Thursday, February 11, 2010

Eddie Izzard at Madison Square Garden blog by Danielle Warren on Big Apple Brits

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I can remember back a mere ten years ago when uttering the name Eddie Izzard elicited nothing more than a confused response of “who’s that?” Fast forward a decade and 12,000 New Yorkers were clambering to see the man perform at Madison Square Garden, a venue so vast and exclusive he is one of four comedians, as well as the only British one, ever to have played it. This particular achievement, mind you, also comes at the tail end of an enormous arena tour performed all over the UK and Europe, including Wembley, the O2, MEN, and arenas in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Upon completing the US leg of Stripped: The Big Intimacy Tour in Los Angeles at the end of January, Izzard will have played to a combined audience of over 250,000 people. Astounding numbers for a man barely ten years ago most people in the US had never heard of.

Savvy fans and ex-pats around town may have been familiar with Izzard’s one of kind standup performances, but even they were in for a treat last Saturday night. It was vintage Izzard absurdities, replete with a new, more toned down image; ‘stripped’, if you like. He wore fitted jeans, a red striped button down shirt, and the pi├Ęce de resistance, a circus like coat complete with ringmaster coat tails. Some may have been disappointed with the lack of more feminine apparel they are used to seeing Izzard in, but the new look went a long way to highlight the endless ambition Izzard owns and refines on a daily basis; The Big Intimacy Tour spotlighting that ambition in bright, almost blinding lights. Occasionally it’s difficult to understand how a stocky, middle class transvestite British comedian such as Eddie has the talent and where withal to break barriers and become one of the most well known British talents in America, but the man accepts that responsibility with apparently effortless ease and aplomb.

While some patrons may have scoffed at the obvious lack of intimacy in an arena the size of Madison Square Garden, Izzard explains the idea behind this ‘big’ intimacy tour was his way of pushing the limits of comedy by playing arenas, in an attempt to “make an aircraft hanger cozy.” And despite the gargantuan size of the Garden, he still managed to impose his casual style on a crowd of over 12,000. The show began in an unconventional way, with the trailer to Izzard’s current documentary, Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, projected onto the massive screens on either side of the stage. As the trailer finished, the spotlights around the arena began to dance along to the music that swelled through the sound system. Suddenly as the music hit its crescendo, Eddie entered center stage in a blaze of glory. No sooner did he arrive, than he hushed the audiences’ rapturous applause and proceeded to spill his first words of the show; a series of umm’s and ahh’s that have become part and parcel of Izzard’s repertoire. The first wave of laughter echoed through the Garden; Izzard now owned the joint, only to humbly admit moments later that he was indeed, a bit nervous.

As he hit his stride, Izzard began to breeze through the show as if he were having a casual chat to a friend. He explained that this particular show “would be about everything that has ever happened…with a few gaps.” He discussed his own personal politics to start things off, probably in an attempt to make sure everyone there was indeed on his side from the word go. His views on God, or rather the lack there of, may have seemed deep and possibly offensive, until Izzard logically, and comically, pointed out that if there was a God, why didn’t he just flick Hitler’s head off? Another roar of laughter and with the audience now firmly on his side, he continued to go on flights of fancy and conjure up surreal images of barnyard animals, badgers who can be choosers, and the invention of the Stone Age. Who else on the planet but Eddie Izzard would enthusiastically relay a story of a noisy chicken that eventually gets a trumpet wedged to its face, thus dubbing it a ‘jazz chicken.’ Along with the constant use of anthropomorphism Izzard has become famous for, the familiar elements of history and iconography were constantly threaded throughout the two-act show. Izzard hilariously mimed the weavers of the Bayeaux Tapestry, explaining how they were the paparazzi of their age. In discussing the obvious fallacy inherit in the story of Noah’s arc, Izzard reminded us that while two of every animal may have entered the boat, the only ones that survived would have been the lions, tigers and a hapless frightened squirrel who hid in a food tin as the carnivores massacred the other creatures. The most impressive part of these bizarre narratives is that the absurd characters appear over and over again, cementing the show’s genius interweaving by the ringleader himself.

Compared to his other live shows, the production design was simple and understated, but it perfectly captured Izzard’s maturity and the seriousness with which he takes comedy. The stage appeared to be a prison with a small barred window, or more abstractly, a prison of the mind. Along the walls were symbols, sketches, and Arabic texts; a melee of writing and images that could only course solely through the brain of Eddie Izzard. He clarifies by stating, “the idea is of a prison of the mind with a small window that represents where you can be looking, like the Oscar Wilde saying, ‘we’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’.” Just like Wilde, Izzard continuously seeks to challenge his audience by bursting the bubble of conventional thinking and take his passengers on a lateral journey through his own unique mind.

Always original, always extraordinary, and most importantly, always funny, Eddie Izzard once again proves why is he one of the foremost standup comedians of the last 20 years, with the stellar performance at Madison Square Garden cementing this fact. Izzard’s penchant for taking the audience on a train ride with an unknown destination, unknown even to its conductor, creates a sense of excitement within the viewers and within himself. No matter what the reaction of the people watching, Eddie is always having fun. Even preferring to make jokes that make only him laugh to another piece of material. Why? Because he can, and we enjoy watching him do it. As stated in the tour program, “Like a medieval court jester, his role is to prick the balloon of conscience, encouraging us to look behind, beyond, and within. Ultimately he invites us to believe – in spite of our fear, in spite of our madness and in spite of our bloody history. Anyway, he’s back.” And the people of New York thank him for his return.

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