Performance review: Eddie Izzard at the Hollywood Bowl
On Wednesday night British performer Eddie Izzard became not only the first solo comedy act to appear at the Hollywood Bowl, but he also raised the performance bar all the way to where the Bowl ends and the night sky begins.
“Maybe I should do the gig here,” he mused as, moments after coming on stage for “Eddie Izzard: Stripped to the Bowl,” he edged along the narrow wall separating the Pool Circle from the rest of the box seats. “Or maybe,” he said, lifting his eyes to the cheering crowd of more than 12,000 that rose before him, “I should do it in the back.”
And then he was off, clambering over those right in front of him before jogging 115 feet from the stage to the promenade and then up the 168 steps that zigzag their way to the back row. Unlike previous tours, in which Izzard, who is a transvestite, took the stage in semi-drag, “Stripped” refers in part to his decision to go “bloke,” with jeans, a tuxedo jacket and, most important, men’s shoes.
As security bolted to keep up with him and the crowd cheered its approval, Izzard made impressive time — less than five minutes to make it to the top. “I don’t know if everyone can hear me,” he said into the microphone, “but this looks amazing.
“And,” he added, “this was not necessarily a good idea. I’m coming back down.”
Back onstage, he seemed only slightly winded — he has of late become a marathon runner — though he dramatically fell to his knees. “If you’re thinking of playing the Hollywood Bowl, don’t do what I just did,” he said. “That was my 50th birthday present to myself.
“As a street performer I learned that if you say something to the audience, you have to do it,” he added before suggesting to those in box seats that they use their time at intermission to jog up and take in the full open-sky glory of the Bowl.
It was a fine and physical endorsement of the Bowl, which Izzard, fresh off performances in Paris which he did tout en francaise, admitted was not as sexy a name as it might be “although you did tack Hollywood on which helps” but still hallowed ground. “Monty Python played here, and the Beatles.”
None of them ran the steps, of course, and certainly none began their sets by announcing, as Izzard did, that there is no God. The “Stripped” tour, which opened three years ago in London and made a stop at L.A.’s Nokia Theatre last January as “Stripped Too,” is quintessentially Izzard, a manic, psychedelic trip through pop culture and the annals of history, making random stops at Wikipedia, iTunes (“Who here has ever read the terms and conditions?”) the dinosaur age, the Stone Age, Shirley Temple, the Battle of Hastings, Nuremberg, the Romans, the Greeks and assassins on hashish.
But the show’s leitmotif is the absence of God, with frequent references to his Parisian tour and more than a few digs at Sarah Palin — “America, be very, very afraid.” Although, he concedes, God could be there, he probably isn’t, might be, definitely isn’t. Contradiction and outrageous contrast are what Izzard does best — in “Dressed to Kill,” the tour that launched him to stardom in the U.S., he introduced the term “action transvestite” to the lexicon. With “Stripped,” it’s “spiritual atheist.”
The Izzardian essentials, however, remain the same, the impressive tool belt of a former street performer which made him a perfect first solo act for the Bowl — Izzard may be one man, but he is many, many characters.
A gifted mime with the best sound effects in the business — a hilarious set exploring the many limitations of the dinosaurs included his interpretation of dinosaur poetry and dinosaur “administration” — Izzard, as action transvestite or bloke, remains a child at heart. Running and bouncing around, making fabulous noises (the recurring jazz chicken was particularly effective) and scribbling mental notes to himself on his hand, Izzard is, above all, a joyful performer, his comedy a boyish exploration of all the “how comes,” “what ifs” “why nots” and “but that doesn’t make any senses” that can drive a parent crazy on a hot summer day. If there is a God, how come he didn’t flick Hitler’s head off? If the world was assembled by intelligent design why did the dinosaurs never evolve? Who thought of naming a problem with understanding words “dyslexia? What if those iTunes terms and conditions include “we will cut off your buttocks and sell them to the Chinese"?
Embodying myriad human characters and animals as diverse as a speechless giraffe, a journaling giant squid and a squirrel that survived Noah’s ark (“it was a nightmare, man, like ‘Ghost Ship,’ without the gold”), Izzard had no problem filling the Bowl, with his sly wisdom and, more important, cascades of laughter. Though his timing flagged a bit after the intermission, he quickly found his footing and finished to roaring crowds. After one brief encore, he slipped quietly backstage without taking a victory lap. But then again, he didn’t need to.
Photos: Eddie Izzard at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times