Eddie Izzard: Stripped

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia proves something of a running theme in Eddie Izzard’s first West End show for 12 years. Very aptly, too, given that Izzard is virtually a human Wikipedia: informative, wide-ranging, of very dubious accuracy and offering a wealth of hyperlinks to subjects only loosely related to his main train of though.

True to this, his modest theme for Stripped is ‘everything that’s ever happened’ – which proves a tall order, even for him, barely making it into the AD years in his two-hour slot. But he has a fair crack at the entire history of the planet, using an overarching theme of his atheist humanism to spin off uniquely inspired riffs on unfeasible Bible stories, brutal ancient wars, dinosaur preachers, and jazz-playing chickens, among countless others.

His Darwinist objectivity and distrust of religion is an uncontroversial liberal stance – at least on the side of the Atlantic which doesn’t think Sarah Palin could ever possibly be electorally viable – but Izzard’s unmatched skill is in wilfully avoiding tackling such issues head on, instead using them as a vague starting point for a feast of imaginative, cartoonish flights of fantasy, the likes of which you’ll never hear from the lips of any other comedian, however hard they try to imitate him.

In his last big show, Sexie, Izzard seemed to have lost some of this precious mojo. But five years on, it’s back with a vengeance with this impressive return to form. He isn’t quite at his absolute peak, but he ain’t far off.

While he teetered on the edge of self-indulgent waffle a couple of times, he always stepped back, reminding himself of the job in hand. And even when he went off-script to show off the silly light sabre application on his iPhone, he did so with such excited charm, you forgive the digression. Only twice did he resort to his familiar apology of scribbling imaginary notes to himself on his hand, and neither time was it entirely necessary.

His delivery has rarely been more appealing, reining back on the trademark umming-and-aahing in favour of getting his jokes across. And in the intimacy of a cosy 1,000-seater theatre, rather than the horrifically impersonal arenas he’s previously played, his warmth and affability envelop the audience, rather than dispersing impotently into the ether.

Izzard’s got so sharp that he doesn’t need recognisable words to get a laugh. There are ridiculously over-elaborate mimes of everything from giraffes hiding from predators to Persians bloodily impaling themselves on ancient Greek spears. But even the grunt of a homo erectus becomes a punchline in Izzard’s skilful hands – and his whole routine about Latin degenerates into a meaningless cocktail of pseudo-languages that somehow still makes perfect sense.

Some of these routines are instant classics: his one-line summary of evolution, his theory that tapestry artists were the paparazzi of their day, Moses making up the commandments, the impracticality of Noah’s Ark, the list goes on... Izzard is endlessly foolish, in the best sense of the word, without letting his sense of the ridiculous drift too far into the self-indulgent.

He wears for Stripped not womenswear, but jeans, shirt and a ringmasters’ jacket, perfect for the circus of ideas and images which he conducts with such virtuosity. Like the circus acrobats, the crowd marvel at the audacity of Izzard’s ambition, forgive him when he falters and adore him when he succeeds. And there’s quite a lot to adore here.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
London, November 21, 2008

Review date: 1 Nov 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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