The Dame Edna Experience: Series 1
December 14, 2003
It’s widely known that most talk shows on television are basically promotional tools for studios, networks, movie stars and musicians to promote their latest movie, TV show or record. What separates The Dame Edna Experience from other talk shows is that it irreverently messes with the tried and true formula of chat shows. Edna is the creation of comedic actor Barry Humphries. For years he has been transforming himself into Edna, an Australian housewife turned talk show host who interviews celebrities and playfully knocks them down a few pegs. However, it becomes obvious that they are in on the joke and gamely play along.
This first season (1987) is a big, flashy affair with a dash of Vegas glitz but with a distinctly British touch. Edna starts off with a brief stand-up routine and then introduces a nurse she has standing by just in case one of her guests goes into “cardiac arrest” or suffers from some other distress. Her sidekick is an older woman named Madge (Perry) who is often the butt of Edna’s jokes but endures with a stone-faced stoicism that would make Buster Keaton proud.
The first episode quickly establishes the kind of esoteric guest list Edna has on a regular basis: Mary Whitehouse, Cliff Richard, Dr. Kurt Waldheim and Sean Connery. To kick things off with Connery, Edna gives him the wrong name badge and then gets him to talk about his childhood. Getting Connery was something of a coup as he rarely does talk shows, much less ones where he’s mercilessly ridiculed by the host. But to his credit, Connery is a good sport about being embarrassed and even gets out a few zingers of his own.
Other highlights from this season are Joan Rivers who cuts loose with her trademark self-deprecating humour that even gets Edna to break character as they talk about cosmetic surgery. Larry Hagman makes an appearance on one show. This was around the time that his Dallas soap opera was at the height of its popularity and Edna makes fun of this by initially ejecting him from the show for being “ostentatious with his money.” Hagman pops up again for a chat and talks about his flag collection (?!) and a rather odd “gong-bong” ritual he performs with his friends.
Jane Seymour also makes an appearance with very big, ‘80s hair and a huge white dress that certainly dates this episode. She pushes a book that aims at putting romance back in one’s life, however, at the time, she was on her third marriage! Finally, Charlton Heston shows up and Edna chides him about the times when he posed nude for art students to make money while he was a young and struggling actor. Heston is a good sport and ends up calling Edna “a great broad” at one point.
“An Audience with Dame Edna Everage” is an hour-long special in the form of a question and answer session as audience members (who are actually British celebrities, including Absolutely Fabulous’ Joanna Lumley) asking the questions. This format basically allows Edna to crack jokes and do her usual cheeky humour.
Edna performs her theme song, “Niceness” with a bunch of dancers decked out in gaudy pink dresses that betrays the ‘70s time period that this performance was recorded in.
“Dame Edna Interviews Barry Humphries” features Edna interviewing her creator in this satire that has Humphries coming off as stiff and stuffy in contrast to his extravagant creation.
“Alan Titchmarsh Interviews Barry Humphries” has the former host of Ground Force talking to Humphries in a famous British museum. Titchmarsh gets Humphries to open up about his childhood and how he got into acting. This is an excellent, albeit brief interview.
Fans of British humour will thoroughly enjoy The Dame Edna Experience. Surprisingly, the fact that these episodes aired in the 1987 doesn’t date them all that much. Edna’s humour is still very funny and the self-reflexive nature of the show would later influence future British chat shows like So Graham Norton.