Dame Edna went on The Project and the media and Twitter totally lost their shit

You know how when you’re on a news website, and you realise that an article only exists because a few people reacted to a thing on Twitter in a similar way? From news.com.au:

It’s not unusual for Dame Edna to make things a little awkward, but the Aussie icon’s Thursday night appearance on The Project was more than a bit peculiar.

Live in the studio to promote her involvement with Australian pyjama brand Peter Alexander, Dame Edna took several small swipes at host Waleed Aly in the stilted interview that was dragged out over two segments.

The awkwardness could be felt by viewers in their loungerooms. Cringing wasn’t enough for some of them, and they took to Twitter, with one person asking: Was Dame Edna “sh*tfaced?”

Wow! It must have been totally out of control if Barry Humphries is back on the drink after more than 45 years of abstinence. So what happened, exactly?

Dame Edna passive-aggressive? Yeah, it’s not like she’s been doing that for 60 years…

Or, to put it another way: Some people who aren’t familiar with and/or don’t understand Dame Edna’s schtick have posted on Twitter that they don’t understand Dame Edna’s schtick, and a number of news sites (including the Sydney Morning Herald, Yahoo7, The Guardian and The Daily Mail) have pretended they also don’t understand Dame Edna’s schtick in order to write pieces agreeing with the people on Twitter, so they can stir up some controversy and get more readers.

If you want to see the full Dame Edna appearance – as opposed to the compilations of the controversial-seeming bits that you can watch on the above news sites – view it on TenPlay, but meanwhile, we’re going to look at the main complaints in the above articles and tell you what we reckon.

Dame Edna attacked and was a bit racist towards Waleed Aly

At the start of the interview, Edna calls Aly “Little Wally”. Not especially hilarious, although it may come across as bit patronising to Aly if you aren’t aware that Edna’s been getting laughs out of shortening famous peoples’ names since the 1980s.

This was followed by her addressing the studio audience (another Edna trope is to ignore the interviewers and speak directly to the audience), saying “And I have to tell the viewers, that he really does look like this. He does! It’s not a trick of the lights!”. Clearly wondering whether this was an attack on his ethnicity, Aly responded: “I’m just trying to figure out what response you are looking for here.” It was a bit of a weird moment, but largely because Aly didn’t get that it was a reference (a rather oblique one, admittedly) to Aly’s recent Logies nomination, and the media’s reaction to that.

And does anyone seriously think this was some kind of racist attack? There is literally nothing in the entire interview attacking Aly’s ethnicity or faith.

Anyway, the appearance continued, with Edna speaking to Carrie Bickmore about her young children, and recommending a cure for stretch marks (wombat spleen, a gag she’s been doing since at least 1990). She then turned to Fitzy and his background as a footballer, landing a very funny comedic punch about the importance of appearing on Big Brother to his career. Everyone howled with laughter.

Conclusion: This wasn’t an attack on Aly, racist or otherwise, and everyone on the panel “copped” something from Edna.

Edna talked up Malcolm Turnbull and went Aly for being a lefty

If you just saw the “highlights” packages on the various news websites, which included a positive-seeming comment about Malcolm Turnbull, and Edna’s comment that Aly is a “pinko”, this looks like it’s true, but watch the full appearance on TenPlay and it looks a bit different in the context of the wider conversation.

While Edna did mention Aly’s left-of-centre politics, she hardly endorsed Turnbull. It went more like this, having been asked if she’d like to enter politics Edna quipped “There are so many dreadful people involved in that.” Then continued, “I don’t think we have the politicians we deserve, I’m afraid I don’t, though I would disagree with Waleed. I think Mr Turnbull is a very strong and impressive Prime Minister. I don’t like him very much personally but I think he is a good chap, good fellow for the job.”

Conclusion: Hardly a ringing endorsement, even speculating that perhaps Humphries broke character and expressed some of his own, self-professed, right-wing politics.

Edna took over the show and things spiralled out of control

Yes, she did take over the show, or more accurately, the segment. And Bickmore’s exasperated “Why did we even bother to write questions?!” says all you need to know about her and The Project: they didn’t know how to handle Edna.

But as TV hosts the world over have learnt – Michael Parkinson, Jay Leno, Terry Wogan – if you let Edna takeover, do her pre-prepared material, and get her digs in at you and the rest of the guests, you’ll have TV gold.

Want further, hilarious proof? Here’s a compilation of the Dame’s Logies appearances. In one of them, she goes the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke, then the entire room. They all love it.

Conclusion: Edna taking over is the point. Let it happen, and enjoy the ride.

Edna isn’t funny, the whole thing was totally awkward and it’s time for Barry Humphries to stop doing his old-school gags on TV

Admittedly that’s mainly a view expressed by this website, and also, Dame Edna wasn’t on top form the other night. She stumbled over a few of her gags, and a few others landed badly, but it’s what you’d reasonably expect from an Edna appearance in 2016. It was Barry Humphries being Edna like he’s been Edna for the last 60 years, and hardly crossed the line in any really shocking or unexpected ways. The only real problem and this is not something the news websites seemed to be prepared to say, is that Barry Humphries is an 82-year-old and his age is starting to show. He’s not quite as quick as he was 30 years ago.

It’s also fairly easy to see why anyone under 30 might not get Dame Edna, or be able to spot the difference between a Dame Edna gag that worked and a Dame Edna gag that didn’t – Dame Edna’s is an act that you have to see a few times to get, and she’s not on TV that often these days. It would also be even harder to point out in 140 characters, exactly why a quip on The Project hadn’t quite worked.

All of which adds up to: this ain’t news, this is a beat up. These articles were written not because people writing for news websites don’t get what Barry Humphries was doing, they were written because an audience who traditionally shun news websites – millennials – don’t get Barry Humphries. So, news websites have written articles tapping into the views of the audience they want to attract, in order to win them over. And if that means implying Barry Humphries is racist or was attacking people for no reason, fine.

But even if you think that Barry Humphries is fair game because he’s a wealthy ex-pat who only seems to turn up here when he’s spruiking some product, there’s still a problem here. Major news websites aren’t being fair to comedy or comedians. They’re taking comedy out of context because it’ll get clicks on articles, and aren’t reporting the work of comedians or their comic intent accurately. We shouldn’t accept this kind of reporting about comedy. Even if it’s just some shit-stirring about a rich man in a dress helping to flog some pyjamas.

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1 Comment

  • Kay says:

    A great analysis. As someone who saw a lot of Dame Edna specials as a teenager (at the peak of Dame Edna’s fame/talent), the whole gag is roasting the famous, and putting them off-balance (and the famous used to queue up for the experience). Obviously Dame Edna isn’t as big as she used to be, otherwise she wouldn’t have turned up to roast The Project, who would have never got a look-in during the hey-days of Dame Edna.

    Dame Edna is like the Doug Anthony All Stars, if you are a stuffed shirt you would be well advised not to turn up in their audience, because mayhem and ego popping will happen.

    The Project is an odd beast, trying to be serious “news” a fair bit while also being “light entertainment” (and wearing their politics on their sleeve, so kettle calling the pot black with the criticism of Humphries). Surely they did a little research on Dame Edna before they did the interview, so you have to wonder how much of this storm in a teacup is invented.