On Saturday, Nov. 17, Eddie Izzard brought his latest comedy show to Campbell Hall to the delight of the hundreds of people who filled the seats (the show sold out for nonstudents in record time).
Weirdly, not a lot of people around here know who Eddie Izzard is. This, despite his sold-out worldwide tours, multiple Emmy Awards and acting appearances (including, most notably to my generation, the role of “Mr. Kite” in the Beatles flick, “Across the Universe”).
Izzard is one of the funniest and most intelligent comedians in the world and that evening, he also proved he is one of the most generous, spending time both before and after the show to participate in lengthy Q&As with students and community members.
In one of the Q&As, Izzard spoke about his background as a street performer and how long it took him (about 10 years) and how much he failed (a lot) before he got any positive attention as an artist. This made me respect Izzard even more than I did before, and it gave valuable insight into his performance style as well.
From the get-go, Izzard had complete control over a crowd. He walked onstage to roaring applause and without a word, sliced the air with his hand and the crowd when silent. When he sliced it back the other way, we resumed clapping. Another slice: silence. Another slice: clapping. In some shows, Izzard continues this simple gesture for ages and the audience eats it up, happy to play along and laughing all the while.
This time, Izzard did not keep up the game for too long. Instead he began telling us about his nail polish, which he sees as a political statement (Izzard is a self- professed transvestite — i.e. he’s a straight man who likes dressing up in women’s clothes and often performs in makeup and full transvestite regalia, but Saturday he looked sharp in a men’s blazer and jeans).
His conversational beginning transitioned effortlessly into his stand-up routine, which is in itself conversational and quite improvisational. Izzard shared during a Q&A that he gravitates toward improv because he found that when everything is rehearsed, comedians seem to become bored with the material and their energy while performing is not as great as when the material is in a new, “molten” state.
Izzard’s routines center around pointing out the things most people don’t take the time to think about or question, things we take for granted like the 887 Easter Island head statues (“Why stop at 887?”), how bears talk and, of course, God.
Religion — being so intertwined with history, another well of inspiration for Izzard — makes its way into Izzard’s set constantly. He touched on blood sacrifice while pantomiming killing and conversing with a goat (“You look a bit like a baby devil”), and came to the conclusion that God would probably rather see people dancing for them then killing things to show their devotion.
In another bit, he said he would believe in God if God were to simply “show up” at one time of crisis ever. But, if God were to show up, we’d have high expectations of what He’d look — and sound — like. If He were to show up on the stage right then and there, He’d be a “showbiz God”; if He were to fly down from the rafters, we’d think, “Well … Cirque du Soleil.”
The most interesting aspect of Izzard’s performance style is, in my opinion, his ability to communicate without words. This seems to be a theme for him: Izzard began performing in France, in French (not his native language), just to see that he could do it. At times he brings French, German,
Spanish and even pseudo-Latin into his English performance as well. The end of his show was completely gibberish: He acted out a scene between two men around 200 B.C., one of whom warns the other that Hannibal is coming to attack the Romans with thousands of elephants. Izzard plays with language — specifically, with how difficult and ridiculous speaking in Latin must have been — in the whole scene. Though it was not easy to follow, the scene had the crowd roaring with laughter.
Then there are the times when Izzard does not have to speak at all. From his beginning slicing gesture to his frequent grunts (miming communication between bears, dinosaurs and whatever else struck his fancy), dances, jabs and other physical movements, Izzard is a master at saying more than what can be said with mere words.
Whether this interest in communication comes from the dyslexia Izzard mentioned he suffered from growing up or whether it is just another way Izzard has found to challenge himself, it’s clear that audiences love the challenge of intelligent, fast-paced humor that Izzard presents. Watching him perform was a joy, and I cannot wait to see him again.