Last week I published an article about Eddie Izzard‘s new autobiography, Believe Me. If you don’t have time to read the full review, the short version is: the book is very good. Experiencing Izzard’s life in print is a wonderful experience, and recommended to anyone with even a passing interest. However, the next step up from the experience of reading Izzard, is to see Izzard read Izzard live. As part of its release, Eddie is doing a tour to promote his book. It involves the reading of passages from the book, musings on the reasons for writing a book, numerous side-tracks, sporadic audience Q&A, and, of course, plenty of Eddie Izzard simply being Eddie Izzard. For the comedy fan, it is an absolute must see.
What’s immediately different about this show, as opposed to his conventional standup, is how demure Izzard is on stage. Normally he bursts with energy and blazes like the heart of the sun. In this presentation he muses, takes his time, and gently ponders. The attitude is refreshingly un-cavalier, and makes for an evening that, despite a crowd of assembled hundreds, feels wonderfully intimate. He is obviously not trying to sell every second of this as funny, and as such the show is personal, and genuinely touching. Particularly when he broaches the subject of his mother.
Of course, it is also very, very funny. His thirty-odd years of performing have made him a master of crowd work, to the point where, even when he is trying to text a picture from his phone to his stage manager, he is as hilarious and engaging as a club-comic at the peak of their night. Perhaps the secret is that he genuinely enjoys every second of what he is doing. It certainly appears to be the case. Everything from the placement of his podium onstage, to the exact order of the photos in the slideshow behind him, becomes the subject of a giddy, silly joy, and he shares that joy with the audience unapologetically.
When asked “If you could give this book to your younger self, would you?” he responded “I think I’d sell it to myself.”
To call the evening disorganized would be simultaneously disingenuous, but accurate. Izzard states quite plainly that he hasn’t really done this before, and makes it abundantly clear that he doesn’t have a plan. He has several passages in his book that he has marked down for reading, he has photos lined up that tie in to points he wants to make, but the two hours are anything but ordered. Izzard leaps from subject to subject with transsexual abandon. Questions from audience members (submitted via Tweet and slips of paper) are thrown up on the stage at random, and he responds like a circus performer catching knives being hurled at him, interrupting his train of thought in order to give them his full attention. His focus and points of discussion move around wildly. That said, though often de-railed, he always came back around and finished every point he was trying to make, and the experience is just so enjoyable, it’s hard to mind.
His responses to questions were often priceless. When asked “If you could give this book to your younger self, would you?” he responded “I think I’d sell it to myself.” On being queried for advice for any transgender people in the audience, his response was simple: “Come out. As early as possible. Don’t live a lie.” As always with an Eddie Izzard show, it is difficult to latch on specifically to what makes the experience special. His strange, rambly, yet coherent way of presenting information, his flights of fancy that lead him off into surreal places hitherto unfound… it’s near impossible to nail down any one element that makes his presentational style work. And yet it does, and it is tremendous. Used in his standup it is devastating. Used here, to make people laugh, and to share tender, personal life moments, it is also devastating, but in a much more emotional way. Put briefly, you simply must see Eddie Izzard talk about Eddie Izzard. It’s a topic he excels at.