John Barry Humphries, AO, CBE (born 17 February 1934) is an Australian comedian, satirist, dadaist, artist, author and character actor, best known for his on-stage and television alter egos Dame Edna Everage, a Melbourne housewife and “gigastar”, and Sir Les Patterson, Australia’s foul-mouthed cultural attaché to the Court of St. James’s. He is a film producer and script writer, a star of London’s West End musical theatre, an award-winning writer and an accomplished landscape painter. For his delivery of dadaist and absurdist humour to millions, biographer Anne Pender described Humphries in 2010 as not only the most significant theatrical figure of our time … [but] the most significant comedian to emerge since Charlie Chaplin.
Humphries’ characters, especially Dame Edna Everage, have brought him international renown, and he has appeared in numerous films, stage productions and television shows. Originally conceived as a dowdy Moonee Ponds housewife who caricatured Australian suburban complacency and insularity, Edna has evolved over four decades to become a satire of stardom, the gaudily dressed, acid-tongued, egomaniacal, internationally feted Housewife Gigastar, Dame Edna Everage. Humphries’ other major satirical character creation was the archetypal Australian bloke Barry McKenzie, who originated as the hero of a comic strip about Australians in London (with drawings by Nicholas Garland) which was first published in Private Eye magazine. The stories about “Bazza” (Humphries’ nickname, as well as an Australian term of endearment for the name Barry) gave wide circulation to Australian slang, particularly jokes about drinking and its consequences (much of which was invented by Humphries), and the character went on to feature in two Australian films, in which he was portrayed by Barry Crocker.
Humphries’ other satirical characters include the “priapic and inebriated cultural attaché” Sir Les Patterson, who has “continued to bring worldwide discredit upon Australian arts and culture, while contributing as much to the Australian vernacular as he has borrowed from it”, gentle, grandfatherly “returned gentleman” Sandy Stone, iconoclastic 1960s underground film-maker Martin Agrippa, Paddington socialist academic Neil Singleton, sleazy trade union official Lance Boyle, high-pressure art salesman Morrie O’Connor and failed tycoon Owen Steele.
Since the late ’60s Humphries has appeared in numerous films, mostly in supporting or cameo roles. His credits include the UK sex comedy Percy’s Progress (1974), David Baker’s The Great Macarthy (1975) and Bruce Beresford’s Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974) in which Edna was made a Dame by then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Other film credits include Side by Side (1975) and The Getting of Wisdom (1977). The same year, he had a cameo as Edna in the Robert Stigwood musical film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (which became infamous as one of the biggest film flops of the decade), followed in 1981 by his part as the fake-blind TV-show host Bert Schnick in Shock Treatment, the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
He was more successful with his featured role as Richard Deane in Dr. Fischer of Geneva (1985); this was followed by Howling III (1987), a cameo as Rupert Murdoch in the miniseries Selling Hitler (1991) with Alexei Sayle, a three-role cameo in Philippe Mora’s horror satire Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1994), the role of Count Metternich in Immortal Beloved (1994), as well as roles in The Leading Man (1996), the Spice Girls’ film Spice World, the Australian feature Welcome to Woop Woop (1997), and Nicholas Nickleby (2002), in which he donned female garb to play Nathan Lane’s wife.
Humphries has featured in various roles in comedy performance films including The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (1982) and A Night of Comic Relief 2 (1989). In 1987 he starred as Les Patterson in one of his own rare flops, the disastrous Les Patterson Saves the World, directed by George T. Miller of Man From Snowy River fame and co-written by Humphries with his third wife, Diane Millstead.
In 2003 Humphries had a small role in the animated film Finding Nemo. In it he plays Bruce, a shark who attempts to curb his addiction to fish eating. He nearly falls off the wagon due to his catching a whiff of fish blood. Playing this role, given his own struggles with alcoholism, is perhaps a good example of Humphries’ penchant for self-deprecation.
On June 19th 2011, it was announces that Humphries would play the role of the “Goblin King” in Peter Jackson’s upcoming two-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, due for release in December 2012 and 2013 and currently in production in New Zealand.