Over the past decade, the comedian Eddie Izzard has undertaken daring (if foolhardy-sounding) feats of athletic endurance, first running 43 marathons in 51 days, and then topping that with 27 marathons in 27 days.
But he has kept churning out the gags – or rather his ineffable brand of surrealistic blather, which has made him an internationally revered star since his early-Nineties breakthrough.
With the launch of his latest live comedy show, though, he appears to be signalling either the end of the road or a significant detour. He’s poised to run for parliament, he tells his first night audience in Bexhill, the South Coast town where he grew up. The details are yet to be announced, though given that he has praised Corbyn and temporarily served on the Labour Party’s NEC, his political affiliation seems clear. He’s surely doing a Glenda Jackson.
“I don’t know what I can do, but I can do more than nothing,” drawls this impish figure of butch femininity, who clatters about the stage in a glamorous array of black leather jacket, tartan skirt and stiletto-boots, earrings glinting in the spotlight (“The boobs are from Ikea”). He was an early fearless, gender-fluid figurehead but he summarises the challenge ahead in stark, binary terms. “I think this century is our last century on Earth, so enjoy it…”
True to drolly self-contradictory form, he counters that negative with a positive – a push-back he exhorts us all to attempt – proffering also the vision of a “fair world – that’s the future worth fighting for. Choose your sides, it’s going to come to that.”
He gets a supportive round of applause, although – noticing how quiet the auditorium goes when he briefly bashes Trump, Farage et al, describing them, and the vote for Brexit (“Brex-hate”), as a return to the nefarious politics of the Thirties – the endorsement of his views hardly sounds ringing. Apart from the fact that he’s the least sound-bitey person in public life, he would be giving up the fool’s prerogative to speak to truth to power by joining the political class. If this is to be a swansong show (for the foreseeable future), the pity of it is that elsewhere it’s so good, it reminds you why Izzard, 57, is held in such warm affection.
Once hailed by John Cleese as “the lost Python”, Izzard delivers a wonder-drug in the form of a characteristically hallucinogenic odyssey to fathom life, the universe and everything – literally: the evening culminates in his own untutored explanation as to how everything in existence is connected. By this stage, you’re so light-headed (light-Edded?) it sounds plausible.
Highlights include riffs that may well stand comparison with past classic digressions of his such as the “Death Star canteen” and “jazz chicken”: openly sceptical about the existence of God, Izzard gently tears into religion by imagining what a pre-hunting prayer by an ambush of tigers might sound like; it’s inspired in the way a five-year-old’s capering conjecture might be, and somehow sounds unforced.
While airly roving vast subjects, he alights on myriad oddities and curiosities: how vaping would ruin film noir, the irritation felt by the butterfly commanded to help Gandalf while he’s imprisoned in Saruman’s tower; the fate of William the Conqueror, whose corpse exploded during the funeral. All of this is attended by his familiar ballet of mime and dainty steps, as if he were duelling with himself.
The usual accompaniment of ums and ahs notwithstanding, Izzard can be pin-sharp, immortalising jellyfish as “the Nazis of the sea world. They have no moral compass; they have no geographical compass.” The show is incredibly disparate yet feels like a coherent world-view and at its best – political point-scoring aside – affirms a master comedian at the height of his powers. Please don’t give up the day-job, Mr Izzard, your country needs you.