Thoroughly Eddie

The Thinker by Rodin

Have you seen Eddie Izzard yet? Izzard is an eccentric 46-year-old British comedian who comes to the states occasionally and gives sold out performances to fans of his very skewed British humor. He has quite a following among a certain class of people like, say, my wife and daughter. No one would mistake his popularity for that of more mainstream comedians like Jerry Seinfeld. He could not fill the Verizon Center. Nevertheless, he can draw a big crowd even if his latest show could not merit a Washington Post review. We found him at DAR Constitution Hall last night. The show started fifteen minutes late to accommodate the many late arriving patrons. However, by the time all were seated, at least 95% of the hall’s 3,702 seats were filled with very enthusiastic Eddie Izzard fans. The raucous welcome he received when he came on stage would make any politician drool.

Based on the demographics of the audience, Izzard draws a nearly exclusively white, generally young and certainly liberal audience. He is not afraid to swear or to poke fun at sacrosanct topics that would make most Americans squirm, such as religion and The Bible. His current tour “Stripped” attempts to condense the four and a half billion years of the Earth’s history into a two-hour gig, with overflowing amounts of skewed and erudite humor. For a change, Eddie does not appear in drag. Izzard is quite open about his transvestitism. Like most transvestites, he is heterosexual.

As a fan of Monty Python and other forms of British humor, I would be a natural candidate for Eddie Izzard’s humor. Our family has a collection of his videos that I have sampled. For some reason I rarely found myself laughing along. Since Eddie Izzard looms large in the life of my family, I figured it would be sporting of me to attend with my wife and daughter. Perhaps a two-hour show would make me appreciate Eddie more.

And I might have appreciated him more if we had closer seats. DAR Constitution Hall is huge, as concert halls go, and our seats were in the right balcony near the back, which meant we had to twist our necks and spines to watch him perform. Despite the brilliant stage lights, he was hard to see any detail, but he was easy enough to see prancing all around the stage. Izzard is a one-person show. His only prop is a microphone.

Unquestionably, Izzard is very well educated, which is the source of both his humor and his relatively understated popularity. He appeals to rebellious bookworms and geeks, the sort of people who know far too much obscure knowledge that has little practical applications, such as Liberal Arts majors. Thus, you are probably not going to find too many NASCAR fans at Eddie Izzard shows.

Izzard’s gentle antipathy toward organized religion was on fine display last night. He sliced and diced through conventional notions of God and many of the great Bible stories. He is quite irreverent and delighted poking fun at many of the stories in the Bible. He humorously retold the story of Moses’ flight from Egypt and Noah’s Ark and pointed out the many logical fallacies of both these legends and many others. Of course, the theme of “Stripped” constantly meandered off subject, resulting in a show that felt like potpourri. This is no matter of concern for Izzard fans, of course, and part of his charm. He can take any topic and turn it inside out, making it a topic of both laughter and derision.

Izzard is one of these comedians who have no problem prancing around the entire stage. Only a small part of his humor is verbal. Much of it is intonation, much of it is body language and a significant part of it comes from his ability to make the microphone behave in unusual ways.

For a non-fan like myself, I felt much like a Non-Jew at a Jewish wedding. In truth, I did find myself laughing on occasion. I think part of the reason I cannot appreciate Izzard more is that his comedic style is to go at the speed of light. I could hardly get in one humorous idea and decide whether it was something worth laughing over before he was on to the next humorous snippet. I felt like a 300-baud modem trying to translate a signal at 9600 baud. Clearly, the brains of most of the audience are much more agile than mine, which must plod along at a serene clip.

Therefore, it is unlikely that I will be an Eddie Izzard groupie, although our daughter was one of the stage door Johnnies who waited for him after the show. Nonetheless, I am glad I went. I have not ruled out attending other Eddie Izzard events in the future. If you enjoy British humor and particularly if you find yourself thinking unconventional thoughts then you should check out his shows if they come to your city, or try renting some of his DVDs and see if his brand of humor appeals to you.