On Friday night, my Bonnie and I attended Eddie Izzard’s “Stripped” performance at the Ryman Auditorium. Having been a dedicated fan since actually catching his “Dress to Kill” show on HBO several years back (even given my disappointment with some of the other performances available on DVD), it was with great anticipation that we took our seats.
Izzard did not disappoint. Pound for pound, the guy is the funniest man on the planet, and for almost two full hours, my stomach hurt. When I wasn’t looking at Bonnie to see if she “got the joke,” I was banging my arm on the chair in front of me as a form of physical relief.
Izzard’s performance worked for any number of reasons. First, there was something especially delicious and slightly ironic about watching him in this former church and former home of the Grand Ole Opry. Given his general left of center views, his engaged dismissal of religious based explanations of almost anything, and his occasion forays into transvestism, there is simply something rather non-Rymanesque about Izzard (well, on second glance, the transvestim fits elements of both country music and religion). I felt it, and the entire audience understood it as well. This was one of those magical moments when the setting itself made us all feel like we were part of a conspiracy. With that as a starting point, Izzard had us as soon as the lights went down. And with his quick pacing, he never let go.
Secondly, the guy is smart. And, no, while I don’t know if he’s actually “book smart,” he certainly makes you think so. As he wanders his way through the story of the creation of the earth, intertwining the history of the world with the history of religion, you can’t help but notice that, in addition to being funny, he actually knows a lot. I realize that sounds somewhat facile, but when you hear Izzard, for example, explaining the causes of lightning and thunder, the pace of his language convinces you that he can competently talk about a large variety of topics. He’s not only funny, then, but he seems like the kinda guy I want to have beers with after the show, just to talk.
Third, he only mentioned The Riches—his brilliant hit television show—once throughout the entire act. While I love The Riches, I went into this worried that we were going to keep hearing references to it, as if the show were an advertisement for Izzard in general. I appreciated the lack of self-referencing.
Fourth, his comedy doesn’t seem to be a cover for some deep seated psychological issues. I’m not exactly sure how to explain this except to relate a conversation I had with Bonnie. We were talking after the show about how much we enjoyed the fast pace of the show and Izzard’s ability to change from topic to topic and employ a wide array of vocal sound effects during the process.
When Bonnie observed that it was a bit like Robin Williams, I agreed but thought there was some important difference, something I couldn’t put my finger on except to say that Williams always makes me feel uncomfortable for him, making it difficult to enjoy his show. “Yes,” she noted, “It’s like Robin Williams’ act is a cover for some psychological problem he has, and Izzard is driven by a confident desire to perform—he doesn’t seem to be covering up anything.”
I don’t know if you’ll have the chance to catch Izzard live anytime soon. If you do, I recommend you buy tickets now. This show sold out quickly, and it was easily worth the fifty-something dollars per ticket we had to pay (along with all those nasty Ticketmaster fees). If you can’t see him (or even if you can), here’s my two pronged recommendation: If you’re not a fan of The Riches, you should be. While the plot sounds hackneyed and used up (a family takes up the identity of a couple who die in a car accident), it’s so much more than that. Even when the plotlines appear cliché, the show—and the relationships between the characters—are complicated and poignant. It’s a dark drama with comedic elements and skillful acting. It rates as highly as anything else on television right now, for my money at least.
Secondly, rent “Dress to Kill” (but don’t expect to see the guy from The Riches when you do). “Dress to Kill” is as funnier and more socially pointed (albeit in a very different way) than anything since Richard Pryor’s Wanted: Live in Concert. If you can only find one of his only shows, don’t watch them; they’ll simply disappoint. But “Dressed to Kill” and “Stripped” (if it makes it to DVD) will both make you laugh your ass off while you’re watching it and make you do a spit take during a business meeting the next day.