In Conversation With Dame Edna Everage
After more than 60 years in the entertainment business Australian housewife turned entertainment superstar Dame Edna Everage is truly in a category all her own.
The mere mention of her mauve locks or bedazzled cat eye glasses, reminds me and many others of when we first encountered Barry Humphries' magical character. A simple YouTube search provides an abundance of Dame Edna clips where she is either hosting guests on her own talk show, embarrassing celebrities during her standup routines or making us laugh with some of comedies quickest quips and punchlines.
But it was the sound of her unmistakable voice, with her jovial "Gary, darling!", that made all the difference as I envisioned my interviewee on the other end of the phone line lounging in a coastal Italian villa.
Even at the age of 80, Dame Edna's wit is as sharp as ever as she embarks on her final farewell tour, which concludes in the states next year with a plethora never-ending laughter.
I was so upset to hear this'll be your last tour--your farewell tour!
Listen darling, I have to, sooner or later, hang up my gladiolus. For those of you who don't know, the gladiolus is my lucky flower, and I used to buy a small bunch and put it on the piano on the stage when I did my wonderful early shows. And then women, in the front row of the orchestra, kept staring at them and not me. So I decided that I would give my audiences as many gladioli as I could afford. Do you know that I spent thousands of dollars a week on these gladies--sometimes out of season? So I have to import them from Brazil, from Mexico, from Lithuania--wherever that might be--Thailand, and then they go into the audience and they look beautiful! And when the audience sings, as I get them to do, they wave those gladies in time to the music. And it's such a lovely sight for me because, you know, for me, Gary, the audience is the show. You think you're coming to see me, but I am coming to see you possums! And again for those who don't know me, I call my friends in the audience "possums", after those cuddly little Australian animals.
But you're a gigastar--
I have to say goodbye sooner or later. And the name America keeps cropping up in the news. And there are a lot of people in the world who haven't the faintest idea what it's like. So in a way, I'm helping to put America on the map and let the world know what a nice place it is, and above all, what lovely people live there.
I'm a sort of unpaid, up to a point, publicist for the USA. And this tour is taking me to some of your wonderful cultural centers. I can't remember where I'm going... I'm going to Los Angeles, where I have a lot of friends. Sadly, little Lauren Bacall won't be there, darling Joan Rivers, because you know, Joan Rivers was the first person to tell me to come to America. She said, "Edna, "--she came to see me in London, she was on my TV show, and she said--, "Edna, they will love you! You must go!" And I did and I've always thanked her. And I'm still--do you know I'm still wearing black? A black dress in memory of my darling friend. Of course, little Robin Williams was a close friend of mine, Larry Hagman, so many old friends. But there are new ones too, and I'm very, very grateful there are. I haven't got anymore--I haven't got Jay Leno to go and see in Los Angeles. There's Ellen, who's got a little Australian girlfriend called Portia de Rossi. So I'll be visiting them. I might even be on that show.
You've played a central role in creating so many stars: Olivia Newton John, Kylie Minogue, Hugh Jackman--what is it that makes a star do you think?
I must tell you, Gary, in Australia, I had a little drama school, a little acting school. It was in my kitchen, and I would be busy cooking for my invalid husband--his name was Norm--he could only eat pureed food. It was a terrible shame because I had to put cakes, roast beef, everything into the blender. He'd just drink my meals through a straw.
But every now and then, there was a knock on my kitchen door. And there would be a couple, a family pushing a little mite forward, and they said to me--I remember this very well with the Minogue family--they said, "Would you look after Kylie? She has potential, we think. Groom her, Edna, GROOM her!" And I did. And the same happened with Hugh Jackman, with Russell Crowe, with Nicole Kidman, with Cate Blanchett--all of those people--Geoffrey Rush. They're all Australians, and they were nothing until I groomed them. I'd get them to do single songs, dress up, all that type of thing. And do you know, when Cate Blanchett got the Oscar, not long ago, for her role in Woody Allen, in Blue Jasmine, you run that tape, you will see when she gets the Oscar, watch her lips--watch her lips, Gary!--she whispers, "Thank you, Edna. I am nothing without you."
This is not me singing my own praises. I am modesty incarnate.
And the Americans you've mentored?
I keep in touch. I had a call from little Lauren Bacall before she passed and she said, "I wish you were here, Edna." Those things are so important to me. And I feel, in these times, when America takes the lead in world affairs--and you can't stop America doing it some people say unfortunately--but when it does, there has to be someone who is not an American to stand up for the USA, and I do it. And a lot of people have said to me, I'm not going to mention the White House because the Obamas have said "Don't bring us into it, Edna," but they have said, "Edna, if you're retiring from the theater, please do one last victory lap in our country."
And that's what I'm doing. This is my victory lap. Not a bad name for a show, is it?
No, it's pretty good.
To give you an idea, first of all, listeners, I am not an attractive woman of, well, you might say, middle years, middle aged woman.
I'm approaching 70. Unfortunately, from the wrong direction. And I dress superbly. I have beautiful, beautiful clothes, designed by my bachelor boy son, Kenny. Kenny has a big following as it is, and even Lady Gaga has asked Kenny to design dresses for her. But Kenny isn't very keen on, well, shall we say, extreme women. He likes someone that women all over the world can identify with. So he makes my clothes, I stand on the stage, I talk to the audience, and they fall literally, Gary, into a trance. I advise people, I encourage audience participation, I sing, I dance! Eat your heart out, Debbie Reynolds!
Is that what people should expect when they come to see your show?
They can expect, first of all, laughter. Now, I don't set out to be a comedienne. But do you know that a lot of people laugh out of relief? They laugh because they've heard the truth spoken at last! They hear it. Let me say this, Gary: I've been approached by an American company that wants to turn me into a proper religion--a religion! The Church of Edna. I resisted that because I don't approve of it. I don't want to use my powers in that way, but I do have a healing effect on people. A lot of people have written to me saying, "We came to one of your shows. We didn't know what to expect. We had a few aches and pains, some of them radical, and we left... transformed."
When you laugh, Gary, in the case of women, particularly, those muscles are used, which are really only used on about one other life situation. I'm not going into more detail about that. But it has profound effect, laughter. It's a healer. And it's also--and I'm going to use a word now that I hope nice people reading will appreciate--laughter can be an aphrodisiac.
Couples who come to me, who've not really had intimate relations for years, have gone home, and barely left the house for weeks.
Speaking of relationships what is your dream man--are you looking for someone?
Do you know what I found in life? If you look, you don't find. Love catches you by surprise, Gary. Are you single?
There are few flirtations here and there.
Yes, that's right, Gary. I can hear it in your voice. You're open to life itself, and the surprises of life. Love has to catch us by surprise, when we are the least looking for it. And it's the same as laughter. And I am single. My husband passed away a long time ago, and of course a lot of people have courted me. I've been taken to dinner and also to things like Larry Hagman, in particular years ago. And more recently, of course, little Hugh Jackman--and he's too young for me though, frankly.
One day, the stage door will say "Edna, there's someone to see you." And I'll go down there and I'll say, you know, I'll see this person, and you know I'll say something like, "Oh, George, you've just been in Venice. You're married." Don't take a moral view of it. Married men do find me attractive. But I don't want to break up a marriage, as recent as a marriage of that.
I read in your book, My Gorgeous Life, that Australian cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson had taken you out on a date some time ago?
Les Patterson, readers, is an Australian diplomat, who is really a creation of my manager, Barry Humphries. He is a person of extreme vulgarity. He is no particular Australian because Australians are generally refined. And he once, years ago, when I was a young girl, he asked me to the movies. And I went and I'll never go out with him again. I was sitting in the back row of the movies with this person, and he offered me something quite unacceptable--and it wasn't a chocolate. It was not a chocolate. It was much more indigestible than that. And I'm disappointed, Gary, you should mention his name.
My apologies Dame Edna, but I also have to ask about your manager--since you brought up Barry Humphries--and his book, Handling Edna, which was not very flattering... The first line reads, "I wish I had never met Edna Everage."
My thoughts, actually, are residing with my legal adviser at the moment. I have had this manager from day one, when I was a young married woman doing amateur theatrical work, and I met this rather effeminate man and he asked if he could manage me. He got me to sign a document, which is proved to be legally binding. I'm stuck with him. He's got his hand well in the register.
In fact, he's got the scars on his wrist to prove it. Because every time I feel his digits, I slam the door on them. However, I am not doing the work that I do in this farewell tour for money. It is out of genuine love and concern and if you don't know who I am, possums--there I am, again using my favorite term of affection--Google me! And when you see me, blog away! Twitter, tweet, blog! I'm coming to a beautiful theater near you.
Who do you find most complimentary to your own style?
My style is unique. I don't think there is really anybody who--I mean, I used to like Carol Burnett when she looked like Carol Burnett, you know? Joan, I liked. Joan used to say, "Oh, have I gone too far?" Generally, I would say, "Yes, you have, Joan." But there are a lot of, so many nice little people doing things. I'm not up to date, Gary, but there are lovely people in films and in television, who I think are holding their own very, very well. It's just that I am unique. I'm not really like anybody else.
And my last question for you: where do you go from here?
I'm doing my farewell tour in America, and then I'm doing a farewell tour in China. Because that'll be a spooky event because I've never even done a hello tour there. In fact, it's the one country in the world who have never heard of me. That will be a pretty interesting experiment.
Dame Edna Everage, it was truly an honor.
Gary, it's wonderful you called me. I was just lying here thinking, "What's going to take me by surprise? What romance awaits me?" And you know, Gary, when I'm in your city, we might have a little candlelit supper. Who knows? Lots of love, darling.
See the full interview and spread in Dorian Magazine.
Buy tickets to see Dame Edna's final farewell tour in the U.S. here: http://www.dameednafarewell.com/