Dallas — Eddie Izzard was in “boy mode” Tuesday night at the Majestic Theatre, a vision of sartorial splendor in dark silk suit with a red pocket slash, buffed shoes, and diamond ear studs, with subdued nail polish and just a touch of eye makeup. Far from his Dress to Kill persona, the first of his three Dallas shows this week brought to the fore the erudite Izzard, who speaks French and German and seemingly has the whole of European history memorized. What other comedian uses a 17th century English monarch for a punchline? The Force Majeure tour continues through Thursday night at the Majestic.
The first half of the show found Izzard in his element of deep historical nerdity. (So nerdy that he ran a history contest in each U.S. town he played, in a perverse effort to make Americans care about history.) He balanced history’s great drama of humanity with trademark Izzard absurdism. Izzard ranted about Charles I of England whose belief in the divine right of kings attempted to ditch the esteemed Magna Carta. Then he imagined “Charlie One” starting the long-hair craze of the 1600s by wearing a dead poodle on his head and all the dog bashing that went on as people imitated the king.
To complete the arc, Izzard noted the similarities between the religiosity and disdain for democracy of Charles I with the Republican extremists of today: “Yes, America, you can go backward, and the Tea Party is taking you there.” He then punctured our visions of European superiority by noting the continued fervor of ultra conservative Front national in France and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid.
That in a nutshell is classic Izzard: history, politics, excruciating awareness and unencumbered silliness. He hints at a run for political office in his future. Please do! The very funny brainiac would be a blast in debates. But don’t get him started on Margaret Thatcher. He bites.
Experiencing Izzard in action is like watching television with a remote control gone berserk. He’s not a comedian who presents polished set. Instead for two hours you watch Izzard rummage through his mental vaults in a rambling, stream-of-consciousness, free-associating delivery. Material is often presented as character enactments and pantomime. While the embodied physicality is vigorous—under that suit, he is one buff specimen—the mumbled dialogue that accompanies it can get tedious. For a two-hour show, half of it was padding.
Yet out of that channel-changing spontaneity came moments of brilliance. Every 10 minutes or so, wicked comedic points yanked the laughs right out. So fun to watch him discover on stage that a lilting, musical Welsh accent when speeded up becomes an Indian one, and making a mental note out loud to save that for his next Mumbai show.
But an extended bit on God brought the audience back to life. Why, he asked, would a God put people on Earth and then ask for them to be killed, yet how insecure must a divine being be to require worship? Why demand virgins for human sacrifice, when a “f**k a friend” campaign could easily deplete the supply of victims? Ultimately, he said, “I am a person of faith. I believe in humans.” Little wonder that the man won an Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism presented at Harvard University.
The show wasn’t all world affairs. Izzard looped through his fascination with Buddhism and the concept of ego, his standing as an “action transvestite” who exists at the intersection of Maybelline and TV westerns, the weirdness of musicals, and how the only thing the Olympic sport of dressage would be good for is backing a horse into a closet. Threading it all was a delightful fascination with chicken voices.
Many years ago, when Izzard first sought to play Dallas, the small performance hall manager was not encouraging. Izzard forged ahead and the show filled rapidly. Now he sells out three shows in a 2,000-seat hall. While transvestitism made his U.S. name in the late ‘90s, with a little help from pal Robin Williams, Izzard’s moving into a new phase, marked by his deepening skills as an actor. In addition to film roles, he fronted the series The Riches and playing Dr. Hatteras in the United States of Tara, and aced roles in theater, including on Broadway as Jack Lawson in David Mamet's play Race.
But this giant Peter Pan of a comic will forever be silly to the core. “It’s always ‘Release the Kraken’ but it’s never ‘Retrieve the Kraken,’ so it’s still out there.” We’ll be watching.