There are two performers I can think of with the force of personality and skill to hold the attentions of thousands of people over the span of an evening, all by themselves. One is Keith Jarrett, and the other is Eddie Izzard. Both create and sustain a dazzling pace of invention, and when it works, as it did with Jarrett's most recent solo Chicago concert and Izzard's Saturday night performance at the Chicago Theatre, you leave in a state of dazed amazement. (And if you weren't there on Saturday, omg you don't even know.)
Put this first: By the time Izzard had gotten 45 minutes into this two-hour show, titled Stripped, I was hoarse from laughing. He goes back to basics and the comedic standbys that stood him so well in his earlier shows Glorious and Dress to Kill, and finds new jokes to mine from Noah and the Flood, jam, and giraffes. And, of course, this being 2008 and creationism and atheism and religion being such perennial hot topics, evolution and intelligent design become props. ("I have only two criteria for intelligent design to be valid," he said Saturday. "That it display intelligence and design.")
Along the way, he also had to comment on the difficulty of learning Latin ("those noun forms...masculine, feminine, neuter...bisexual, transgender...slightly camp?"), why Xerxes in 300 was a fool for having two leopards on a leash ("If they're constantly trying to go that way for food, and they don't get it, they come after you"), Wikipedia ("Some of this stuff is wrong"), giraffes hiding from a tiger that found its way to Africa ("Your iPhone GPS is for shit"), Americans' infatuation with attractive members of the royal family ("'Oh Diana Diana Diana!' You'd better hope Prince William never comes over here"), the Stone Age ("cutting edge at one point"), dinosaurs singing hymns (they were created by God), the digestion of cows, the function of the human appendix ("I'm for grass! That's asparagus, gigantic grass, really! Put it in here!"), why it was better to be a hunter than a gatherer ("How many berries have you picked? Seven"), the fashion habits of hunters ("always going hunting in their underpants. They looked fantastic"), and PCs versus Macs ("I think you start the PC with a handcrank. You put on a 78 and Caruso starts singing"), and a brilliant set-piece in which Izzard explains using no less than FIVE languages (English, Spanish, Latin, German, and French), that Hannibal is coming over the Alps on elephants. ("Um, monsterium über den Alps.").
The Stone Age bit led into a rumination on the relative ease of living at that time. You could not be late, since there was no traffic. ("I slipped on some grass.") Later on, everyone had to notice that "Steve" had better tools, and everyone needed to get with the program or risk being left behind.
Soooooooooooooo, yeah, it was a many-spendor'd thing. And while he impersonated God as in earlier shows, God did not speak in the voice of James Mason (which you can hear here). But God does come in for some criticism, largely for spending much of the Earth's existence tapping buttons and saying, deadpan, "Volcano. Volcano. Giant dragonfly. Volcano. Meteorite." Jesus then says, "You can push other buttons, Dad." And then we get Charles Darwin, who, as Izzard says, "wrote that book we all know, Monkey, Monkey, Monkey, Monkey, Monkey, You." Monkeys were outraged, we're told. Charlton Heston was sentenced to two movies. There's also a huge problem with the Ten Commandments, Izzard maintains, since you really only need the Golden Rule, and all the others follow. ("Do you want to be killed? 'No.'") Except for coveting your neighbor's ox, which makes no sense at all, since it negates the entire capitalist system if desire is removed from the equation and people are barred from wishing to augment their holdings. (Somehow, this is funny.)
Eddie drops the transvestite outfits for this show and tour, too, as has been widely discussed. He opts for a super stylish look of jeans and tails over a t-shirt, though, a look that has yet to be successfully pulled off by anyone other than Izzard. There's also a goatee in the place where several layers of makeup would normally be.
There were a pile of jokes about Noah and the Ark and shipbuilding and boat-building and the difficulties of getting two of each kind of animal onto such a boat ("Mr. Giant Squid is looking for Mrs. Giant Squid, since he ran out of towels"). The tigers keep eating the other animals as soon as they board, and so forth.
This all withers on the screen, I know, I know, and goes over with real comedy only when accompanied by Eddie's miming of the animal action, and sound effects. A hunter clocking a bison ("or is it a buffalo?") in the head with a stone gets a mighty wallop, much louder than the mere punches the hunter had been landing, and a pre-lingual man tries to explain religion through a series of grunts and hand gestures (like stroking a big beard), and the hunter then ends up skinning the bison while it's still alive. ("I was only stunned.")
Despite this withering, we can thank YouTube, and the scores of Eddie fans who ignored the No Videotaping policy and taped away to their hearts content. You can see their riches (rim-shot) here, and while the sound quality is for crap, it gives you the slightest sense of what it was like to be there, watching, in Boston.
Where would he be without anthropomorphism? What would happen if he couldn't imagine, then impersonate, what a dinosaur would look and sound like going into church? Then rising to sing "All Things Bright and Beautiful" in a voice as sweet as a choirboy's? It doesn't scream "comedic gold," but it had 3,600 people screaming that night, and maybe that's good enough. No, it surpassed good enough. It was sublime.
(There was also a Q&A after the Saturday show in an alley, apparently, and I must not have enough Izzard points racked up to know about it, to my shame, but there is video from it, with surprisingly good sound. "You try to go through your entire brain.")