Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Bye-bye, possums - love, Dame Edna (+video)

It's not an image befitting of a Dame - but Barry Humphries, the creator and manager of Dame Edna Everage, is tired of the touring life.

"I've toured all over Australia many times, and England and the United States in more recent years," the 78-year-old Australian comedian said. "That gets to be tiring. You wake up in a strange hotel room, you try to find the bathroom, you end up peeing on the wall."

Humphries has announced his Eat, Pray, Laugh! production will be his last tour - although he says he will continue to perform.

New Zealand fans will have their chance to wave the famous housewife's gladdies goodbye at six shows, the first of which is at Auckland's Civic tonight.

Or as Sir Les Patterson, another character starring in the show, once put it, "put your hands together warmly across her opening and give her the clap she so richly deserves".

The applause in Australia has been deafening.

His hometown newspaper, Melbourne's the Age, gave the show five stars and called "the one of a kind" Humphries "our greatest comic genius".

But a heavy media schedule the day before opening and a reduction in the price of tickets suggests sales in New Zealand haven't quite yet matched the critical acclaim.

The Weekend Herald interview began with a spot-quiz which confirmed Humphries' apparent misgivings about his interviewer's 27 years.

"I want to know the result of your research. Did you find an interview I did with the [Auckland] Star in 1959? Or in 1962?

"No? Why? Through want of trying, or lack of interest, or because it doesn't exist?"

Things looked even shakier after answers could not be provided to when the Auckland Star closed or who New Zealand composer Alfred Hill was.

But Humphries soon warmed to the interview, and said he felt his characters were special for Australian and New Zealand audiences.

"I think we relate to them, because they have our accents, and our background. And there is not a huge social difference between life inTakapuna, and in Moonee Ponds, for example."

His first one-man show was at Auckland University (his second wife of four was an Aucklander) and he created Mrs Edna Everage, the housewife from the Melbourne suburb of Moonee Ponds, in 1955.

Initially a satire of Australian suburbia, Edna and her cheerful "Hello, possums" greeting evolved into a take-off of meaningless and unlikely celebrity.

"I think the characters I do are inspired by reality. And reality is something that's always changing," Humphries said.

"Edna has assumed everyone thinks she is famous. She's called herself a Dame - I don't think the Queen really agrees with her.

"And she's called herself a mega-star. Even more recently a giga-star. It is a bit of a joke on celebrity."

Other characters like the boozing, womanising, politically incorrect cultural attache Sir Les remain recognisable and hilarious on both sides of the Tasman.

But it will be Dame Edna - and her creator - who Kiwi audiences will want to farewell.

Humphries said he was here to say goodbye to his New Zealand audience, too.

"What I do, oddly enough, is very emotional. It is about feeling, and it is from the heart. Even though it's silly."

- NZ Herald

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