Comedy can be hard to define. Usually, people find the unexpected funny, and essentially that's what a joke is - an anecdote with a twist at the end, an unexpected finish. Years ago just saying 'Bum!' on stage would have brought riotous laughter, because it's precisely that "you can't say that in public" act which causes people to laugh. The trouble is, society changes, and as things which would have been taboo years ago become part of mainstream conversation, then they no longer make you laugh. And different societies find things funny which others don't, because every society has different moral standards. Take, for example, the study over the last few years which tried to find the funniest joke ever, and ended up concluding that every nation had a different funniest joke. The end result was to declare Spike Milligan the funniest man ever, and yet the joke which Spike tells as the funniest one he ever heard ('Is he dead?… He is now!'), didn't even raise a smile amongst the people I talked to about it.
Things change. Comedians need new, updated, socially-relevant now-not-then, material all the time, and that's precisely why Barry Humphries isn't funny, and hasn't been for most of his career. Barry has played the part of a number of characters - Aussie bloke Bazza Mackenzie, the grandfatherly Sandy Stone, unionist Lance Boyle, the horrific cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson, and of course, Dame Edna Everage. Dame Edna started off as an ordinary suburban housewife, but somewhere along the way, as Barry Humphries failed to get the stardom he wanted, Dame Edna became his alternate ego, began declaring him/herself as a gigastar, and all but dropped all the other characters. To be sure, some of the early Dame Edna stuff was amusing, but there's only one thing more pathetic than a comedian who never comes up with new material, and that's one who drops all of his old stuff and sticks to the one joke forever more. That's Barry Humphies in a nutshell. I'm no prude - I find a lot of comedians funny, from Billy Connelly to Paul Hogan and even the Chaser himself - but Barry Humphries just makes me sad, because beneath the cross-dressing megastar image of Dame Edna is the very unfulfilled life of a no-one who never went anywhere. Forget the Keys to the City of Melbourne, give him a season pass to the nearest suicide booth - and thank God our kids will never have to put up with him.
BBC News Story
Dame Edna Official Website
Barry Humphries Bigraphy