Lyric Theatre, London W1
Opened 20 November, 2008

It’s not uncommon to hear that a comedian hasn’t changed enough of their American-focused material on crossing the Atlantic. It is, though, quite rare to hear it of an English comic. Eddie Izzard now lives in Hollywood for most of each year, and his Stripped tour comes to Britain after four months on the road in the U.S. It shows, not just in little things like saying “bok choy” rather than the more Brit-familiar “pak choi” or engaging in Apple-computer chauvinism, but in the very structure of the show. Its whistle-stop tour through the history of everything seems tailored to an Obama electorate; indeed, he opens the show with a paean to Obama and later remarks, “In the election you’re the people who’re gonna be sifting ideas” – now, which election would that be, Eddie?
Much of his material feels more set in its ways, too. Not scripted – for Izzard, that would almost be heresy – but tried, tested and honed through the tour. On the press night, I hardly ever got the sense that he was letting himself zoom off on one of his characteristic digressions... this, the man I saw generate nearly 15 minutes of material in a previous West End show from sewing a button back onto his jacket when it popped off mid-set. The godfather of the “surreal rambling” style of stand-up isn’t rambling as much.
That said, he’s as surreal as ever. Some of the figures conjured up over the course of two hours were a dinosaur priest, a jazz chicken, a giraffe playing charades, super-tough Spartan sheep and Christopher Walken in French; topics included the difficulty of being urgent when you’re trying to remember how to inflect Latin, Moses’ draft Commandments and members of the Order of Assassins carrying out a contract while zonked on hashish. A running motif of atheism – would God really have made so many things the way they are, such as the appendix? – also no doubt plays more keenly in the States, like his underlying, rather vague appeal to us to keep being progressive in our attitudes. Back when comedy was the new rock’n’roll, Eddie Izzard was its Hendrix; but now that there are high-speed fretboard-noodlers aplenty in comedy as well as rock, the classical greats no longer seem quite as colossal.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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