October 6, 2022 | By Gerry Geddes
Before I get to Scott F. Mason’s hilarious show at Don’t Tell Mama, One Dame Funny Night, return with me to those thrilling days of cabaret past, and to one of the best cabaret comedians in the late 20th century, Pudgy (the stage name of Beverly Wines). Pudgy began her career at a time when female comics were still not common. With others like Phyllis Diller and Totie Fields, she paved the way for the current bumper crop of comediennes, appearing in male-dominate bastions like Las Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City, but no one was more a part of the New York cabaret landscape than Pudgy. One of her special talents involved audience interaction. Blessed with a steel trap memory, she triumphed in talking with audience members throughout the room and then, an hour or so later, would return to the first tables she visited, remembering each name and each circumstance that had been discussed. In addition to the razor-sharp comedy she created, she astounded audiences with her ability to call back bits seemingly thrown away 50 or 60 minutes earlier. When I first saw self-proclaimed mega star, Dame Edna Everage (the stellar alter ego of Australian actor Barry Humphries), I was amazed to see her carry on and enlarge this extraordinary tradition with audiences in Broadway houses. Dame Edna is one of the great comedy creations, and Barry (as himself for the first time) is touring the U.K. as I write this.
So now we are back with Scott F. Mason who was billed as Dame Edna’s personally chosen “honorary understudy.” From her entrance through the crowded Don’t Tell Mama house exclaiming her classic “Hello, Possums!,” Mason quite simply nailed it. He was every inch Dame Edna—in this age of pronoun conundrums and inaccuracies, that is the last masculine one for this review. From the lavender sherbet tones of her wig (which she chose because to her it said, “Lick me!”) to the glittery magnificence of her “Pucci gown” (which she purchased in the ’60s for a paltry sum), she carried on the tradition of over-the-top glamour at which the actual Dame excelled. It is fitting that her first question to the already adoring crowd was, “Don’t I look scrumptious?”
She then declared that her intent for the evening was to aurally stimulate the audience, and while I am sure that it was not intended, most in the audience heard instead, “orally stimulate”—a source of great laughter, and a trademark scowl and raised eyebrow from the Dame herself. The “aural” stimulation was as uncanny as the visual and was sustained brilliantly for the duration of the set.
The audience participation started very early, and very funnily. The one fly in the Australian-accented ointment was that 2022 offers problems that Pudgy and Dame Edna never had to confront. The sense of entitlement of some irksome audience members who not only expect, but belligerently demand, their “fifteen minutes of fame” caused them to keep their feet in the door that the comedian opened. Irritatingly, they kept trying to remain part of the act as Dame Edna moved on to other tables and other “targets.” While she handled the constant intrusion with steely determination and wicked sarcasm, it was so maddening that more than once I wanted to stand up and yell “Shut up!” The main culprits, a table of ill-mannered Canadians, never got the hint.
Bemoaning to the loudly responsive audience that working in a small cabaret room denied her the comfort of traveling with her own entourage, instead required her to do things for herself. She particularly missed her favorite in-house gynecologist, who was 80 years old, whom she found quite invaluable, primarily for his shaking hands. The lack of helpers also meant that she had to mix her own martinis at a small bar with gin, vermouth, a shaker, and a glass set up on stage left. As the intrusive group of tourists in the audience kept throwing out unfunny asides, she returned to her drink again and again, eventually just swigging directly from the bottle! She regaled us with tales of her Alaskan cruise on a ship filled with “Jerseyites” who convinced her that most Americans were stupid. As a man enthusiastically responded to a show-biz trivia question, she assumed that he was “homeopathic.” A woman sitting ringside revealed under Dame Edna’s questioning, that she was a “toothpaste rep” who did not sell common product like Colgate or Crest, but rather classier items like “Sensodyne!” After much hilarious banter, the Dame concluded that she had “lesbian tendencies.”
Remaining resolutely and brilliantly in character throughout the hour, this Dame Edna was a delight to those not familiar with the original, and a marvel to those of us who knew her well. Since Barry Humphries has implied that his UK tour is of the farewell variety, it is great news for both fans and novices, that the style and glamour, and wit and outrageous humor of the original will live on in Scott F. Mason. Catch him when he returns to New York City from Las Vegas as he reveals his own incredible talent while celebrating and honoring that of Dame Edna Everage. There is truth in advertising in the title, for this was indeed One Dame Funny Night.
Presented at Don’t Tell Mama on September 23, 24, and November 4, 2022