Monday, February 18, 2013

79 Reasons For Joy.

February 17 (Which I realize ended even as I dictated this to Little Dougie. Well, I was out celebrating) is my favorite holiday, as it is Barry Humphries's birthday. Barry is the funniest man alive, and we hope he stays alive for many more years to come. Today he hit age 79, the age I was way back in 1976.

Dame Edna, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone in Barry's final stage tour show.
Barry is an artist, a writer, a memoirist, a novelist, a Dadaist, an actor, and a genius, but he's best known as a comedian who works in characters, his best known trio being Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and his own favorite character, Sandy Stone. How much sadder a world this would have been without Dame Edna.

Barry as "Envy" in Bedazzled. "Look at the table HE'S got."

One medium Barry is not as well known in as his stage and TV work is the motion picture, my specialty. But he has done films. He made his film debut in Bedazzled, with Dudley Moore and Barry's great friend and mentor, Peter Cook. Barry played "Envy," and his role, though small, was hilarious.

He's made many a movie since, sometimes doing small cameos as Dame Edna, sometimes playing small straight roles, like his role as the stage director in The Leading Man, a fine Hitchcockesque thriller set in the world of London's West End theatre starring Jon Bon Jovi, or his role as Maeterlinck in Immortal Beloved. And sometimes his roles can be bizarre indeed, such as his very large and important role as the blind - or is he? - TV presenter in Shock Treatment, the miserable sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. More recently, Barry was the voice of Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo, which has resulted in Barry now being a voice on a Disneyland ride.

Little Dougie has this same great poster on his living room wall.

But from time to time he's tried really doing his characters in a film built by him for them. There were his two Barry MacKenzie films, based on a 1960s British comic strip that Barry used to write, and then there was the ambitious, funny and disastrous Les Patterson Saves the World, in which Sir Les accidentally farts near a cigarette lighter as he addresses the UN General Assembly, and inadvertently sets fire to an Arab ambassador and causes an international incident. Barry plays both Sir Les and Dame Edna in this film, though the "Madge Allsop" in it is not the wonderful Madge we remember being played by the delightful Emily Perry. Barry only met Emily for the first time a few months after shooting the film.

Little Dougie with Emily Perry, 20 years ago, in her dressing room, which had been Gracie Allen's dressing room back in the 1950s. Comedy Holy Ground.

Les Patterson Saves the World was a huge box office and critical disaster (It was never even released in the USA, and barely ran a week in England), but that was forgotten when, mere months later, he debuted his TV show, The Dame Edna Experience, a talk show so great and hilarious that the DVDs of episodes from 1987 still sell, even though most of the guests on it are all now dead.

The lower portion of Dougie's poster is, as you can see, signed to him by Edna, Les and Barry,

Some of his roles are still more bizarre, like the weird idea to cast "Dame Edna" as Mrs. Crummles in a screen version of Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby. He wasn't billed as himself but as Dame Edna, although his Mrs. Crummles neither looked nor sounded nor behaved anything like Dame Edna at all. Nathan Lane was utterly miscast as Vincent Crummles (Nathan comes across as about as British as Jean Dujardin), but how can you not love a movie that presents Barry Humphries and Nathan Lane as a married couple, tells Dickens's great story faithfully if - ah - speedily, and features a magnificent performance from Christopher Plummer? (Christopher Plummer giving a magnificent performance? How often does that happen? Oh right, Every time he acts in anything.)

Anyone want to see the Nathan Lane-Barry Humphries sex tape? Me neither.
  And for bizarre, it will be hard even for Barry to top his performance as The Great Goblin in Peter Jackson's delightful The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Barry as The Great Goblin. He sure looks different in 3-D and 48 fps than he does when you're just in a room talking with him.
 The amazing part of Barry's performance as the CGI character The Great Goblin is that it is so clearly Barry. Look at that picture above. You can SEE that it's Barry, his eyes, his facial expressions, his acting. And he gets to sing a song, a charming little ditty titled "The Torture Song."

Barry and his wife of 22 years, Lizzie Spender, at the world premiere of The Hobbit.
No, Barry's gorgeous wife, whose father was Sir Stephen Spender, the former Poet Laureate of England, is not wearing one of Edna's hand-me-downs, but Edna might be able to squeeze into it. Barry recently took off a bit over 2 stone. Lizzie once told me that one nice thing about being married to Barry is having a husband who really knows just how uncomfortable wearing pantyhose is.

Barry proves that he's literally a bigger star even than Sir Ian McKellan.
Sadly, Barry's character died in the first film, but I'll probably go see the other two Hobbit movies when they come out anyway. I rather liked it.

This picture was a present from Barry to Dougie. it lives in a frame on the wall above his TV.

In the years I've known Little Dougie, I have, of course, introduced him to my many celebrity friends, but it was Dougie who introduced me to Barry. The photo below was taken the night they first met, at NBC in Burbank back in 1992. Barry, for reasons that defy understanding, actually likes Dougie, and has even been known to laugh at Dougie's jokes, which is more than I do.

Little Dougie and his friend Christy Kanen with Dame Edna in Burbank on Ash Wednesday, 1992. Christy is wearing Chevy Chase's name tag. (Chevy's real name is "Cornelius.")

That night was a great one. Imagine you're in a room with Chevy Chase, Robin Williams, George Hamilton, Ringo Starr, Rue McClanahan, Burgess Meredith, Kevin McCarthy, and Kim Basinger, and the only persons who really excite you are Dame Edna and Madge Allsop!

This is the first page of the book Dougie is holding in the photo above, Edna's autobiography.

Dougie and I are both heavily addicted to seeing Barry work live. This is the scariest thing about Barry nearing his 80s. He's great on TV, wonderful in books, but only at his very best live onstage. The tickets below are but a few of the many, many Edna tickets we've bought and enjoyed over the years.

The nicest gift Barry ever gave Little Dougie and I appears on the back cover of every copy of both of my books. In fact, you could show your respect for Barry's opinions by buying a copy of my new book, Tallyho, Tallulah! (Hey, a girl's gotta drink, and liquor may be quicker but it's still not free.)

Edna seems to think Dougie wrote my book instead of me, but then, she thinks she wrote her book and not Barry.

In America, over 23 years, Barry has gone from unknown to a household name. When you're a question on Jeopardy, you've arrived!

"I'll take 'Towering Comic Geniuses' for $1000, Alex."

In December, 2011, Barry appeared in an elaborate Christmas Panto in London. Little Dougie's first important show business mentor (and the co-dedicatee of Tallyho, Tallulah!) is named Dick Whittington, but this show was not about him.


The most-searing drama Tennessee Williams ever wrote.

But this amazing theatrical career is ending. Barry has just ended his final Australian tour. He is booked to bring his final stage show to London's West End, and plans also to play Broadway, and then, that's it. If you have never seen him live onstage, sell the house if you have to, sell your kids, anything needed to get the money to go to New York or London to see the last-ever Barry Humphries stage show.

But while we will shortly lose Barry as a live stage performer, he's ONLY retiring from the stage. He will continue to do TV, radio, write books, make recordings, and do pretty much everything else he does except tour in stage shows. And much as I wish he would do them forever, the fact is, I don't know how he's done it for so long. He just spent a year as a 78 year old man, touring Australia in a show where he played three or four different characters in the course of a night, singing, dancing, and mind you, solo shows, onstage the whole evening working at peak energy, eight shows a week. I get exhausted just watching him.

He has been busy writing. Just 3 years ago he published Handling Edna, Barry's rip-the-lid-off expose of the "truth" about Dame Edna. It included the resolution of a mystery he set up in My Gorgeous Life, 20 years before. It's not available in America, so you'll need to order it from an English or Australian bookseller, but do so. It's hilarious.

Edna's blurb on Handling Edna is less flattering than the one she wrote for my book.
It just says: "I'm suing!"

Last year he revised and substantially enlarged his 1985 book The Traveller's Tool by Sir Les Patterson. It's obscene, disgusting, sexist and vile. Yup, it's unflaggingly hilarious from cover to cover. The blurbs on the original edition say: "Hundreds of pages of pure filth." Rex Ingrams, The Spectator, "A truly coarse series of observations," Sunday Telegraph, "Painfully funny but very filthy," Northern Echo.

This book is hysterically funny, but I wouldn't recommend giving it to your sweet elderly granny.

Sadly for America, the print edition is not available in America. You'd have to order it from Australia. However, the audio book edition is easily and cheaply available from Amazon, and features not only Barry performing the entire book (The audio book is uncut, unabridged), but also includes some of his recordings of Sir Les's songs which are hard to come by elsewhere. The song Give Her One For Christmas is worth the purchase price alone.

This is the audio book edition. "In Portugal, it's Cockburn's Port, pronounced 'Co-burn's' I'm told by some plummy-voiced Pom who probably asks his wife each night for a "Fu..'."
- Sir Les Patterson in "The Traveller's Tool Enlarged," Chapter 11, "National Beverages or 'Bevvies'."
Read the copy on the back cover of the audio book. (If it's too small to read, click on it.)

"[One of the young women involved] was actually giving Brend the Kiss Of Life when he jumped the twig. I guess he even might have made it too if she'd been giving it to him on his mouth."
- Sir Les Patterson discussing a fellow Austrtalian polico's demise "on the job" (in a brothel) in "The Traveller's Tool Enlarged."

Here's Dougie elderly copy of the original, unenlarged edition.

Of course, Little Dougie's copy is signed by Sir Les himself.

I assume Sir Les was trying to write "All The Best," or "All My Best," but it sure looks to me like "All All Best." What do you think?

Anyway, belated happy birthday, Barry, and thanks for 6 decades of big, big laughs. How about 6 more decades? Cheers, darlings.

Dougie, Dame Edna and myself, all wearing "The Scream," outside the late Shubert Theater in 2001. This photo was taken by Lizzie Spender.

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