Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Barry Humphries (Thanks, Fe)

This is the first biography post I've written in weeks! I'm a bit nervous.


I'm starting with that cross-dressing comedian.

I don't know much about him. I've watched a few clips from his alter ego-Dame Edna.

I guess I'll start.

Hello, Lord Wiki. We meet again.

Barry Humphries was born on 17, February 1934. That means we were in Australia for his birthday! We were in the South Coast specifically.

Humphries would fit well in my family. We have a cluster of February birthdays. My nephew's is the 14th, my dad's the 19th, and my sister's the 22nd.

Okay. Birthday website time!

He's a 9 in numerology. That's the same as my sister and her new son. They're all supposed to be humanitarians.

Humphries is an Aquarius. That matches my nephew too.

Humphries was born in a suburb in Melbourne called Kew. Now I'm going to be more interested in Victoria because that's going to be the focus of our next Aussie holiday.

Lord Wiki says it's an affluent suburb. So, does this mean Humphries was born with a silver spoon?

Oh...well, now Lord Wiki has changed his mind. Further down he says Humphries was born and raised in Camberwell.

The suburbs are only nine minutes apart. I guess it doesn't make that much of a difference. They're both east of the CBD. I know some of the most affluent suburbs in Sydney are in the east. Is it the same in Melbourne?

Geoffrey Rush is from Camberwell too. Missy Higgins lived nearby and went to the high school.

Lord Wiki says the family WAS well-off. Humphries dad was a successful construction manager. His parents bought him a lot of stuff, but spent little time with him. Humphries spent his lonely hours playing dress-up.

As a child, Humphries had a traumatic circus experience. A dwarf leaped into the audience and tried to grab little Barry onto the stage. This event led to Humphries having a fear of dwarfs. I wonder if he got over that. I hope so! I mean I understand why a fear would develop. Little boy Barry has my sympathy. But I don't think his experience is a good excuse for prolonged prejudice.

Lord Wiki says Humphries had a fairly happy and easy childhood. I guess he wasn't that neglected then.

When he was nine, his parents gave all his books to the Salvation Army. Young Barry wasn't happy with that. For revenge, he became a bookworm and started collecting rare books. Ah! Maybe that's what I need to do to get Jack reading more.

Humphries also became very artistic. His parents weren't fond of the arts.

Did Humphries get into the arts because his parents didn't like it? An act of rebellion? Or did his parents dislike art because their son took an interest in it?  Or was it none of the above?

For school, Humphries went to Camberwell Grammar School. It's a school for boys. Rubert Murdoch's daddy went there as well. I have to be honest here. I'm less interested in schools than I was before when I did these biography posts. So, I'm not going to do a lot of school research. I apologize if anyone was actually interested in any of that.

All the schools are beginning to sound alike to me.

I'll just quickly skim to see if there's anything brilliantly exciting.

For High School, he went to Melbourne Grammar School. Apparently, this school has quite an alumni list. This includes Malcolm Fraser, Alfred Deakin, Julian Burnside, and a bunch of other names I don't recognize.

At the school, Humphries ignored math and sports and embraced the artistic stuff.

After high school, he went to Melbourne University and studied law, philosophy, and fine arts. During these years, Humphries became involved with something called Dada. It seems to be some sort of anti-war and anti-capitalist thing. From what I'm reading, it seems to be protest via offensive art. Humphries was involved with various public pranks. You know who he reminds me of? Sacha Baron Cohen. They both like to dress up as different characters. And they both like to do crazy things to get people's attention and make us all think. I wonder if Humphries was a role model for Cohen?

Lord Wiki describes some of the pranks. In one, Humphries would verbally abuse a blind person on the train. But no worries. It was a fake blind person. I'm not sure what the lesson is there. Maybe as with Cohen, it's about the reactions. If you sing "Throw the Jew Down the Well", how does the audience react? Who happily sings along? Who looks uncomfortable? Who protests?

Another one of Humphries' pranks involved one of my biggest fears. Airplane vomit! He would use soup as pretend vomit. He'd throw up on the plane and then pretend to eat the vomit. Lovely.

After he finished with University, Humphries joined the Melbourne Theater Company (MCT). Lord Wiki says it's the oldest professional theater in Australia. Wow.

More importantly.....It's here that Dame Edna was born. Her first performance was on December 12, 1955. We were in Australia on her birthday too!

Dame Edna isn't the only personality to emerge from Humphries. We also have Sir Les Patterson. While Dame Edna is refined and snobby, Patterson is vulgar. Then there's a more endearing character. Sandy Stone. Lord Wiki describes him as a grandfatherly type. There's other characters as well. I'm not going to list them all, but I MIGHT come back to some of them later.

Humphries eventually moved to Sydney. He performed in Waiting For Godot. I remember that play. I should read it again someday. I'd probably understand it much more now than I did as a teenager.

In 1959, Humphries left my favorite country and moved to London. He spent the 60's there. Speaking of decades, we're almost done with this one. What the hell are we going to call it? How are we going to refer back to it? I'm very concerned about this issue.

Humphries became friends with British comedians. The only one I've heard of is Dudley Moore. I used to love that movie Micki and Maude. I never really got into Moore's other famous stuff. I just looked him up though. He died! I didn't know that. I knew he had been sick for awhile though. Oh well. Now I know.

While in London, Humphries did a comic strip called The Wonderful World of Barry McKenzie. It made fun of Australians abroad. I guess Australia didn't find it so funny at first. It was banned in Humphries' homeland for awhile.

Okay. Now I'm getting into some interesting stuff.

I thought the book sounded familiar so I looked it up. It seems although it was banned at one point, it later was embraced by Australians. Even the government stood behind it. In 1972, a film was made based on the book. The film, or just it's sequel (I'm confused) received government funding via the Australian Film Development Commission. Gough Whitlam made a cameo appearance in the sequel...granting damehood to McKenzie's aunt. And who is that? Dame Edna. Small world here!

Lord Wiki says McKenzie used euphemisms for bodily functions. This includes the technicolor yawn for vomiting. I've heard of that one. So, did the term actually come from the book/movies, or did they just popularize it?

Here's something.....

Lord Wiki says the lyrics for Men at Work's "Down Under" were inspired by the McKenzie character. Wow. I always wondered what all those lyrics meant. I still don't know, but at least I know what inspired them.

I'm very intrigued by all this. I think I need to see the movie, or at least read the book.

At the age of 28, Humphries had a bit of an accident.

He fell off a cliff. Ouch. He fell a 150 feet. Holy shit.

I have nightmares about Jack falling off high places. I see him fall. Then I wake up. Maybe now I can feel a little better. I can wake up and imagine Jack's dream self did a Humphries and survived.

Humphries performed a lot in Oliver. I have to admit. I've never had much love for that play. I mean I've never seen it, but I've heard some songs from it. It just doesn't appeal to me for some reason. I've never been much of a Dicken's fan. I do like A Christmas Carol though.

Humphries first film role came five years after his little cliff accident. He was in the film Bedazzled with Dudley Moore. I think I saw the remake of that. I'm not sure I realized it was a remake. I liked it though. I think. Maybe?

Humphries returned to Australia in 1968. He toured with a one man show called Just a Show. Then he went back to the UK and did the show there.

Then we're back to Australia in 1970. That's the year my older sister was born.

A couple years later I was born and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie was born as well. Barry Humphries didn't play the title character. Barry Crocker did. I just added him to my list. Hopefully, I'll get to him before I return to Australia in 2011. The list is awfully long right now.

Lord Wiki says The Adventures of Barry McKenzie was one of those movies that are scorned by the critics and loved by the public. What other movies are like that? I know there's been a lot, but I can't remember them.

Humphries' career was blossoming. And so was his addiction to alcohol. Lord Wiki says this might have been why his first and second marriages didn't work out. I wonder if alcohol was involved in his cliff accident? It could explain why he survived. I remember hearing that drunk drivers often survive more than their innocent victims because the alcohol puts their body in a more relaxed state.


Humphries did rehab and all that. He's been dry since the 1970's.

Oh! I forgot this! Humphries was in Finding Nemo. He played Bruce the shark. I love Bruce! Lord Wiki says the character's battle with eating-fish-addiction might symbolize Humphries' own battle with alcohol.

Lord Wiki says he has a self-deprecating sense of humor. I love people who have that type of humor. I prefer that so much more to people who can manage to only laugh at others. I mean it's fine to laugh at others. And I think it's fine to be critical of a point. I think it can be done without being cruel. But if you have someone who constantly talks/jokes bad about others, and never says anything negative about themselves.....Ah, well I feel they're in some kind of deep denial. It's sad. They've really put up a strong guard to protect themselves.

Humphries has done a lot of one man shows. I won't list them all now, but I might get back to some of them later. (notice I'm saying this a lot lately? It's called Dina-is-being-damned-lazy)

Dame Edna seems to be his most popular character. She has her own talk show. I've seen a few bits on YouTube.

Humphries came to Broadway in the year 2000. His show was Dame Edna: The Royal Tour. It got good reviews and was a hit. He then had a recurring role on Ally McBeal. Well, she did. Edna was on Ally McBeal. I don't remember that, but I didn't regularly watch the show.

Controversy erupted when Dame Edna did an advice column for Vanity Fair in 2003. A reader asked if she should learn Spanish. Dame Edna replied, Forget Spanish. There's nothing in that language worth reading except Don Quixote and a quick listen to the CD of Man of La Mancha will take care of that. Who speaks it that you are so desperate to talk to? The help? Your leaf blower?

A lot of people didn't understand that this was all a joke...a way of making fun of wealthy white prejudice Americans. Not the Latinos. I think it's easier to get away with such jokes if you actually belong to that group of people. If people get mad at Sacha Baron Cohen for singing "Throw the Jew Down the Well", he can remind everyone that he's actually Jewish himself. Humphries doesn't have that luxury.

Some members of the Hispanic community where not pleased with Cohen. One of the angry ones was actress Salma Hayak. She denounced Dame Edna. Dame Edna fought back by saying that Hayak's protest was truly about professional jealousy. Edna claims the role of Frida Kahlo was originally offered to her and Hayak was jealous of that.

I wonder what ever happened to all that? Did Hayak ever realize it had all been a joke? Did she even realize that Dame Edna wasn't a real person?

Okay. It's time to leave Lord Wiki. Good-bye, my friend.

Now I'm going to look at Dame Edna's official website.

She's coming to Fort Worth in June! This June? Maybe I should go. I think we might be out of town then. I'll have to look into this. I don't really go to the theater much though. I'll probably just watch her on YouTube.

On her website, Dame Edna says what's unique about her show is she tailors it to each city she's in. That's cool.

The website itself seems a bit out of date in some places. Her letter to her fans is dated August 22, 2005. It has some pretty funny parts though. She says in one part, Talking of Laura Bush I hear that she has removed all paintings from the White House which are not by American artists. Is that meant to make her seem patriotic, artistic or both? Could foreign paintings be a threat to national security? I wonder who advised her as to which were American and which were not?

I wonder if that's true! I can't easily find anything via Google. Maybe it was just a joke?

Now I'm moving onto IMDb. Let's see if there's any fun trivia.

His current wife is some woman named Lizzie Spender. They've been married since 1990. Hopefully, they'll make it to their 20th anniversary. It's coming up.

His daughter Tessa is an actress. She was on the Australian soap opera Sons and Daughters. I don't think I've heard of that one.

According to IMDb, Humphries now lives in Cremorne New South Wales. That sounds familiar. Oh! It's in Sydney. I must have seen it on the map. It's not too far from Neutral Bay, and we were there.

It seems Dame Edna is no longer doing her TV show. I think it ended in 2007.

Here's a great video It's a Humphries narrated video about Gough Whitlam and the 1970's. It features both Dame Edna and Les Patterson.

So far.....I like this Barry Humphries. I like his humor. Besides Cohen, he reminds me a lot of Stephen Colbert. Colbert says offensive things while being someone else too. His situation is even more sticky though because he doesn't use a costume. And he uses his real name.

This website has a quote from Humphries. If I was in debate with Edna, I would disagree with Edna Everage on almost every point moral or ethical or metaphysical. I'm betting Colbert would feel pretty much the same way about his own alter ego.

I'm going to try to find out more about Dame Edna's fight with Salma Hayek.

The New York Times has an article. It has some of Hayek's response to Dame Edna. I'm sure you think you're funny, maybe sometimes you are, I wouldn't know. The great irony is that I am Mexican, I speak Spanish, and I am on the cover of Vanity Fair.

Yikes. She sounds uncomfortably defensive.

I'm not saying people shouldn't have been hurt by what was said. But sometimes you have to stop, realize the context, swallow your pride, and joke back.

Wouldn't that be funny if this is what Hayek was going for? What if her anger was all a joke? Now THAT would be hilarious. And I'd feel I was being the stupid one.

This website has the response from Vanity Fair. I think it's pretty well-written. They say, Our intent, in short, was to mock the very ethnic stereotypes that some have accused us of reinforcing. Further down they say, When we hired Barry Humphries two years ago to write a satirical advice column in Dame Edna's name, we did so on the comedic premise that Dame Edna is the last person on Earth that anyone would go to for sound advice.

In the same issue as the Dame Edna incident, the cover featured Hayek herself. It also featured other Hispanic people including Antonio Banderas, director Robert Rodriguez, and Pablo Picasso. The response says,Would a magazine that honestly endorsed opinions like those voiced by the character Dame Edna have published these articles?

Amen to that!

There's a fine line between funny and offensive. And it IS sometimes hard to know when someone is joking. It's hard to know when someone is laughing AT you rather than with you.

I sometimes get confused myself. A few days ago, I found myself hurt by what someone had said about my blog online. I TRIED to think that they were laughing with me and not at me. I tried joking back and they responded in a way that assured me they had been laughing AT me. They wanted nothing to do with me. They just wanted to make fun of me. But you least I tried.

Another time, someone wrote something on their blog that I found to be offensive. I like jokes, but I found this to be mean-spirited. I stopped reading their blog for awhile. I don't know though. Maybe I overreacted. Maybe I took it all too seriously. But unlike Hayek, I didn't make a big stink out of it. I didn't start any kind of protest. I just quietly walked away. I give myself credit for that.

And....I find humor in things that other people find offensive.

Even though I had/have an eating disorder, I find this t-shirt to be quite funny. Yes, there's a horrific and sad side to eating disorders. I won't deny that. But there's also something absurdly ridiculous about them. I have to sometimes laugh at my past obsession with being thin--my belief that a low BMI would make me happier. And I also can't help laugh at my current failure to keep the scale numbers from getting higher and higher.

I guess the lesson here is that we all can't agree on what's offensive and what's funny. So, it's best to just not make a big stink. And if you do want to make a big stink, do your research first. Make sure you're not reading things out of context.

Oh well. That is that.

I'm going to now look at Google news--see if there's anything interesting there.

Humphries is the narrator of the recent animated movie Mary and Max. I want to see that! It looks like a beautiful movie. The trailer brought a little tear to my eye. Young Mary is played by Bethany Whitmore. Could she be related to Charles?

Dame Edna's current tour is called First Last Tour. That's a GREAT title. I wonder how many last tours she'll have. I hope it's many.

I'll end this post with a beautiful Dame Edna quote:

Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century