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February 7, 2002
Eddie Izzard: Dress to Kill
London in the winter: December 1989 to early February 1990. I had vague plans to scoot around Europe and spend a few minutes in as many places as I could, but these plans were thwarted by getting sick and not being strong enough to leave London. I'd already been to a few shows before coming down with the flu, and while I was recuperating I decided to ditch the Eurail Pass and spend my money seeing more theatre. I saw something like forty shows in a month. It was an incredible education and an incredible time.
One of the things I went to was Raging Bull, which was an evening of stand-up comedy at the Boulevard Theatre in Soho. My memories of this evening are spectacularly one-sided. There were perhaps half a dozen comedians on that night, and I don't remember anything about any of them. Except one: the compere. A normal-looking guy, wearing normal-looking jeans, and whose name, of course, was Eddie Izzard.
He'd just started out on his comic career, and a lot of his material was more peculiar than hilarious, but he had that hard-to-define something. He was comprehensively unlike any other comedian, and he stood out as a mosquito would to a ladybird, if they were both sitting on the same grape.
He told long, outrageously absurd stories, and made stunningly implausible claims about his place in history. One of these was that he'd rewritten the speech that Neil Armstrong made when he landed on the moon. "Neil's first draft," he said, "was hopeless. It was 'one small step for a man, piece of piss for a frog.'"
It wasn't the world's greatest joke, but it scored huge points in the unpredictability stakes. But then his entire act scored massive points in the unpredictability stakes. There was no way of guessing what he would say or do next. I found myself sitting there in the dark thinking "who is this guy?"
Eleven years later, I had the chance to find out. Eddie Izzard came to Melbourne to play the Comedy Festival. "Great," I thought, "he's that fantastic comic from Raging Bull. No one will have heard of him, and he's playing in a big venue, so I'll have no problems getting half-price tickets on the day of the show."
As they say in the classics ... wrong. Not even close. Thanks for playing, and congratulations on your score of zero.
What I'd failed to notice is that in the eleven-year interim Eddie Izzard had gone from Soho obscurity to being one of the best stand-up comedians in the world. I wasn't the only person in Australia to have heard of him. English people were taking twenty-eight hour flights to Melbourne to see him in a small venue, or just to see him anywhere at all. By the time I got my act together to buy a ticket, they'd all gone. I got to see him do ten astounding minutes at the end of the Moosehead Awards at the Town Hall, but that left me wanting a hell of a lot more.
Recently I was given the video of Dress to Kill. Recorded in San Francisco in 2000, it's one of the greatest concert films any stand-up has ever made. The promise that I saw all those years ago, the something, has been realised. It's taken a definite shape, a clear form, and now sparkles around the stages of the world in dazzling fashion.
And today is Eddie Izzard's fortieth birthday. So I just wanted to say this: Eddie, if you're out there, thanks for a great night at Raging Bull, all those years ago ...Posted by Sean Hegarty at 08:53 PM in the Reviews category | Comments (0)
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