DAME EDNA EVERAGE AND THE RISE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION: Backstage with Barry Humphries by John Lahr

DAME EDNA EVERAGE AND THE RISE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION: Backstage with Barry Humphries

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Lahr (Automatic Vaudeville, 1984, etc.), in British tonalities never learned from his father, offers an overwrought backstage bio of a comedian largely unappreciated this side of the Pond. Self-proclaimed mega-star Dame Edna Everage (My Gorgeous Life, 1991) is a confidante of royals and a hobnobber with international glitterati. Surely, there's nothing like this Dame, with her contempt for her fans and the ""paupers"" in the balcony. (She skewers her ""possums"" lovingly, she says). The ineffable dominatrix from Melbourne is, of course, a pantomime lady--that favorite of the otherwise explicable British, a comic in drag. The Éminence grise inhabiting Edna's pantyhose is one Barry Humphries, a randy comic from Down Under. Humphries, a complex, self-centered, and often hostile man (it's said lovingly, possums), is a music-hail artiste of multiple personalities, including Edna's opening act, Sir Les Patterson, also from Australia and a souse with a stupendous appendage. (In ""the area of phallic fun, Sir Les holds his own,"" Lahr notes with his British humor, but he's ""not everybody's cup of pee."" Be warned.) Undeniably, Humphries has a quick and unique wit that can steer the Everage faux gentility through jokes about leprosy and her late husband's prostate. But Lahr's sappy adulation veers toward parody itself. The ""excesses of Humphries' temperament,"" he gushes, ""are forgotten in the face of the abundance of his talent,"" even as his subject repeatedly gives him the brushoff. Humphries ""strides past me,"" Lahr notes. ""After another few minutes it's clear that I will not be summoned."" The feckless author is happy, though. He just wants ""to stop time and to chronicle a moment in the prime of a great clown's life."" ""Barry Humphries is among us, and he is the goods,"" insists Lahr. It remains to be seen if these goods will sell in these former colonies.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
Page count: 242pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"