Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not Murphy

Right, so, I went to see Eddie Izzard a week and a half ago (Eddie MOTHERFUCKING Izzard).

It was all because of the Year of Yes. Suddenly there was a tweet about a "semi-secret" show at 11pm that Friday. I saw where it was going to be and concluded it was a small venue. I assumed the price would be way out of my range and the tickets would be sold out. But, thanks to the Year of Yes, I clicked. The tickets were $39 and I bought 2 right away, even though I didn't have anyone lined up to go with me. Turns out I could have bought 5 or 6 and I would easily have filled the seats.

This particular theatre at 45 Bleecker holds just over 300 people. A pretty big center section was reserved for friends of the talent. After picking up our tickets, having a coffee, getting back in line, waiting 30 minutes, shuffling in, we got seats just behind that friends section. So, he couldn't actually sweat on us but, if he'd turned just right and paid attention he could have returned my adoring glances (read: stalker stare).

About 15 minutes after we sat down he came on. There was no intro, no fanfare, he sort of snuck on stage and said hello. He wore what I'm getting used to as his uniform these days of jeans, tee shirt, blue blazer and fancy men's lace up leather shoes. He does wear the ever loving bejesus out of a blue blazer, I'll say that.

Understand first that I study stand up. I don't investigate it formally but I absolutely get off on watching a comedian and seeing the mechanics of what someone is doing as well as enjoying the pure entertainment value of it. Watching Ron White on TV was the first time I realized that, without an opening act, a comedian will do a series of short form jokes to get the audience rolling before launching in to any long form story telling. When I bought these tickets I'd already surmised that Izzard was doing this gig because his current job, Race, was closing the following night and he wanted to get in an American stand up gig (how could he not have had people begging for such a thing the entire time he'd been here) and was warming up for a 3 night charity event in the UK at the end of September.

Right here is where I want to put a paragraph summarizing Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story. I have a better idea, though. Go see the movie. It's better than any summary I've ever written. Let it suffice to say that, having seen the documentary, I was looking forward to seeing if I could identify approximately where in his development process Izzard was with this material.

Anyway, blazer, shoes, mic, IZZARD and he gets started. It's that sort of plain getting-to-know-you conversational style he has where he doesn't draw breath for minutes at a time. He spent about 5 minutes talking about how New York City fucking lies about being the City That Never Sleeps as his warm up. (Dude, your litmus test was going to Gristede's at midnight? Let's aim higher.) Then he sort of introduces himself like, "So, if you don't know me I usually talk about, you know, history and stuff but I know it's late and New York actually does sleep so I'll try to keep it to an hour."

This bit is unintentional hilarity for two reasons. First off it's a show populated by folks that, from what I can tell, had to be following him on Twitter to get a ticket. But secondly, and more importantly, is because he didn't know how Kath & I (and the 5 people in line around us) spent our 30 minutes waiting on the street to get in. The people of New York (when not sleeping) hate to miss out on stuff. They see a line and the get a twinge, needing to know if they ought to be in it. Fully half the passers by stopped and asked us what we were waiting for. (The other half asked where they should go to pick up their tickets.) Inevitably our reply of "Eddie Izzard" was met with "Who's that?" And, really, how do you explain Eddie Izzard? "British comedian." "Cross dresser.""The only transvestite for whom I regularly pee my pants." Eventually Kath started us making up better answers. "Elvis." "Wings. Without Paul McCartney." "Justin Bieber." The people in the room knew who he was. Boy did we know.

After that superfluous introduction he embarked on the highest speed 75 minutes of history via high comedy I think any of us had ever seen. There was religion, politics, dinosaurs, love, primordial ooze, a meteor, I mean, seriously, something for everyone. Kath said afterward that he doesn't, really, do the kind of jokes where you guffaw. It's a rare belly laugh at an Izzard show. (How does that feel when you're on stage? Is it disconcerting? How do you know when you're winning?) He's smart. And he assumes we are, too. Not as smart as him, of course, otherwise he wouldn't have to explain all this shit, but smart. And he moves at the speed of sound. Holy Mary, does he! If you love what he's saying you don't want to miss anything so you keep your laughter quiet and basically just grab hold and ride him bareback hoping you don't slip off in the middle and miss the best part.

Well, that took a turn for a totally different scenario I envision with Eddie Izzard. Sigh.

Moving on!

If my scrutiny yields correct results he's in the middle stages of developing this material. The transitions aren't perfect but you can see which bits really rock right now. The very simple toe stubbing physical comedy for his explanation of how the stone age came about has that perfect timing of his and leaves your mouth just gaping open. The Charlie Chaplinism of the bit is funny but the observational joke makes you think, "Well, shit, how did we not realize this earlier?"

It was a treat to sit in a room with 299 others and drink from the well of Eddie Izzard. It was like that proverbial first free hit, though. I want more. I want to sit in dark rooms and carry luggage and listen to the same material over and over again night after night. (There are other fantasies, they happen after the comedy and usually in a hotel room. No blazer.) There's a recurring "character" in these stories from the history of humankind. He arrives early and comes back frequently. That night he appeared as "Steve." At one point "Steve" strikes up a conversation with a friend. Izzard tumbled over himself suddenly, like a dog slamming on the brakes on linoleum and slamming into the fridge. Apparently the friend is usually Steve and the original guy has another name. No matter, he just riffed and rolled and tried out different names. Rick? Joseph? No, too biblical. He finally called them both Steve and moved on. It was those moments, unique and funny in their own way and an insight into his process, that made the night worth thrice the price of the ticket. I've watched a lot of comedians and a lot of them are great improvisers (Ryan Stiles, Josie Lawrence, Craig Ferguson) but it's hard to imagine anyone being quite so smart, so fast and so committed to the long term arc of a show than Eddie Izzard.

So, yeah, I saw Eddie Motherfucking Izzard a couple of weeks ago. I wish you could have been there. Maybe next time, though, 'cause I want more.


  1. Anonymous10:03 PM

    OMG, great post! Great analysis, too & made me feel like I was there. I've been listening to & watching all the videos & really Eddie Izzard is school for improv/stand-up. Was tempted to go (I'm also having a Year of Yes), but had a novel in draft that was a more imperative Year of Yes experience and am multiple hundreds of miles from NYC. (On the other hand, I was so pleased that I finished the first draft the day Eddie Izzard closed his run in "Race.")

  2. Man oh man oh man oh man oh man oh man oh man. The Year of Yes does not suck for those of us in the cheap seats. SO glad you had this experience. I love that little cross dresser.

  3. excellent post, Kizz! Have you see Eddie Izzard when he's on the Craig Ferguson show? GENIUS!!!

  4. Janet, I'd love to see them both live but I think my continuous orgasms might make it hard to concentrate on what they were doing. They're fantastic together!

  5. Oh, thank you! Terrific review - makes me wish I was there.

    Eddie is solid, hard (ahem) proof that funny + intelligent = dead sexy.

  6. Kizzy's review is spot on, and I should know...she took me! And not to make you all jealous or anything, but next up we're going to see Craig Ferguson! Or should I say Craig Motherfucking Ferguson?

  7. October, baby! Ferguson in October! Not quite so close to the stage that we could upskirt him....but nearly!

  8. LisaWinKS5:24 PM

    Oh I'm hatin' on you two right now! I'm not really hatin' just so jealous I could cry. I want to come and hang out in NYC with you. I am so in love with the two of those guys when they get together. I wish Kansas wasn't so far away!!

  9. Lisa, if we could have put all of you in our pockets we would!

  10. Jealous. So jealous.