Barry Humphries was funny. At times, screamingly so. Dame Edna and Sir Les are two great comedy creations. They are gone, and their creator, who was also responsible for much more than Edna and Les, deserves to be honoured, to be bade farewell in a proper manner. Which is not going smoothly.
It has been much reported that Humphries’ last laugh came at the expense of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Humphries displayed impeccable timing, arranging to die on the eve of the final day of this year’s MICF. That left the MICF organisers with two highly unappealing options: they could pay proper tribute to Humphries, and thus admit at least implicitly that they screwed up in 2019 when they renamed the Festival’s “Barry” award; or, they could barrel on, pretending their past treatment of Humphries was good and proper. So far, they’ve done a bit of one and a lot of the other.
In the background of all this is Hannah Gadsby, whose attack of Humphries, after having won the 2017 Barry, gave impetus to Humphries’ eventual cancelling. Of course Gadsby was perfectly entitled to say whatever she wanted about Humphries, and it is somewhat unfair that Gadbsy has been dragged into the current mess; the blame for Humphries’ cancelling lies squarely at the feet of the MICF. But there is one aspect that keeps Gadsby centre stage: Hannah Gadsby is not funny.
Beyond not funny. As Humphries could be screamingly funny, Gadsby is screamingly unfunny: she is preachy, pandering and obvious, utterly lacking in nuance and comic timing. To be clear, Gadsby seeks to extend humour or to reject humour, or something; she does not always try to be funny. But often enough she tries to be funny, and she never is. She may be other things. She may be a valuable performer. But Dave Chappelle was right: Hannah Gadsby is not funny.
This matters. Gadsby won the top award of one of the most prestigious comedy festivals, the purpose of which, one would presume, is to provide a platform and an audience for funny people. But Gadsby is not even in the ballpark of funny. And nothing can be understood about the Humphries debacle without understanding the disconnect between true comedy and the ICMF organisers, who are much more concerned to honour Worthy comedians than funny comedians.