British-Australian entertainer Miriam Margolyes said the way comedy legend Barry Humphries was treated in Australia was a “disgrace” and called on festival organisers to “sharpen up”.
Humphries, 89, died on Saturday at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney following complications from hip surgery stemming from a fall earlier this year.
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival joined the chorus of local tributes to the revered comic despite its chequered history with the late star.
Humphries delighted and outraged audiences for more than half a century and was a founding patron of the festival, leading to it naming its annual prize for most outstanding act after him in 2000.
But an outcry over a series of comments widely seen as transphobic prompted the festival to rename its top gong in 2019.
“I don’t think he was properly appreciated, particularly by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, who cancelled him rather late in life,” Margolyes told ABC TV.
“How dare they. He had more talent in his little finger than they did in their whole bodies – all of them. I’m outraged by it and I want to speak up now to support him. It’s not about transgender (issues).”
The MICF said on Sunday it was saddened to hear of Humphries’ passing and hailed his contribution to the festival during its formative years.
Despite Humphries’ name being stripped from the award and no formal tribute on the final night of the 2023 festival, MICF director Susan Provan said “nothing can ever detract” from his contribution as an artist.
“Barry made an extraordinary contribution to Australian comedy,” she said.
Ms Margolyes didn’t agree with her friend’s politics and told him to his face but appreciated Humphries as “the greatest comic who ever lived”.
“I didn’t like his politics. I really didn’t. But I revere the talent of the man,” she said.
“It was coruscating; it was all enveloping. And if people can’t see that they need something shoved up their bum.”
Meanwhile, the family of Humphries is in discussions with the Victorian government about the possibility of a state funeral.
Creative Industries Minister Steve Dimopoulos said talks are under way with the entertainer’s loved ones about the best ways to honour his legacy.
A range of options are on the table including a state funeral.
“The primary mover of these things is the family because it’s their gift effectively to decide in conversation with government,” Mr Dimopoulos said on Sunday.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Humphries would live on through his iconic writing and larger-than-life characters, particularly Dame Edna Everage who put the Melbourne suburb of Moonee Ponds on the map.
“But at the end of the day, he was a boy from Kew with big dreams. And he achieved them,” he posted on Twitter.
NSW Premier Chris Minns says Humphries popularised Australian larrikinism on the world stage but he doesn’t want to “front run” any potential Sydney-based state funeral.