INTERVIEW: Sammy Jones speaks with Barry Humphries

Dame Edna: The one and only
Dame Edna: The one and only

Do you live in Milton Keynes?” he asks, with a voice to make you feel uneasy.

“How difficult that must be...I’m sure it’s beautiful, but it’s a joke, isn’t it? Roundabouts and all that sort of stuff.”

Barry Humphries isn’t finished yet though: “I can assure you that when Edna is on stage in Milton Keynes, there will be no reference to roundabouts.”

The Edna is question is Dame Edna Everage, of course, the garish Aussie housewife capable of wilting a bunch of gladioli with one waspish comment, and Barry’s most famous creation is bringing her glittery self to Milton Keynes next week for performances of Eat Pray Laugh – part of Barry’s farewell tour.

At least that’s how it is being billed. While other interviewers took the easy route and spoke to Edna, I wanted to speak to the man behind the cutting tongue of the Aussie Dame.

You’ve been quoted as saying you are tiring of showbiz. Is that really so?

“That was a journalistic misinterpretation,” my interviewee bites back. “If I was tiring of it, I wouldn’t bloody well do it!”

That said, a life spent on the road can get a bit tedious. Not least for a man approaching his 80th birthday.

“Waking up in strange hotels, trying to find a light switch, wandering off to the bathroom...I am getting a bit tired of it,” he admits.

His career of plenty (plenty of work, plenty of successes, plenty of characters) is more than six decades long, but Barry says he has never worked as hard as he is currently.

It’s all a far cry from his beginnings, when a life on the stage would have been difficult to imagine.

“When I was a kid, there was a lot of pressure on us, and with parents who remembered the economic depression.

“There was a great deal of emphasis – ‘What are you going to be?’ and, ‘What are you going to do?’

“I was ashamed, because I had no idea.”

Eventually, Barry won a scholarship, went to university and studied law.

He did very well at it too.

“I got bored though...” he recalls. “I drifted into student theatre and I am still drifting...”

And from Wednesday, the wanderer will drift into Milton Keynes Theatre for that four-day stay.

It’s already a honed production mind, having toured to acclaim in Australia.

“What makes a lot of actors rather unattractive – except to themselves – is a mixture of vanity and insecurity.

“It’s not really a nice mixture.

“They are always touchy about being rejected,” he says, and then, just as we are wondering where this stream of dialogue is headed, all becomes clear: “The reason I am coming to Milton Keynes is to have fun, and if you want to come and share it with me, you are very welcome.”

And what will we be sharing?

“The show is a variation on what I always do – it’s me.

“I am introducing Les Patterson, who in a way is my favourite character, to open the show.

“The whole thing is set in a suburban back garden, and Les is a celebrity chef. He is Australia’s answer to Marco Pierre White, or whatever his name is, and Nigella, rolled into one...”

There is a long pause, before Barry adds: “I’ve just thought of a joke...I think Les would like to roll into one with Nigella!”

Other characters will show up too, of course, including Sandy the Ghost and a new creation, before Dame Edna trundles on to the stage.

“When Edna takes over we have songs, dances, gladioli, wonderful psychic manifestations – there is a seance on stage – and probably the most elaborate show I have ever done.”

Barry may still be going strong, but not all of his comedy comrades are still with him.

Dudley Moore for one: “Dudley was a wonderful guy and a great talent....he should still be going strong.

“A lot of friends from the period still should be, so I am really pleased that I am still getting to do it.”

Barry is comedy royalty of course , and as such he won’t be putting up with any lacklustre audiences. It’s full attention at all times, or the show is over: “I watch the audience, and always have the lights up a little bit...if someone looks at their watch, I decide it’s time to turn in.

“So, possums, don’t bring your watches!”

> Eat Pray Laugh, MK Theatre Wednesday, October 23- Saturday, October 26.

Tickets from £15 to £49.50 To book, call 0844 871 7652.