not have had such a finely calibrated ear if the young Humphries had not first embraced the culture of far-off Europe in its most refined, preferably decadent, forms. When Humphries writes in propria persona his prose can scarcely contain its freight of cultivated allusions. He writes the most nutritiously rococo English in Australia today, but nobody will be able to inherit it. To know him would not be enough. You would have to know what he knows.

In London during the early I960s, he stayed alive as an actor. Visiting Australians who knew his legend would go to see him improvising his way through Christmas pantomimes. (Bruce Beresford, who saw him as Captain Hook, once told me that his catch-phrase was ‘I’m going to take a peep around the poop’ and there were children saying it in the foyer during the interval.) His memory sharpened by absence and new experience, he became more conscious than ever of the all-pervading oddness into which he had been born. On every voyage home his ears were tuned more keenly, his eyes skinned another layer. If he had not had his Europe, he would never have completed his rediscovery of Australia. That is the saving grace to remember when his less sympathetic characters punish their birthplace by representing its pretensions and ignorance to the world, or when Edna shows an unlikely knowledge of minor Belgian pointilliste painters. By bringing his country more understanding than it understands, he is acting out a conflict, living a problem. A thoroughly introspective artist, he is well aware of the anomaly.

The anomaly is resolved nowhere else but in language. Audiences will always leave the theatre wondering where Humphries stands, because to raise such questions and leave them unanswered is part of his purpose, which is in its turn a complex mixture of the worthy desire to raise consciousness and the incurably Mephistophelean urge to raise Hell. At school, so they say, when forced to attend a rugby match he sat facing away from the field, knitting; and as an army cadet he turned up on parade in immaculately blancoed webbing and polished brass, except that it was all put on over his pyjamas. He would have been a handful in any society. He is a misfit and fully conscious of it. The punctilio of his old-world manners, the dandified scrupulosity of his Savile Row suits, are compelled by an unsleeping awareness that he has no more business among ordinary human beings than a Venusian. But his language, at its best, is the language of unfeigned delight. As all his characters, but especially as Sandy, he makes long nominative lists in the way of those writers who are in on the historic moment of discovering the verbal tradition of their young country. Sandy’s diction, if not his aphasic voice, was heard before in the glossaries and prose poems which H. L. Mencken composed after the First World War. ‘Pale druggists in remote towns of the hog and Christian Endeavour belts, endlessly wrapping up bottles of Peruna...’

The rest of it is in Mencken’s little Book of Burlesques, published by Knopf in 1924. It is a chrestomathy of essays, sketches and wisecracks rather along the lines of the Peter Altenberg scrapbooks popular in the German-speaking countries right through the First World War. A Nice Night’s Entertainment would have been more digestible if it had been compiled in the same way, with a few more of Humphries’s adroit lyrics and some of the captions, usually signed by Aunt Edna, which he throws away in soft-covered photo books — a bad genre because nobody reads them twice, whoever writes them. The tradition of the catch-all cabaret book sorely needs to be revived. But the mention of Mencken is a reminder to get things in proportion. He brought a cutting wit, hard sense and tireless word-collecting diligence to the business of educating a world power. Australia is, and is likely to remain, a less important place.

One of the most successful representatives of the new energy conferred by an immature country, Humphries has never lost sight of its immaturity. Instead of empty boosting, he has given it a sharp tongue. Australia has allegedly progressed from an inferiority complex to a sense of its own worth. Humphries is inclined by nature to question complacency of any kind but in this instance he has had special reason to be scathing, since so much of the new confidence has proved simple-minded. As a notable contributor to the resurgent Australian film industry he has a right to be sceptical about some aspects of the strong sense of story which is supposed to be its peculiar virtue. Some of the strong stories are simplifications: Gallipoli, for example, contributes seductively to the euphoria of the Australian present but denigrates Britain in a way that disowns the past. Sandy Stone lived and died at Gallipoli Crescent without ever being so cocksure on the subject either way. Humphries has the right idea about that sort of unearned assertiveness.

Beyond that, he has the right idea about popular culture. His instinct led him away from a respectable literary career and towards the people. Earlier, in the 1930s, Kenneth Slessor had felt and responded to the same compulsion, having realised that high art was a watched pot. Slessor’s popular lyrics for Smith’s Weekly, later collected in Darlinghurst Nights and Backless Betty from Bondi, were an important step in his own work, and in the brief history of Australian poetry should be regarded as one of those moments when an individual talent breaks through to a new set of possibilities that lie so close at hand they are hard to see. Humphries is another such talent, but with him the effort looks set to last a lifetime.

A difficult lifetime. For someone so clever there are no days off. Being him is obviously not easy. Like many people who know them both, I have always got on better with Edna. I suspect she is happier than he is. But peace of mind could never have produced such a quality of perception. Barry Humphries is original, not just for what he has created, but for how he has attuned himself to what created him. Hence the feeling of community which he arouses in his countrymen even when the night’s entertainment turns out to be not so nice. Bringing out the familiar in its full strangeness, he helps make them proud of their country in the only way that counts — by joining it to the world.

(London Review of Books 6 - 9 October, 1983)

Underneath the appropriately awe-stricken innocence of this homage there was a cunning purpose. Knowing that the London Review of Books, like the Times Literary Supplement, was read religiously in Australia by those very intellectuals who most loudly deplored the excessive respect given to opinions of colonial literature expressed in the old country, I planned to give the home-grown discussion of Humphries’s achievement a nudge towards a higher plane than the one on which it was currently stuck. Cunning confounded itself and my plan failed. Today, even as then, Humphries is assessed in the proliferating cultural columns of his homeland according to how his creations are seen to square with nationalist pretensions. In the long run it won’t matter: the Australian literati will become as proud of their prodigal son’s creative stature as the common people have always been delighted by his comic inventions. But in the short run it is a piquant farce. Luckily its subject is well qualified to turn the attendant ironies to effect. He doesn’t need help to fight his battles. Any artist, however, can only benefit from being understood. Egon Friedell, who like Humphries laid a direct path to the public stage from his private library, once summed the matter up: even the strongest character needs a magnetic field in which he can work. Humphries has had to conquer the world in order to find his way home, and what that says about home is for him to say.

To avoid misunderstanding, I should make explicit here what I left implicit at the time: that the Australian ‘immaturity’ I had in mind was cultural immaturity, not political. Australia has come on a lot since I wrote the piece, but even in 1983 I already believed that as a stable, functioning democracy it was in an enviable position, and that its success had a lot to do with its Constitution. The Republican movement was already up and running, and it was predictable that republicanism would become a consensus among the intelligentsia as a whole, but by a process of cultural fashion rather than political enlightenment. Politically, Australian cultural fashions tend to be obscurantist: a truth which Humphries has done much to illuminate, earning himself many vocal enemies along the way. He has always been able to turn their attacks to material, but even he is hard put to give back as good as he gets. Speaking as one who has always found it more comfortable below the parapet, I can only salute the insane bravery of a man who dances on top of it in full drag.

(2001)


eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  Doc Watson on Tue Jun 14, 2011 4:36 pm

On a rare occasion Barry happened to be in Melbourne when one of his school reunions was being held.
So he went a long and had a good time talking with past and present teachers and pupils.
All went well until a group of younger recent students asked him to do Les Patterson
"I only do him for money ", said Humprhies before storming out , never to return.

Doc Watson
Titanium Member

Posts : 1428
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 66
Location : Australia

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:34 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_N5TRk1Qt8
Dame Edna interviewed by Michael Parkinson, BBC.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 14, 2011 7:38 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1F7E7lAp-hM
Sir Les Patterson interviewed by Clive Anderson.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Tue Jun 14, 2011 11:58 pm

A perfect illustration of how Barry Humphries never really lost his Dadaist edge came in his TV interview with Cliff Richard on The Dame Edna Experience chat show.

At one point during the talk with Cliff, Edna announces another guest: Kurt Waldheim, who you may recall was at that time under intense press scrutiny over his alleged Nazi past.

The Waldheim lookalike enters from the top of a flight of stairs- in the approved chat show fashion- gives a cheery wave to the studio audience...and promptly plunges vertically through a trap door resembling that used on the gallows by state hangmen.

The already uneasy audience gasps.

Cliff almost leaps out of his seat and fixes Dame Edna with a look of wild surmise....

I wish I could find the clip.


eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Wed Jun 15, 2011 12:19 am

In "Dame Edna and the Rise of Western Civilisation" John Lahr recounts a comparable episode from Humphries' residency at a major theatre in London's West End.

As a child, Barry and his mother would be driven in the car on Sunday afternoons around the poorer districts of Melbourne. His father- in, I suppose, a kind of ill-advised lecture on the important things in life- would point out the districts in which the "paupers" lived.

Back to the London stage, where Edna would give a preamble to the audience about the occasion a few nights previously when two "paupers" in the cheap sets high in the "gods" in the upper reaches at the back of the theatre had craned too eagerly forward for a view of the stage and PLUMMETTED to the ground.

Then, having planted the germ of the idea of the "Plummetting Paupers" in the audience's mind, Dame Edna would divert them with other matters.

But minutes later, a stunt man and stunt woman would indeed appear to fall from the "gods" (suspended safely on a wire) to the horror of the audience. On one night, a brave man perched precariously on the edge of his balcony and attempted a rescue.

Only when the audience realises that the whole thing was set-up by Edna is the tension released in gales of laughter.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  Doc Watson on Wed Jun 15, 2011 2:46 pm

Right now he is in his home town.

Doc Watson
Titanium Member

Posts : 1428
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 66
Location : Australia

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  eddie on Wed Mar 21, 2012 3:28 pm

Dame Edna Everage: farewell possums

Barry Humphries' announcement that he is to retire Dame Edna Everage is sad news for all fans of the housewife superstar

Mark Lawson

guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 March 2012 17.41 GMT


Dame Edna on stage at London's Barbican Theatre in 1988. Photograph: Richard Young/Rex Features

One of Dame Edna Everage's shows was called, in a characteristically cunning pun, The Last Night of the Poms and it is a measure of the showbusiness status she achieved that the Australian housewife was able to fill the building that provoked the joke: the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Now, though, admirers of the housewife superstar from Moonee Ponds are forced to contemplate the last night of Edna as the letters always anagramatically scrambled in her forename – E-N-D – come into sight. Barry Humphries, the megastar's creator and manager, has suggested that the tour about to begin in Australia will mark the final stage appearances in her native land.

Connoisseurs of comedy genius will hope that plans for the farewell show to come to London and Broadway are fulfilled because with a performer of this magnitude – as with Dame Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas – the audience wants and needs a chance to say goodbye and thank you. Or as it was once memorably put by the Australian cultural attache to the Court of St James, Sir Les Patterson, another character in the Humphries group, "to put your hands together warmly across her opening and give her the clap she so richly deserves". (Few have doubled entendres as inventively as Humphries.)


Dame Edna at the Last Night of the Poms at the Royal Albert Hall, 2009. Photograph: Mark Allan/Getty Images

When Dame Edna first appeared in London in the 1960s, she was misunderstood by some as a drag act. But, in a way perhaps matched only by Dustin Hoffman's transvestite turn in Tootsie, this was character acting of remarkable precision and depth, in which the shift of gender was almost incidental to the vocal and physical detail, the latter helped by Humphries' possession of unusually shapely legs for a man.

But the knowledge that there was a cock in the frock, as the clearly Humphries-influenced Priscilla Queen of the Desert later put it, was never a large part of the gag. What began as a joke about Australian suburban delusion – Edna was initially a kind of Melbourne equivalent of Beverly in Abigail's Party – gradually became a much edgier reflection on celebrity. Along with the artist Andy Warhol (who can be seen as a character actor of a less openly declared kind), Humphries precociously understood that, over the next few decades, fame would shift from being something rare and earned to becoming randomly available.

Decades before Big Brother and the internet, Humphries saw the humour in the unlikely and accidental celebrity. The biggest problem for the character comic is becoming trapped in a single vocal and visual joke – one reason that Paul O'Grady, for example, retired his Liverpudlian Edna, Lily Savage – but a spoof on celebrity has the advantage that fame naturally transmutes. Humphries brilliantly piled upon Edna all of the victories and defeats that contemporary celebrity offers: physical makeover, TV talkshow, volumes of memoirs, stadium venues, tragedy (the loss of husband Norm to prostate cancer), rehab and comeback. With each return, Edna was different, her genuine and increasing fame constantly feeding the material. Typically, the farewell tour now opens up a whole new set of jokes about showbiz retirement rituals.


Barry Humphries as Edna Everage, 1979. Photograph: Chris Barham/Associated Newspa

Humphries also employed his bespectacled heroine – again, well ahead of the curve – not just to send up fame in general, but to undermine so-called real celebrities. Edna could be extraordinarily overbearing and belittling to interviewees – dismissing their books and movies, requiring them, like kids at a party, to wear a badge provided by her sidekick and former bridesmaid Madge – in a way that, when Clive Anderson tried it under his own name, resulted in walk-outs and a shortage of guests.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the act, though, was how tough Humphries could be on himself. Many more recent comic character actors have clearly learned much from Humphries in terms of total immersion in verbal and physical detail: most notably, Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge, Caroline Aherne's Mrs Merton and Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G, Borat and Brüno.

Coogan and Baron Cohen have also followed the Edna model in allowing their characters a separate existence on the publicity circuit, giving interviews and publicising books. In Humphries' case, the effort of separation is so great that radio and TV producers have received telephone calls from the dame herself about the logistics of upcoming appearances, and the crew on her TV shows were instructed always to address the host as "Edna" between takes, rather than "Barry". Although Humphries now has such easy access to the character that, during radio interviews, I have watched him summon her simply by pulling the brim of his trademark hat over his eyes.

No other comedian, however, has used his comic persona to denigrate himself in the way that Humphries routinely does: assassination by character. In both a South Bank Show edition and in her autobiographies, Edna mocks Humphries, always referred to as her "manager", as a bitter failure who is forced to endure a showbiz career rather than the renown as an artist and novelist that he craved.

This additional layer of satire and unease helps to make Dame Edna one of the most complex and inspirational creations in the history of comedy. Of course, one of the satirisable habits of celebrities is that they announce much-trumpeted farewell tours and are then back on the road again in a couple of years. So many will profoundly hope that Edna's retirement is just another knowing joke.

eddie
The Gap Minder

Posts : 7840
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 61
Location : Desert Island

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  Doc Watson on Wed Mar 21, 2012 4:32 pm

All the other characters are retiring too. Sandy and Les may do the odd tv special but it is time to enjoy a well earnt retirement.

Doc Watson
Titanium Member

Posts : 1428
Join date : 2011-04-11
Age : 66
Location : Australia

Back to top Go down

Re: A Wellington boot filled with custard: the Art of Barry Humphries

Post  Sponsored content Today at 7:26 am


Sponsored content


Back to top Go down

View previous topic View next topic Back to top

- Similar topics

 
Permissions in this forum:
You cannot reply to topics in this forum