Features
11.19.17: a rebel alliance of quality content
our facebook page our twitter page intrepid media feature page rss feed
FEATURES  :  GALLERYhover for drop down menu  :  STUDIOhover for drop down menu  :  ABOUThover for drop down menu sign in

head over heels
eddie izzard comes out -- again
by juli mccarthy
11.12.04
film

He has been the darling of the European comedy circuit for years, routinely selling out venues as large as London's Wembley Arena, and traveling the world to perform in Iceland, France, Sweden and pretty much anywhere else that has a landing strip. But here in the States, British comedian Eddie Izzard is still more famous for his unconventional wardrobe than for his impressive body of work.

He's a real walking contradiction: a former athlete in high heels; a committed Europhile in love with the concept of the American Dream; a blithering rambler with a blistering wit. His comedy is equally difficult to categorize. In turns observational, surreal and slapstick, the comedian sums it all up as "just talking bollocks." He pokes fun at everything, but never resorts to the cheap shot, delivering even his most cutting material with a baffled amiability that softens the blow without blunting the point. Watching Eddie Izzard perform his standup routine is sort of like being in an exceptionally comfy tumble dryer set on high. He flips from topic to topic with nary a breath between, then stops midstream and asks the audience, "What the hell was I talking about?" The audience usually has no idea -– they've been laughing too hard to keep track.

His Emmy-award-winning 1998 standup show, "Dress To Kill," has been in regular rotation on HBO over the last few years. Since then he's done two more sellout comedy tours (2000's "Circle," available on DVD, and 2003's "Sexie," still unreleased in the US), then announced he was taking a break from standup comedy to focus on acting. He hit the stage, accepting a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk "Best Actor" award for his lead role in the revival of "A Day In The Death of Joe Egg," and collecting rave reviews for his Broadway portrayal of legendary comic Lenny Bruce. Then it was on to movies. After films as diverse as The Cat's Meow, All The Queen's Men and Revengers Tragedy, Izzard has now returned, albeit briefly, to his literal comedy roots. This month his early standup shows "Unrepeatable," "Definite Article" and "Glorious" will be released on Region 1 DVD for the first time, giving American audiences a chance to find out what they've been missing all these years.

In 1994's "Unrepeatable," Izzard wanders about a small, dark stage and connects such seemingly unconnectable topics as dyslexia, comparison shopping, religion, Star Trek and the weird habits of flying fish. He also briefly addresses his now-much-publicized gender issues for the first time: "Contrary to what you may be thinking, it's not all roses being a transvestite." Coming unexpectedly hard on the heels of a riff about cats doing gymnastics, the line very nearly causes the audience mental whiplash. This was only Izzard's second solo show, and it's apparent that he didn't yet know he was headed for stardom. The show is low-key and the focus is on the comedy, rather than the comedian. Izzard has long maintained that there is no such thing as British comedy or American comedy, that a sense of humor is universal. While his reference to Prime Minister's Question Time may be regional, Izzard's observation that sometimes politicians say really stupid things rings true worldwide. It's his gift that he can present this not-very-startling information with a completely original twist.

Izzard abandons the small stage for high theatrics in 1996's "Definite Article." The dramatic music, over-the-top wardrobe and fancy stage set are interesting, but quickly fade into the background as he once again takes on a mind-boggling array of topics: supermarkets, school bands and Einstein's theory of relativity, among other things. A much longer show than Unrepeatable, it's also a little less even. A great deal of Izzard's appeal is in his habit of picking up a random thought mid-routine and spinning it out into an entirely different routine. In this show, a few of his attempts to do that fall slightly flat comedically, but even so they add to the overall show. Izzard plainly doesn't believe in editing out his mistakes to make himself look good. Instead, he shares them willingly and so invites the audience to have a laugh at his expense. It's an endearing quality. Among this DVD's extra features is a short documentary film called "Je Suis A Stand-Up" which chronicles Izzard's first (and not quite successful) attempt to perform his act in French and his first (much MORE successful) exposure to American audiences.

"Glorious," from 1997, has been previously released in the US as a videotape. Izzard starts with the Old Testament and works his way through the New Testament and the Book of Revelations, so in theory it's a show with some structure. But not really. Distracted by bees, martial arts and Robin Hood, the show is classic Izzard, hijacked and hallmarked by his random ramblings in several directions at once. He has said that Steve Martin was a big comedy influence, and it's never more apparent than in this show. There are a few distinct tones of Martin’s "wild and crazy guy" persona, and it is only in those moments that this show falters. When Izzard believes in his material –- as he always should, because most of it is brilliant –- he's relaxed and untroubled and his own bigger-than-life personality easily squashes his misguided impulse to imitate Martin. This DVD release includes a very funny mock-documentary called "Lust For Glorious" that was originally filmed for BBC4.

All three DVDs feature audio commentary by Eddie Izzard. When these shows were originally filmed, DVD extras were a thing of the future, so the commentary, recorded in 2004, has some of the objectivity of hindsight. At times it seems redundant –- Izzard habitually critiques himself out loud as he performs, so further critique in voiceover does little for the viewer. Occasionally he falls silent, then explains "it’s been a while since I’ve seen this." It is interesting to hear what he'd do differently now with the same material, and once or twice he's surprised into a laugh of his own by forgotten material or new insight into old.

Choosing to play the audio commentary automatically triggers the subtitles, but does not adequately adjust the volume of the main audio track. The result of that is the disconcerting tendency to try to hear two things at once while reading a third thing. It only really becomes a problem during the commentary backing the "Je Suis A Standup" film, when you've got two Izzards, one providing documentary voiceover and one providing commentary, and briefly, English subtitles over Dutch subtitles over English subtitles. To be fair, Izzard himself realizes the futility of such an exercise, and all enlightening commentary is momentarily lost as he gives up and dissolves into self-deprecating laughter.

All of these new DVDs have bonus features including "bleeped" audio tracks (handy for when you're watching with Grandma) and trivia tracks (not really handy at all, but interesting nonetheless), and are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. I did notice that the English subtitles, at least, are not strictly accurate. Although they adequately convey the material, they were obviously cleaned up to eliminate Izzard’s trademark hemming and hawing. On "Unrepeatable," there is a photo gallery feature that will appeal only to die-hard fans.

What is most surprising about these shows is that despite their age they do not seem at all dated. It is in keeping with Izzard's contradictory character that he is able to address current events with a view both broad and narrow, zeroing in on the absurdity of a given topic without pinning it down to any particular moment in time. Viewers who only know of Izzard as "that transvestite guy" may be surprised to see how very little of his comedy is centered on that. While he is candid and quite funny on the subject, he is also comfortable enough not to fall back on it for easy material. Even with the occasional comic misfire, the sheer volume of laughter he wrings from any topic is mind-blowing.

Any other comic releasing ten-year-old work might give the impression of presenting a career retrospective. That is definitely not the case here. These older shows chronicle Izzard's growth as a performer, but also clearly show that his comedy is just as substantial today as it was then. Irreverently relevant, on-target and off-kilter, Eddie Izzard's early shows will satisfy your comedy appetite while leaving you hungry for more.


Eddie Izzard: Unrepeatable, Definite Article and Glorious are now available on Region 1 DVD from Anti- records and can be purchased from most retail outlets as well as Amazon.com and from Izzard's own site, EDDiEiZZARD.com.


ABOUT JULI MCCARTHY

A whole gallon of attitude, poured into a pint container.

more about juli mccarthy

IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...

revengers tragedy
a dish best eaten cold
by juli mccarthy
topic: film
published: 8.11.04





COMMENTS

sloan bayles
11.12.04 @ 3:02p

Gotta say, I love me some Izzard.

juli mccarthy
11.12.04 @ 10:35p

Well, I just got home from a signing - Eddie was in Chicago tonight to promote these. What a charming, sweet person! Props to the staff at Tower Records as well - the crowd was well-behaved anyway, but the staff went out of their way to be kind and cooperative and to ensure that everyone got a few minutes of chat time with Izzard.

sarah ficke
11.13.04 @ 12:27a

Awesome.

tracey kelley
11.14.04 @ 11:58p

After listening to the DVDs, now I really want them.

juli mccarthy
11.15.04 @ 12:15a

All these early shows, and Dress To Kill as well, are also now available on audio CD. Unrepeatable is identical to the DVD version in content, but the others are slightly different from their filmed counterparts. There's an extremely funny bit on Dress To Kill in which Izzard deals with a heckler.



Intrepid Media is built by Intrepid Company and runs on Dash