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Barry Humphries has ‘The Last Laugh’ with ITV


Barry Humphries has ‘The Last Laugh’ with ITV

In this Christmas special documentary, a host of top stars reflect on the life and comedy of Barry Humphries – AKA Dame Edna Everage – a trailblazer and a hellraiser whose road to worldwide fame was far from easy.

In December 2023, the legendary comic is being honoured with a state memorial at the Sydney Opera house, and ITV1 pays its tribute with friends and fans including Sharon Osbourne, Jonathan Ross, Nick Cave, Jason Donovan, Joan Bakewell, Dara Ó Briain, Lord Jeffrey Archer and more.

Barry Humphries: The Last Laugh relives classic moments from his signature characters, Dame Edna and Sir Les Patterson, as well as uncovering gems from the many interviews Barry gave as himself, which were often illuminating and equally hilarious.

Following his death in April, this documentary aims to offer an intimate, personal and honest look back at the life and work of one of the funniest and most iconic performers of our times. Adored by millions, but perhaps known by few, Barry constantly shifted the lines between where the characters ended and his own personality began, making it a challenge for interviewers to get under the skin of the man himself.

The show tracks his career from his upbringing in suburban Melbourne, to taking his new act Edna Everage to Sydney in the 1950s, where it didn’t always go down well. But it was after Barry moved to London that he found success with audiences. His friend Joan Bakewell says: “When he arrived from Australia, Barry was a dandy – he liked clothes and he liked colour, he expected you to notice when he walked into a room – and you did.”

Creator name Matt Frost Copyright © Sky UK Limited

Playing in the clubs and theatres led to a problem with drinking, says Jonathan Ross: “People would offer him drinks so basically go out somewhere socially or be at an event and everyone would say have a drink and he’d say to them, ‘I’ll have one with you if in six hours’ time you don’t complain when I’ve torn down all those curtains and done a s*** in that vase.'”

So Barry went teetotal, and in the ’70s Edna started to find an identity all of her own – from walking on and off stage in the wrong direction, knocking over microphones, to her legendary barbed quips. In 1976, Barry landed his own sketch show which featured appearances from Edna. Joan says: “Barry learned very fast what to do, how much could you ad lib, what were the risks of libel and obscenity, something he needed to watch. He pushed the humour until it was rude and almost unacceptable.”

And in 1987 came the programme that would prove just as revolutionary – The Dame Edna Experience (LWT/ITV) – on which Barry’s comedy came to the fore as he interviewed a host of household-name stars on his own chat show. Jason Donovan says: “When I look back at my appearance on that show, I was sweating. You never quite knew what direction the bullets were going to fly at you.” Sharon Osbourne says: “You would have to be on your game to give it back. And if you didn’t, she could just cut you off at the knees, you know?”

Barry Humphries (as Les Patterson) and Debbie Linden on The Dame Edna Experience. LWT, 1987.

If Edna was shocking, she was nothing compared to Barry’s other major comic creation, Sir Les Patterson – a character designed to push the boundaries of what was acceptable to their very limits. Adam says the vulgar Aussie persona didn’t go down well in Barry’s homeland despite his success elsewhere: “It’s interesting isn’t it? We like a s*** stirrer in Australia but not someone who s*** stirs Australia.'”

As ’80s star Rustie Lee points out, while Sir Les and Dame Edna could both be offensive to the extreme, Barry often used that to tackle the most sensitive of issues, including racism. Speaking of her experience as the only Black woman in a Dame Edna audience, which the performer picked up on, Rustie says: “It makes people uncomfortable because if you’re uncomfortable about something, it’s because it’s wrong. He hit the nail on the head. It was good for people to open their eyes and see that this picture isn’t right.”

In early 2023, Barry’s health began to deteriorate, and in April, he died. The stars, including Lord Jeffrey Archer, pay their unique tributes to him: “I would say in my lifetime, half a dozen people, you just can’t wait to see them again. You can’t wait to be with them. He was top of that list.”

Barry Humphries: The Last Laugh, tonight (Christmas Day) at 10 pm on ITV1 and STV

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