Barry Humphries

When her lover Mark Antony dies, Cleopatra almost howls.  (It depends on who you see playing the part – which is not a small one.)

The soldier’s pole is fall’n; young boys and girls
 Are level now with men. The odds is gone,
 And there is nothing left remarkable
 Beneath the visiting moon.

Barry Humphries was a giant too, one who in his way bestrode the world, but as so often happens in this country, the fall of a giant, this time terminally, brings out the pygmies, those who are permanently embittered by their own smallness and mediocrity.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is controlled by people too small and bitter to acknowledge someone who did more for their calling than anyone else – no other comedian got even close – here, or in London, or in New York. 

Why are they behaving like those bystanding ratbags who catch a ride on outfits like the IOOC or FIFA?  Because Barry Humphreys offended some people – they say.

Well, if the Festival people had their way, young girls and boys would now be level with men – and you can have two bob each way that that remark would also cause offence in some quarters

When the cockney John Keats died, driven to a ghastly death in Rome in part by the snobbery of bitchy critics, none of whom had one drop of poetry in their blood, and Shelley at last betook himself to weep for his Adonis, he said that those critics were like gnats straining at a camel.  That’s what we see now, and it is one of those flaws in our make-up that Barry Humphries devoted his professional life to exposing.

You would hope that the directors of a comedy festival would know that giving offence to people is inevitable in any comedy – or carnival.  Just ask Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Spike Milligan – or the sublime John Clarke.  Or any character in Commedia dell’arte. 

They all offer escape from pomp and circumstance, and a breather from bad governance.  And as often as not, someone has to take it down the front.  Just like in the ultimate slapstick – the pie fight.

It’s rather like the ultimate drama – sport (or litigation).  For someone to win, someone must lose – and no-one wants a draw.

As I see it, this country only began emerging from a neurotic dependence on or fear of others off-shore in the ‘70’s.  And to do that, we first had to see ourselves as we are. 

And Barry Humphries led the way, with people like Patrick White, our dramatists, cartoonists and film-makers.  We at last got rid of that chip on our shoulder and stood on our own two feet – even if we still import our head of state from what some used to call the Mother Country.

The people in charge of the Comedy Festival should be ashamed of themselves.

I leave you with more words of the Egyptian Queen of Egypt left to us by our most prolific comedian.

………………. For his bounty,
There was no winter in’t; an autumn ’twas
That grew the more by reaping. His delights
Were dolphin-like; they showed his back above
The element they lived in. In his livery
Walked crowns and crownets; realms and islands were
As plates dropped from his pocket.

Melbourne Comedy Festival – tolerance – comedy – nonsense.

2 thoughts on “Barry Humphries

  1. Hello Geoff,
    I’m glad you wrote glowingly of Barry Humphries.
    I’ve been a fan almost as long as I can remember. All his characters were brilliant, even “Lance Boyle” the union rep.
    I often wondered how he got away with “Sir Les Patterson” on the Parkinson show in London.
    Happy that John Clark got a mention.
    RIP genius.

  2. Clarke too was in a class of his own. I met him twice. Most charming man – the same in the flesh as on T V. If I was offered the choice now, I would probably choose him.
    But Humphries conquered New York as well as London.
    That is astounding.

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