Hello, Possums!

Though she'll deny it, Dame Edna Everage is the cross-dressing creation of Australian actor Barry Humphries. (She finds such rumors to be scurrilous and actionable.) What she will tell you is -- well, what won't she tell you? Edna is a self-described international megastar, a housewife, social anthropologist, swami, children's book illustrator and consultant to the royal ear. She is, if Edna is to be believed, the most popular and gifted woman in the world today.

The only country still immune to her charms, it would seem, is the United States. Yankee audiences never warmed to her aborted talk shows, and her condescending classism is more overtly British. (She's been known to throw a few "gladdies" up to the paupers in the balcony and promise to "glance up there in strict proportion to the amount you've paid.") Broadway seems more suited to her matronly charm; Dame Edna: The Royal Tour is a smashing success.

Americans have been willingly gathering around Edna's stage-side chat since it came stateside in October 1999. Be forewarned: Edna can be frank. This is the woman, after all, who asked Roseanne, "Is there anything you wish you hadn't eaten?" and questioned Jane Seymour about the secret to her "successful marriages." Edna gets away with it because she's more well-meaning mother than the nag wielding the rolling pin. She often follows her unscripted barbs at audience members (whom she calls her possums) with her slogan "I'm sorry, but I care." So when Edna sympathetically consoles a woman by saying, "I used to try to make my own clothes too," you feel like you're getting the advice from your blunt aunt Martha.

Edna is the anti-celebrity celebrity, an aging schoolmarm who gives you all the comfort and discomfort of visiting with your own family. And that makes her the unlikeliest of megastars.