Haven't done the math on this, but when I saw that Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard and Emo Philips all celebrate Feb. 7 as their birthday -- though not the same year (Rock turns 45, Izzard 48 and Philips 54 today) -- I wondered what day has witnessed the birth of more famously funny people.* You know what, though? Right now I don't feel like doing the math on this. Just wishing these guys a happy birthday will do!
*If you feel like running through the calendar and seeing how many funny comedians were born on each of the 365 1/4 days of the year and getting back to me, that'd be cool, too.
Producers of a Broadway revival of Terrance McNally's "Lips Together, Teeth Apart," announced that Megan Mullally and Patton Oswalt would take the leading roles when the former Off-Broadway hit from 1991 returns to New York City's bigger stages in April 2010. It's set for a limited engagement to run through June.
Oswalt played drama on the big screen this year in Big Fan, but his Broadway debut in the coming year marks yet another stand-up comedian who will learn the lines for the dramatic stage. Is this a new trend or just something we're only now starting to notice? Who's to say? A quick search of my memory and the Internet turns up at least these precedents of going from stand-up to stage:
Mario Cantone has performed in several Broadway productions since 1995. But it seems as though the connection between stand-up and Broadway began heating up in the past six years, when Eddie Izzard received a Tony Award nomination for starring in the 2003 revival of "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg." Since then, musical comedian Stephen Lynch has starred in the stage adaptation of the film, "The Wedding Singer," Bob Saget took a turn as the Man in Chair in 2007's version of "The Drowsy Chaperone," Cedric the Entertainer was part of last year's short-lived revival of "American Buffalo," and of course, the beginning of 2009 saw Will Ferrell romp on Broadway in his one-man show, "You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush." Currently, you can see David Alan Grier in David Mamet's new play, "Race," co-starring with James Spader, Richard Thomas and Kerry Washington.
Who else am I missing from this list? Are comedians finally being taken seriously as stage performers? Discuss.
Jerry Seinfeld famously stopped telling the same jokes he had told for several years, and started from scratch, documenting his efforts in the stand-up documentary, Comedian. Across the pond, meanwhile, Eddie Izzard had a completely different experience, as a TV show accused him in 2000 of fraud for "recycling material" in his stand-up act. Clearly hurt by this, Izzard stopped performing.
When Izzard started up again in 2003, writing material for his "SEXIE" tour, his ex Sarah Townsend began documenting his return, and Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, follows him on that tour and also reflects upon his life story, which is one of relentless determination and believe in his ability to be a comedian and an actor (related: Watch the trailer for Believe here). The "fraud" accusations are something Americans might not comprehend in terms of their stand-up comedians -- there are plenty of acts, from headliners on down, who have been doing the same routines for what seems like forever. And as Izzard points out in his documentary, "It's like going to a rock 'n' roll concert and saying, 'We've heard the Stones. We've heard these f*cking numbers before. You're on Watchdog. For fraud. The Stones. On Watchdog. For fraud. Because we've heard all this stuff before." So now, instead of working in new material and improvising within the previous set, gradually building an entirely new show, Izzard would workshop right from the start.
As for his life story, the amount of footage of Izzard that already exists is staggering. You may have heard he was a street performer at Edinburgh, but when you see the footage of him in the mid-1980s, riding a unicycle while handcuffed, or doing everything he can muster to get the attention of the passersby, or seeing his big break with a bit about wolves in 1991, or the uproar he endured by announcing he was a transvestite in 1993. You see just what a marathon journey Izzard has been on already. Apt, perhaps that he runs a bit in the film, and also just ran 43 marathons in 51 days around the United Kingdom for charity (see: Eddie Iz Running). I asked Izzard last night if he thought about the parallels between his marathon effort and his journey to become a success, and he, with his quick wit, knew that I didn't have "the right analogy" exactly. In running, for instance, the first six miles feel different from the following 20, he told me. I could have asked him more questions, but he's already answered quite a few, and talking more this weekend. Here is footage from his chat session with Kevin Pollak earlier this week (their chat begins about 15 minutes in):
He'll appear tonight on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and also at the 10 p.m. screening tonight in NYC at the City Cinemas East Village. Screenings there continue through Oct. 22. On Saturday afternoon, Izzard will sit down for a chat with Paul Provenza at the Apple Store in Soho. And Sunday night, Izzard has a "secret" stand-up show that's already sold-out in NYC (otherwise I'd give you the details).
Don't worry, though. Izzard is about to embark on a new tour of world domination, which will include a January 2010 date at Madison Square Garden.
Related: His "SEXIE" tour, documented in Believe, culminated in his triumphant return to London and Wembley Arena. Footage from those shows, previously unavailable in North America, will come out Nov. 3 on a separate DVD, Live From Wembley.
Could you believe that Eddie Izzard ran about a gabillion marathons around the U.K.? Well, he did. Now believe this. It's the trailer for Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story. This documentary will be screened Oct. 3, in London, then in cinemas in Los Angeles on Oct. 9, and New York City on Oct. 16. And here's the trailer!
After performing three sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall (that's 18,000 comedy fans), Eddie Izzard had a hotel rooftop party to celebrate with both his U.K. and U.S. representatives Sunday night and into Monday morning (including a birthday cake for his U.K. manager, Chiggy!). Izzard flew back to London afterward for a brief holiday before his Stripped tour resumes July 11 in Seattle and continues through August on the West Coast. Buy tickets here.
Izzard gives an energetic two-hour performance without opener or intermission. He bounces up and down throughout. Is this a holdover from his workshopping, which took place on an actual bouncy floor? No. More likely it's a matter of Izzard's actual stage presence. The backdrop presents a massive cave with sketches in ancient languages and a window with two bars that looks out onto a changing view -- first, blue sky, then a sun rises from left to right, then a giant eyeball, later stars burst from the eye, which changes colors several times, then a moon and stars. Izzard never addresses it or refers to the backdrop in any way. Afterward, he told me that he liked how the set could be interpreted in different ways, referring to it as "a prison of the mind" and wondering who the eyeball belongs to, anyhow? Is it you? Me? God?
Of course, Izzard lets the audience knows how he feels about God, Creationism, and the Bible. Going after Noah and the ark and Moses and the Ten Commandments may feel like easy marks for a comedian, but Izzard saves the former bit with a story about a giant squid providing commentary from the ark's bathroom.
Oh, in case you're wondering, still no dress or heels for Izzard onstage, though he does wear makeup and talk about giving makeup advice, and clowns. He addresses the transvestite issue fairly clearly. And his coat does have tails, so that counts for something. Moving on.
He suggests the first line of the Bible, if God wants us to know what's going on, should really be: "It's round." That line, which returns later in the show, allows Izzard to deftly weave in his jokes about our football and your football. The show continues to trace the Earth's history from 4.5 billion years ago through the dinosaurs to the Stone Age to the new Stone Age, with funny act-outs proving that dinosaurs could never have gone to church and how hunting buffalo must have been much more difficult without hunting tools. Izzard clearly loves gibberish and noises. He puts both to great impact in two major set-pieces that have been mainstays of this routine for the past year -- giraffes trying to warn each other of a tiger attack by coughing, and Romans trying to warn each other of an attack by Hannibal using their tricky sense of Latin tenses. Izzard plays with language, whether it's in these scenes he depicts, the mocking of the Vikings for bringing us words such as "yacht" or the idea of hashashinations. It's all quite silly and playful. Perhaps that's indeed the message.
And you don't see this every day: After a brief encore, Izzard ran up and down the sides of the stage at Radio City Music Hall to thank the audience.
Got the chance Saturday night to catch Eddie Izzard's final workshop performance in New York City before he launches a spring tour, his first in five years. So glad I got to see Izzard again. Thanks, Max!
Izzard emerges without an opener or even an intro. Talk about your cold opens. Then for the following 90 minutes, he manages to be the most in the moment comedian I've seen. Stand-up comedians try to find moments of true spontaneity and magic. These moments seem to find Izzard. Falling dust inspires a riff. Wondering whether there really is a Greek god named Trivia prompts him to take out his iPhone and check...during the show. A word on Wikipedia launches him into a tangent on torches. I wonder if the bounce of the foamy stage (for the theater's main attraction, a martial-arts show called Jump) adds to his ease in bouncing from one topic to the next.
The structure or theme of Izzard's set runs through world history with a focus on language, religion and worshipping false gods. It's worldview made funnier by talking giraffes and a look back at Latin.
Izzard even managed to joke at one point that he'd work on one bit tomorrow, "when I'm not gigging." In fact, at the after-afterparty, Izzard was talking out one of his lines. Is there a funnier animal than a squid, perhaps? Look forward to seeing Izzard at a theater near you this spring and summer. Tickets go on sale March 16: Buy tickets here!
Just found out Eddie Izzard is back in New York City, doing stand-up tonight through March 8, with 10:30 p.m. performances at the Union Square Theatre. Still time to see him tonight if you don't mind fighting the weather. Buy tickets here!
The last time many American audiences saw Eddie Izzard perform stand-up, he was wearing a dress and makeup. Ah, the life of a cross-dressing straight transvestite. Or is that redundant? Well, at least we know it's not drag, as Izzard explained to reporters before his sold-out performance Saturday night at Caesars Palace for The Comedy Festival. Drag, he said, is the province of gay men. "I'm expressing a feminine side of myself. I'm wearing a dress," Izzard said. "I'm trying to sell straight transvestism to an American audience -- that's strange." For him or for them? "I could wear an elephant suit -- it doesn't matter."
Tis true: No matter. Izzard kept on his jacket, facial hair and jeans for this performance, which got huge roars of approval even befrore the show itself, as Izzard took over the pre-show announcement and riffed about each and every element of it.
He told me beforehand that as he's worked out this hour of material in Los Angeles, he hasn't noticed audiences treating him any differently since his wicked performances on FX's The Riches. "But maybe some people have come up to me and said, 'Oh, I love you on The Riches and I heard you do stand-up.'"
Izzard opened his set by riffing some more -- as is his wont, don't you know that he loves flying by the seat of his pants or dress -- starting with our football versus his, which actually fits the name of foot and ball. "That's the clue of it," he said. In the U.S., "it's throw ball, catch ball, hit man! Throw ball, catch ball stop."
He told the wildly appreciative Las Vegas audience that he doesn't gamble, "but I do go home with a house." After some more specialized local jokes, a bit about how we don't go to the library any more ("Wikipedia is written by three guys in a toilet"), and a few words about how no one reads the license agreement for iTunes when they update their software, he announced the theme of his set would be...nothing short of the history of world civilization! Monsters, the Ice Age, and the Egyptians and already he was off and running past Stonehenge ("Once a year the Sun goes through this hole and this hole, it all lines up") toward hunting and gathering and his first major act-out, an elongated charades-like bit about one giraffe trying to tell another that he's seen a tiger. He didn't stretch his neck to the rafters, but the audience howled all the same. Then he was off and running again, with only a mild comedic hiccup when he stopped to cover the well-trodden stand-up ground of Noah and the Ark (not that that mattered to his fans), and then he sprinted forward to the story of the battle of the 300 Spartans. This fed into another act-out spoofing the intracacies of Latin that echoed his giraffe bit in terms of structure and silliness.
About 40 minutes in, he got heckled by fans asking about his wardrobe. "I am a transvestite," Izzard barked back. "I don't have to prove it to you...I'm not the Human Torch. You can't go up to him and say, 'Do the flame thing!'"
Izzard resumed his world history overview with Darwin and evolution and intelligent design, illustrating his disdain for the latter by describing the elaborate process of the birds and the bees -- which also served as his segue into a bulk of material about animals, from bees and bears to spiders and flies, with a final act-out of a fly stuck in a household window, dying and going to fly heaven.
"I always like to end on a thing where people go, 'What?!'" Izzard said.
And like that, he ended. Not quite, though, because the audience demanded an encore, and he complied with a few words on the ongoing Writers Guild strike -- Izzard said studios somehow believe if they keep all the money, they'll get to go to heaven -- before taking on his own activist bent against fox hunting, since English protestors are marching for the right to fox hunt. Izzard mercilessly mocked this traditional English "sport" until you realized just how silly it was, and threw in a callback to flies.
Eddie Izzard seems to defy logic. Many great stand-ups create the illusion that they're improvising live onstage, but Izzard really does allow himself to start and stop his planned routine for diversions into anything that comes into his mind, no matter how silly or surreal the idea. No wonder that before the show, he confessed once again his love for Monty Python. Izzard also embraces that notion of "and now for something completely different." As he said earlier that evening, "Python are my gods. I asked if I could be their bastard child and they told me to f--k off!"
But I bet they said it lovingly.