Barry Humphries’ name quietly dropped from Melbourne International Comedy Festival award


Festival director Susan Provan said “Removing gender from the award name is appropriate now.”

For most of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s history, the most coveted prize a comedian could win was the Barry Award - named after comedy icon Barry Humphries.

But this year, the top comedian will be awarded the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Award in a move some see as an attempt by the festival to distance itself from the controversial comedian.

Humphries first courted controversy when he referred to gender reassignment surgery as “self-mutilation” in 2016.

He then has faced fired after he called transgender issues a “fashion” in a 2017 interview with The Spectator.

In the piece, Humphries, who found worldwide fame with his Dame Edna character, referred to Caitlyn Jenner as a “publicity-seeking ratbag” who intended to “steal the limelight” from other women.

Former Barry Award winners Zoe Coombs-Marr and Hannah Gadsby have called for the change previously with Gadsby mentioning the comments in her 2017 acceptance speech.

In a comment to The Feed, festival director Susan Provan assured that the change was tied to a desire to “... celebrate Melbourne as the city that inspired the growth of our Festival.”

Removing gender from the award name is appropriate now – not least to acknowledge that one third of all past recipients are women.

Among the nominees for this year’s newly-branded award is Australian comedian Cassie Workman.

Workman’s show Giantess chronicles the performer’s gender transition in her trademark raw storytelling style. 

In a response to today’s change, Workman issued a statement:

"I have said many times, that the whole world is in a state of transition, and I believe, that we are moving toward a more loving, and inclusive society. As we strive to achieve this, much like in transition itself, we leave behind the ideas and sentiments and affects that no longer serve us.

To embrace something new, it becomes necessary to abandon some of the old, not disrespectfully, per se, but because we no longer want to carry some notions forward with us."

A second move towards change

For most of the festival’s 30-plus year run, cartoonist Michael Leunig had produced most of the festival’s branding and illustrations.

But this year the festival announced Judy Horacek as the new designer of the festival’s logo.

Although never directly confirmed by the festival, many saw this as an attempt by the festival to distance itself from Leunig.

Prior to the change people advocated for the removal of Leunig who became increasingly know for his anti-vaxx, anti-gay marriage stance.

When asked by The Feed about the change from Leunig, Provan asserted that the festival was “opening up the creation of annual festival images to a variety of new artists” and that a new cartoonist will be chosen biannually.

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