Volcanoes and Dragonflies — a review of Eddie Izzard: Stripped

On behalf of the city of Chicago I’d like to apologize to Eddie Izzard. Honestly, I don’t know what kind of show the crowd at the Chicago Theatre thought they were at Thursday night, but I don’t think Mr. Izzard intended it to involve quite so much audience participation. From the dork up in the balcony yelling out addendums to jokes told ten minutes earlier to the drunk woman somewhere on the main floor hollering punchlines to old routines now available on DVD, the crowd kept Mr. Izzard on his toes for the hour and forty-five minutes he held the stage.

Seriously, people. Shut the f**k up.

Mr. Izzard played along for most of the performance, but by the end of his main set the frustration was beginning to show. The energy and enthusiasm that powered early routines about giraffes communicating via coughing had visibly waned by the time he whipped out his iPhone to look up a word on Wikipedia. And while he did return for a very brief encore, his desire to get the hell off the stage was palpable.

Now, before you go thinking the show sucked, let me stop you right there. I laughed my ass off. The giraffe bit alone will make you wet your pants. And the iPhone gag was priceless. And pretty much every time God and Jesus had a conversation (you Eddie fans know what I mean) I drew dirty looks from the three old ladies in front of me. (I have a rather loud laugh. I will not apologize for it.)

Mr. Izzard’s social commentary grows more daring with each tour. This time around he basically admitted to being an Atheist (yay!), and much of his act focused on the absurdities of creationism (God spending the first four billion years making nothing but volcanoes) and the properties of evolution (Darwin’s book: “MonkeymonkeymonkeymonkeyYOU!”) If I had a criticism it would be that Mr. Izzard returns to specific subject matter from previous work too frequently. I’ve already heard Mr. Izzard talk about Noah’s ark, Europe’s crappy space program, America’s fascination with guns, and how the Greeks and Romans had stupid gods. He even brought up Noah’s big room for poo, and astronauts climbing ladders (again, Eddie fans know all about this). Perhaps this is why the audience feels comfortable shouting out old jokes: He’s not that far from telling them himself.

In Mr. Izzard’s defense, he did avoid a number of old standards. His James Mason and Sean Connery impressions did not make appearances, and his usual French segment was replaced by Latin, which over the course of the bit degraded to a hilariously unintelligible mishmash of various European languages. His trademark loose, making-it-up-as-he-goes delivery allowed him to weave the various audience interruptions into his act, usually with great success. And he tossed off the one plug of his show The Riches in such a comically ridiculous manner that nobody in their right mind could hold it against him.

No review of an Eddie Izzard show would be complete without answering the most important question: What was he wearing? Mr. Izzard’s penchant for women’s clothing is well-documented, but it only warranted one brief mention during Thursday’s performance. Instead he appeared in jeans, a t-shirt, and what I think was some sort of tuxedo jacket, complete with tails. In other words, he looked his normal groovy self.

In summary: It was a very good show, but not the great show I dreamed it could be. Part of that was the material, part of it was the audience. And in the audience’s defense, it wasn’t like everybody was shouting out stuff non-stop. But the few who did feel the need to be part of the performance definitely made their presence felt.

And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Mr. Izzard thrives on such interaction. But that was not the vibe I got Thursday night.

And, if I may insert one other teensy-weensy little gripe right in here: If your ticket says Main Floor, Row D, you’d assume you were pretty close to the front, right? I know I did. So did the people sitting near me. So did the little map on Ticketmaster’s website that showed where my seat was. But it lied.

2 Comments so far

  1. Dan Telfer (chi_dan) on May 16th, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

    I blame YouTube. Stand-up is not a place where you get to provide instant comments. KNOCK IT OFF, AUDIENCES!

  2. jbontrager78 on May 17th, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

    Friday’s show was thankfully heckler-free, aside from a one-time shout-out that Eddie couldn’t understand and blew off.

    I, too, lamented what I thought was a little too much of the old schtick, but damn, is he funny. Sean Connery and James Mason both made appearances, though brief. All in all a great show, better than "Sexie."

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