In my opinion Eddie Izzard is the best comedian currently alive and working. The fact that he's British and of my own generation probably just swings it for him against George Carlin... in the being alive and working stakes.|
I saw him alive-and-working for the first time at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1987, and I couldn't remember laughing so hard at a live performance before... partly due to the fact that at that stage, I hadn't seen many. But such was the impact of that performance is that it has stayed with me, and when I watch him now that fond memory is never far away.
So why is Eddie so good? Well, what makes him stand out for me is the breadth and intelligence of his material - History, Geography, Psychology, Philosophy, Technology, Sexuality, Religion, Language. The content of his work on stage sounds like options in higher education.
And in addition to his intelligence, Eddie demonstrates the other major skill of great comedians... playfulness. And this combination of intelligence and playfulness is probably the key to his brilliance, the ability to discuss important issues with such imagination and fun.
The most recent time I saw him live was at the NIA in Birmingham in December 2003 during the SEXIE tour. The unfortunate aspect of his increasing popularity is that this is the size of venue that he needs to play in a place like Birmingham. It was like watching a comedian performing in the penalty area when you're sitting in the directors box.
You need to be closer to a comedian than that. And if you watch him on the big screen above the stage, that's hardly the live comedy experience for me. You might as well be at home watching the show on DVD. Which I'd already done by the way. Before this tour had hardly started the UK dates, the DVD of the show was available.
All of Eddie's concert DVDs and videos are worth watching - and if you want to learn about good stand-up technique you should watch them over and over and over again. My personal favourite is "Dressed To Kill" from 1998. I'm not saying that he has peaked as a comedian in that performance, only that in my opinion he hasn't done anything better since.
The DVDs of all his tour videos are becoming available, even his back catalogue. These are worth getting to replace your video versions, as provided as an extra is Eddie's commentary on that performance. As a comedian myself who respects his work so highly, it is a real treat to hear him talk about his technique, material, and thoughts about being a professional comedian.
By the way, I do think with Eddie it is important to WATCH him. An audio-only recording loses more than it does with other comedians, an indication of what a wonderful visual comedian he is. He dramatises his material brilliantly, populating the stage with clearly defined characters and using very inventive mimes.
To show some video clips from his shows, use the link below. BUT... Eddie is NOT a comedian to be accessed via a clip. It won't do much for you. I think you need a whole performance, which demonstrates how much the success of his work on stage is based on the development of themes and connections, rather than a series of stand-alone jokes or comedy moments.
Regarding Eddie's movie acting... Hmmmmmm.... I must admit I haven't seen much of it, but that's probably enough. Maybe the size of the parts that he plays says a little about what the industry thinks of his acting. I did watch him in a Channel 4 drama serial, and he was good, but that part could have been done by somebody else just as well.
Now... stage acting is another matter. He recently played the lead in "A Day in the Life of Joe Egg", and I didn't see that but he won awards for it, and I'm sure he was excellent. Another stage performance of his that I regret missing is his portrayal of Lenny Bruce. I think with Eddie it has to be a live performance. If he wants to act, a leading role in a stage play is what he should be doing...
...but if he want to stick to just being the best stand-up comedian around, that would be fine by me.
Cake or Death Website
Izzard Lounge Website
Eddie Izzard Fan Website
Tsunami Benefit show clip
US TV show clip