Barry Humphries Is Sorry For Being A Little Bit Racist

Barry Humphries is many things to many people: he’s an Australian icon with an Order of Australia and a CBE; he’s a retiring comedian, an actor and an artist; he’s one of the faces of Jenny Craig and he looks great in a frock. Oh, and he’s also maybe a little bit racist.

According to The London Evening Standard, Mrs Barry Humphries IV, Lizzie Spender, formally became an Australian citizen overnight at Australia House in London after twenty-four years of marriage. At the ceremony, attended by expat Puberty Blues author Kathy Lette, Spender stated how “proud [I am] to be an Australian and to pledge my loyalty to Barry’s homeland. They said I was too old to do the test but I sang Advance Australia Fair which I practiced in the taxi with Kathy.” Sounds like a pleasant soirée, no? If that wasn’t patriotic enough for you, Spender also wore a dress designed by Australian fashion mainstay Carla Zampatti and pearls from top end Darwin pearlers Paspaley.

Just when you thought the whole affair was starting to taste as stale as a day old lamington, Barry saw fit to go and crap all over the festivities by saying his British wife “is a lot more Australian than our prime minister Julia Gillard, who is a ten pound Pom with an Adelaide accent.” Apparently no one told Humphries that now is not the time to take a jab at The PM, because she will cut you.

Those comments, while stupidly petty, are a pretty harmless reference to the 10 Pound Pom immigration incentive of the 1960s and probably won’t warrant international media attention or a fifteen minute takedown during question time. Barry continues:

At least my wife came to our country voluntarily and not against her wishes. She has the right shaped eyes. A lot of new Australians are Chinese.”

At this point I wasn’t quite sure if Barry was auditioning for a role on series three of Go Back To Where You Came From, or if he was just looking to make a general statement on Australia’s current immigration statistics, so I did some research. 8.2% of the number of people who were last year conferred as Australian citizens at the same kind of ceremonies that Spender participated in were from The People’s Republic of China. So far it all checks out – a lot of new Australians are Chinese, just like a lot of new Australians are Indian, South African or from New Zealand. Last year there were 6,876 new Chinese-Australians admitted as citizens, a fraction less than the 16,401 other newly conferred Australians who came from The United Kingdom, which attributes for 19% of the total 84,183 new Australians for 2011-2012.

I’m not too good with numbers but it sounds like quite a few (the majority) of those new Australians Humphries is talking about are ’10 pound Poms’, just like Ms Spender. Perhaps Humphries didn’t mean for his comments to come off as derogatory, but statements like ‘the right shaped eyes‘ (inferring that there is such a thing as ‘wrongly shaped’) would seem to remove any potential doubt from that equation. Humphries is obviously a comedian, and a good one at that, and but this wasn’t one of his finer punchlines.

Since then, an agent for Humphries has apologised for any offence his client might have caused. “He would never want to offend anybody. A lot of what Barry says to the press is in jest,” a spokesman told AAP. Sounds familiar.

I don’t know, Anonymous Spokesperson, unless you’re in the wig and frock of Dame Edna or the prosthetics of a Les Patterson caricature comments like that a) probably aren’t funny in the first place, b) shouldn’t be said to the press, jest or no jest, and c) sound exactly like the kind of very racist things my very racist grandmother says after one too many very racist brandies at Christmas/breakfast. At least she has the decency to keep her wig on.

via The Herald Sun and the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Photo by Noel Vasquez for Getty Images Entertainment