Most of the time I’m behind on things, but once in a while I hear about something before it gets big. And that’s what happened when a friend introduced me to a brilliant young comedian named Eddie Izzard, whose birthday is today. Several years later I’d see him live at the Ryman Auditorium, which was interesting given that it’s a former church. And maybe he realized that because he seemed to want to challenge the audience, to make us angry by provoking us on the topic of religion. Izzard’s clearly a guy who loves a challenge–in 2009 he ran 43 marathons in 51 days. In his book Dress To Kill, a loose autobiography, he says, “I like things that work, even in difficult circumstances. I like doing gigs even when I’m fucking dying.” Although interestingly he dropped out of the military because he was passed over for promotions. He felt the system was arbitrary and lost interest. The world of comedy–and entertainment–is better for it.
What was strange about seeing him live, though, is that he couldn’t seem to get the pushback from the audience he wanted, and that’s not surprising. He was facing people with t-shirts that read “Cake or death?” and all he had to do was a few lines in a James Mason voice to elicit cheers. In the taped performance of his Dress To Kill show you can tell he loves it when a heckler yells, “Move on!” And if you listen to some of his earlier shows–even Glorious, which is his best performance so far–it takes him a bit to warm up the audience. In the show at the Ryman he got a standing ovation as soon as he came out and couldn’t have gotten heckled if he’d begged for it.
So, yeah. Here’s to many more challenges to come. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite Izzard bit, but here’s a great one. If you’re unfamiliar with his work be sure to turn up your speakers really loud and gather your children or co-workers around.*