In real life, Barry Humphries is an intellectual, 59-year-old Australian actor who pals around with Prince Charles. His fourth marriage, to Lizzie Spender, daughter of the knighted British poet Sir Stephen Spender, is sound despite Humphries' habit of dressing up as a woman in public.
This nasty habit is very public: Humphries' alter ego, Dame Edna Everage, an Aussie housewife gone Hollywood, is bitchier than Shannen Doherty, more narcissistic than Miss Piggy, and capable of getting one seventh of all Britain's citizens to watch her TV specials. That's tantamount to 36.1 million Americans, about as many as watch Roseanne.
Roseanne and Tom Arnold are among the first guests on the new talk show Edna Time, premiering Sunday, Feb. 28 on Fox. ''Their marriage seems tumultuous,'' coos Edna, ''and what better way to learn about it than to have them in my home? Barbara (Walters) has to go to their houses; my guests come to me. Imagine an invitation to Barbara's! It's bound to be shabby. I invite people to my Malibu home which would make Barry Diller's look like a slum and hidden cameras pick up the interview. I don't grovel at the feet of guests; I give them what I call tough love. I'm a bit maternal, and do they love it!''
Edna doesn't love NBC, for which she did three specials between 1991 and 1993. Escaping NBC made sense: She needed more regular exposure ''while I'm still young enough to have grandchildren,'' and her smutty mouth is freer on ''this raunchy little network called Fox.'' Besides, says the transvestite titan, ''I'm not averse to stabbing people in the back.'' Roseanne's fellow guests on the kickoff show, Luke Perry and Kathy Ireland, can expect no mercy. Says Edna: ''I may have to give them the rough edge of my tongue!''