‘Dame Edna Everage’, a persona originally created by the Australian comedian Barry Humphries in 1955, is a character designed to simultaneously shock and amuse. Dame Edna voices (and satirizes) the discourse of ‘average’, older, politically conservative Anglo-Australians who feel compelled to ‘tell it like it is’ – no matter how offensive their opinions might be. In the Anglosphere, Edna’s humour is well understood and sustained international success has followed Edna for more than 60 years in Britain, Canada, the US and Australia. However, Edna occasionally misfires. In 2003, for instance, Edna’s satire outraged Latinos across the USA, in fulfillment of Poe’s Law (Aikin, 2009). Simply put, Latinos assumed that Edna’s comments satirising negative mainstream attitudes towards them were expressive of Edna’s authentic racism.
This paper investigates the Edna joke in the overall context of failed humour and then specifically for the offensiveness it generated amongst the Latino minority in the United States. It then tests whether this reaction was the result of a discursive frame specific to the US context, by conducting an exploratory study amongst a small sample of highly educated Australian bilingual Latin American immigrants and their adult children, to see whether they thought Edna’s joke was funny. These Australian individuals of Latin American heritage responded via an online questionnaire, and an analysis of their responses is presented here. The study’s main finding is that while these individuals generally demonstrated a high comedic literacy across both English and Spanish, including a prior awareness of Edna’s and Australian humour, they overall rejected the intention and humour of Edna’s joke. This paper asserts that, when it comes to humour, some transnational migrant speech community loyalties transcend other notions of identity and language competence.
“A satire, a protest, then an apology”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 9, 2018 from http://articles.latimes.com/2003/feb/08/entertainment/et-rutten8.
“agony aunt” (2012). In Oxford English Dictionary (OED online). Retrieved September, 9 2020 from https://www-oed-com/view/=agony+aunt#eid171233460.
Aikin, S. F. ‘Poe’s Law, group polarization, and the epistemology of online religious discourse’. SSRN. Retrieved January, 1 2020 from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1332169.
Alcoff, L. M. (2005). ‘Latino vs. Hispanic: The politics of ethnic names’. Philosophy & Social Criticism 31 (4), pp. 395-407.
Attardo, S. (2005). ‘Humour’, in Verschueren, J., Ostman, J.-O., Bolmmaert, J. & Bulcaen, C. (eds.), Handbook of Pragmatics: 2003-2005 Instalment (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 135-155.
Attardo, S. (2008). ‘Semantics and pragmatics of humour’. Language and Linguistics Compass 2 (6), pp. 1203-1215.
Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] (2016). 2071.0 – Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia – Stories from the Census, 2016. Retrieved September, 23 2020 from: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/2071.0~2016~Main%20Features~Cultural%20Diversity%20Article~60
Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] (2018). Migration, Australia. Retrieved September, 23 2020 from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/migration-australia/latest-release.
Bell, N. D. (6.02.2009). ‘Responses to failed humour’. Journal of Pragmatics, 41(9), pp. 1825-1836.
Bell, N. (2015). We Are Not Amused: Failed Humour in Interaction. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Bell, N. & Attardo, S. (2010). ‘Failed humour: Issues in non-native speakers’ appreciation and understanding of humour’. Intercultural Pragmatics 7 (3), pp. 423-447.
Blundell, G. (2009). „Barry Humphries, the clown prince of suburbia”. The Australian. Retrieved February, 25 2019 from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/the-clown-prince-of-suburbia/story-e6frg8n6-1111118780314
Campbell, D. (14.02. 2003). ‘Dame Edna treads on Spanish toe.’ The Guardian. Retrieved October, 9 2018 from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/feb/14/spain.duncancampbell.
Canale, M. (1983). ‘From communicative competence to communicative language pedagogy’. Language and Communication 1, pp. 2-14.
Canale, M. & Swain, M. (1980). ‘Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing’. Applied Linguistics 1 (1), pp. 1-47.
Cavendish, Dominic (10.10.2013). ‘Farewell Dame Edna: Barry Humphries interview.’ The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved September, 8 2020 from: https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/barry-humphries-curtain-call-for-dame-edna-everage-20131016-2vlih.html.
Celce-Murcia, M. (2007). ‘Rethinking the role of communicative competence in language teaching’, in Soler, E. A & Jordà, M. P. S. (eds.), Intercultural Language Use and Language Learning, Berlin: Springer, pp. 41-57.
Davies, C., Kuipers, G., Lewis, P., Martin, R. A., Oring, E., & Raskin, V. (2008). ‘The Muhammad cartoons and humour research: A collection of essays’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 21 (1), pp. 1-46.
Drill, S. (29.04.2019). ‘Barry Humphries in first appearance since Melbourne Comedy Festival award furore.’ The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved April, 29 2019 from https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/barry-humphries-in-first-appearance-since-melbourne-comedy-festival-award-furore/news-story/bb77295c313d3302b95c30ba36d224a5.
Eckert, P. & McConnell-Ginet, S. (1992). ‘Think practically and look locally: Language and gender as community-based practice’. Annual review of anthropology 21 (1), pp. 461-488.
Gare, S. (2017). ‘This Way To The Desert Island.’ The Sydney Institute. Retrieved May, 14 201 from https://thesydneyinstitute.com.au/blog/issue-24.
Feneley, R. (2014). ‘Poetry professor Barry Spurr: master of parody or bigotry?’. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved September, 25 2016 from: http://www.smh.com.au/national/poetry-professorbarry-spurr-master-of-parody-or-bigotry-20141024-11azyf.html.
Flores, A. (18.09.2017). ‘How the U.S. Hispanic population is changing’. Pew Research Center. Retrieved September, 9 2020 from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/18/how-the-u-s-hispanic-population-is-changing.
Gracia, J. (2000). Hispanic/Latino Identity: A Philosophical Perspective. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Gruner, C. R. (2000). The Game of Humour: A Comprehensive Theory of Why We Laugh. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
Hale, A. (2016). ‘Gender bender agenda: Dame Edna, k. d. lang and Ivana Trump’. The European Journal of Humour Research 4 (3), pp. 1-23, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.7592/EJHR2016.4.3.hale.
Hale, A. (2018a). ‘“I get it, but it’s just not funny”: Why humour fails, after all is said and done’. The European Journal of Humour Research 6 (1), pp. 36-61, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.7592/EJHR2018.6.1.hale.
Hale, A. (2018b). ‘There is an after-life (for jokes, anyway): The potential for, and appeal of, ‘immortality’ in humor’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 31 (3), pp. 507-538, doi:10.1515/humor-2017-0105.
Hall, S. (1980). ‘Encoding/decoding’, in Hall, S. et al. (eds.), Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-79, London: Unwin Hyman, pp.128-139.
Hancock, S. (18.02. 2009). ‘Dame Edna: Why the fuss?’. BBC News Magazine. Retrieved October, 15 2018 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7892682.stm.
Hay, J. (2001). ‘The pragmatics of humor support’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 14 (1), pp. 55-82.
Hernandez, Sandra (February 12, 2003). ‘Hispanics blast Vanity Fair over comic Dame Edna quip.’ Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October, 9 2018 from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2003-02-12-0302120068-story.html.
Holmes, J., & Meyerhoff, M. (1999). ‘The community of practice: Theories and methodologies in language and gender research’. Language in Society 28 (2), pp. 173-183.
Imhoff, D. (20.04.2019). ‘‘Comedians’ view: Is the world too politically correct forgood comedy?’ Herald Sun. Retrieved April 29, 2019 from: https://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/comedy-festival/comedians-view-is-the-world-too-politically-correct-for-good-comedy/news-story/41808f62043aec10486479ca45e4e6cc.
Jaworski, A. & Coupland, N. (2014). The Discourse Reader (3rd ed.). London, New York: Routledge.
Jay, M. (1992). ‘The aesthetic alibi’. Salmagundi 93, pp. 13-25. Retrieved September 8, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40548650.
Kramer, E. (2011). ‘The playful is political: The metapragmatics of internet rape-joke arguments’. Language in Society 40 (02), pp. 137-168.
Kuipers, G. (2009). ‘Humour styles and symbolic boundaries’. Journal of Literary Theory 3 (2), pp. 219-239.
Kuipers, G. (2015). Good Humour, Bad Taste. Berlin: De Gruyter.
LaMarre, H. L., Landreville, K. D. & Beam, M. A. (2009). ‘The irony of satire: Political ideology and the motivation to see what you want to see in The Colbert Report’. The International Journal of Press/Politics 14 (2), pp. 212-231.
Lockyer, S. & Pickering, M. (eds.) (2009). Beyond a Joke: The Limits of Humour. London: Springer.
McNulty, Charles (23.01.2015). ‘Though her purple hair shows no silver, Dame Edna prepares to retire.’ Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October, 15 2018 from http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-ca-dame-edna-20150125-column.html.
Norrick, N. (1993). Conversational Joking: Humor in Everyday Talk. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
PA. (2016). ‘Barry Humphries slams BBC’s 'puritanism’’. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved September 25 2016 from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/barry-humphries-slamsbbcs-puritanism-20160105-glzuhf.html.
Palmer, J. (2004). Taking Humour Seriously. London: Routledge.
Panahi, R. (27.11.2019). ‘Sacha Baron Cohen’s attack on hate speech hypocritical’. Herald Sun. Retrieved November 29, 2019 from https://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/rita-panahi/sacha-baron-cohens-attack-on-hate-speech-hypocritical/news-story/6c520616e314bf9f178157448615d6b2.
Partington, A. (2006). The Linguistics of Laughter: A Corpus-Assisted Study of Laughter Talk. Abingdon (UK): Routledge.
Pender, A. (2010). One Man Show: The Stages of Barry Humphries. Sydney: ABC Books.
Pender, A. (14.06.2019). ‘Friday essay: Barry Humphries’ humour is now history – that’s the fate of topical, satirical comedy.’ The Conversation. Retrieved September, 8 2020 from https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-barry-humphries-humour-is-now-history-thats-the-fate-of-topical-satirical-comedy-117499.
Reid, A. (2006). ‘Key competencies: a new way forward or more of the same?’. Curriculum Matters 2, pp. 43-63.
Rodriguez, R. (16.02.2003). ‘Dear Edna: Why can’t we laugh anymore?’ Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October, 15 2018 from http://articles.latimes.com/2003/feb/16/opinion/op-rrodriguez16.
Rose, F. (2014). The Tyranny of Silence. Washington: Cato Institute.
Salinas, M. E. (17.02.2003). ‘Dame Edna joke is not funny to Spanish speakers.’ Daily Herald. Retrieved October, 9 2018 from https://www.heraldextra.com/news/opinion/dame-edna-joke-is-not-funny-to-spanish-speakers/article_37f478a2-9d01-5880-adb9-2fc1d8b40173.html.
Staff Writer (22.07.2018). ‘Barry Humphries lands in hot water over anti-trans comments.’ The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved July, 22 2018 from https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/barry-humphries-lands-in-hot-water-over-antitrans-comments/news-story/66bdc59722c159c6cb6e8a38f07ad689.
Stevens, C. R. & Campbell, P. J. (2008). ‘Collaborating with librarians to develop lower division political science students’ information literacy competencies’. Journal of Political Science Education 4 (2), pp. 225-252.
‘Still playing the Dame’ (1.05.2003). The Age. Retrieved September, 10 2020 from https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/still-playing-the-dame-20030501-gdvmpc.html.
Taylor, A. (24.05.2015). ‘Barry Humphries guides Adelaide Cabaret Festival with uncanny ability to offend.’ The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved February, 25 2019 from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/comedy/barry-humphries-guides-adelaide-cabaret-festival-with-uncanny-ability-to-offend-20150523-gh8147.html
Tolson, A. (1991). ‘Televised chat and the synthetic personality’, in Scannell, P. (ed.), Broadcast Talk, London: Sage, pp. 178-200.
Turnbull, S. (2008). ‘Mapping the vast suburban tundra: Australian comedy from Dame Edna to Kath and Kim’. International Journal of Cultural Studies 11 (1), pp. 15-32.
Vanity Fair (February, 2003). Vanities: Ask Dame Edna. Retrieved September, 9 2020 from https://archive.vanityfair.com/article/2003/02/01/ask-dame-edna.
Zajdman, A. (1995). ‘Humorous face-threatening acts: Humour as strategy’. Journal of Pragmatics 23 (3), pp. 325-339.