Surreal comedy is the world of Eddie Izzard, which is good because have you ever lived in such a pneumatically strange time?
Izzard was performing in Toronto last weekend at the Mirvish CAA Theater on Yonge and Bloor Streets, a small theater near a soon-to-be demolished strip club and the city’s saddest storefront, a dusty stall polyester at Nordstrom Rack, because if there’s one thing you need in a wet dome from a heat wave, it’s the statement sofa-tick overlay.
Yonge and Bloor are so ugly now that they’re practically Soviet. After a wet subway ride, each stop shrouded in unmasked hostility and distant cries, you need a good Izzarding.
And a handsome Izzard was obtained, this bright lipstick-like creature like a flashy bird from Attenborough in a dark storage tank. Izzard toured Toronto and did two shows – a morning performance of Dickens and a 1988-2018 ReMix night, a hike through his comedic history – to benefit Inspired, an educational charity for indigenous youth.
Izzard has been my hero since his 1996 show “Dressed to Kill”, which I watched 84, no, 142 times. Its comedy is terribly clever, like a kite detached from its string, an ever-changing monologue of conscience – accompanied by mime – that makes no sense while being perfectly logical.
In his autobiography, “Believe Me”, he describes his style as a “verbal sculpture”, which is part of the oral tradition of storytelling. And those stories so special that he tells, wandering in the tall grass and across the lake and around again.
If only, he said, there was another way for police to shoot protesters, using transients rather than bullets. Imagine a street filled with demonstrators suddenly consumed by the idea that they have left the stove on. Or hunt butterflies en masse. Or forget why they were there in the first place.
The rioters stopped dead and looked askance, which is precisely what Izzard does on stage. People treat the world as if it is prepackaged in cans; Izzard always looks like he’s been struck by a new thought.
Izzard, British by birth but internationalist at heart, is best known for being “an executive transvestite”, as he announces grandiose on stage.
Years ago, I hung a portrait of Izzard on my home office wall with his best jokes – about Hitler, the bees, the pears – along with inexplicable slogans and the executive joke. When I moved, I destroyed it rather than given it away, lest it be shocking.
It’s debatable now. Eddie, beautiful in both sexes, is now officially gendered, male on some days and female on others, and asks us all to calm down on a relative non-issue.
“We need to relax on this,” he said recently and he’s right. “With some people [it’s a] full transition and that’s it, but with me I’m somewhere on the spectrum. I’m a fluid genre, so I’m absolving everyone at the moment. Whoever uses it, it’s cool. Everyone relaxes.
(Perfectly chilled, I’ll use “her” for the second half.) She defends JK Rowling, who is wonderfully feminist of her, acknowledging the violence women have suffered at the hands of men. “I don’t think JK Rowling is transphobic,” she said. “I think we need to look at the things she wrote about in his blog. Women have lived through such hell throughout history.
Her mother, Dorothy Ella, died when Izzard was 6, a heartbreak from which she never recovered. “Trying to bring my mom back,” she says, “is the basis of everything I do and everything I’ve ever done.”
Izzard’s career and hard-earned success were self-generated, like an electric brain-fueled gang coming up with jokes about surprising things like the Romans (“Well, we’re the Romans!”), The Letter from Paul to the Corinthians (“Dear Corinthians. Never bag your grandmother. Love, Paul (Saint. BA Hons). Dear Paul. F – k off.”) the British Empire (“Did you even a flag? Well, then. “), shoplifting makeup like a child and hiding it in the woods for the squirrels to find.
“Real life is actually a lot of boring stuff with occasional spikes in interest,” she wrote. Izzard is not a spike, he is a flamethrower sending some pretty nonsense about life right now on this particular blue marble. I can’t get enough of her.