Sketchfest Review: Eddie Izzard: In Conversation with Greg Proops at the Palace Of Fine Arts, 1/25/2012

by Jonathan Pirro on January 31, 2012

We’ve all had that experience of longing to see our favorite superstars in an up-close-and-personal format, possibly away from the bombast and glamour that comes with huge live shows or blockbuster movie performances. The real question, however, is whether we really ARE prepared to approach them in such an intimate setting, especially where most of the gusto and persona is shelved, or at least tuned downward, to reveal the human being that exists behind the fame and glory. We might find ourselves rather disarmed, or hopefully plenty intrigued, when our heros — be they musical, comedic, or of the silver screen — come and tell the tales of times less fortunate, the struggles they experienced, or their hopes and dreams that may be in an entirely unexpected avenue.

Also, when you’re Eddie Izzard, and you show up to San Francisco NOT in full transvestite regalia, you’ll probably throw some people off — but the crowd at this sold-out show at the Palace Of Fine Arts seemed to love every minute of this special opportunity to see the Yemen-born, English-raised, world-celebrated comedian in some of his most personal and self-expressive moments.

With a recently-released documentary about his life, Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, and a few years of great cinematic appearances under his belt, it was fitting to start off Eddie’s tribute with a short reel of classic moments, which included his magnificent standup performances and several clips from films. When Eddie appeared onstage a few minutes later, accompanied by Arizonan comic host Greg Proops, his first comment was on one of those movie scenes — a dialogue between himself, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Twelve — and how fascinated he was by the fact that the script was immensely long for such a small scene with a minuscule amount of dialogue. Proops segued Eddie back towards the start of his story, of his time spent doing street performances and “imposing scenarios”, and the comic took the reigns strongly as he described the journey he had taken — moving from comedic scenes outdoors and in crowds to his own solo standup, and progressing through the London club scene, before his explosion into stardom in the late 1990s, and the first major revision of his act, in the form of spending time and money constructing sets and costumes, in order to really bring a “show” to his audiences.

Those who know of Eddie’s standup, which is both wildly observant and also hilariously tangential, would most likely be puzzled to see such a confident and bombastic performer drifting into gentle nostalgia and gleeful reminiscing. However, if any of the crowd was bothered by it, it never showed; Eddie could effortlessly hurtle around from a serious and dark moment in his early struggles into a jocular moment of self-deprecation, and would have the humor and whimsy of his well-known persona to back up any of his stranger tangents. A fly buzzing through the auditorium caught their eye and became the subject of a debate about free tickets for the show; an audience member shouting out about having seen some obscure piece of Eddie’s work shifted the conversation to point out the comic’s well-known style of muttering, mumbling passages. Even host Greg Proops, while normally rather quiet and solely diving in at key moments of inquiry, became an unsuspecting target for Eddie’s moments of sudden realization, and was hilariously lambasted for tripping over several perfectly normal, but apparently slightly tongue-twisting, misused English words and phrases.

One of the key subjects of the evening, which seemed to run through the entire conversation, was Eddie’s exploration of the world and its languages. Being a fascinated lover of words, pronunciations, and vocabulary in general, Eddie has taken a few of his shows and translated them into French, which was highly popular in the French comedy circuit that, according to his findings, boasts some 500-800 different clubs. The next languages on his list, due partially to their native countries, are German and Russian, and he mentioned making a possible stop in Katmandu in 2013 as part of a world tour of comedy. Language learning, apart from comedy, seemed to be one of Eddie’s greatest sources of joy, and as it is often mentioned in his standup acts, it was exciting to learn that his side-splitting diatribes about languages and their associated cultures was more than a very detailed sketch that he had prepared — he is a passionate linguaphile in the purest sense of the word.

Perhaps most exciting for the audience at this intimate gathering — apart from Eddie’s detailed account of his exciting new role as Long John Silver, or the few moments where he jumped into actual skits from his comedy shows — was the Q&A session presented at the end of the show. Two lines formed at either side of the crowd, allowing any who came up to the microphones their chance to ask Eddie whatever burning or intriguing questions they had for him. Eddie responded warmly, fully, and excitedly to all of his inquiries, and the fans were ecstatic about his reactions. He answered questions about working on his TV series The Riches, beginning his training and regular practice of marathon running, trying out English comedy in even more countries than even he though possible, lamenting the absence of comedic panel shows on American television, and speaking in detail about comedic styles that he enjoyed, tired of, and encouraged. It seemed that he was more than happy to take any and all attempts at conversation, as evidenced by his last inquirer, who conversed with him at length about Russia and the long-standing comics who perform there.

While the setting and content of tonight’s tribute might not have pleased some casual fans, who longed for a flamboyantly-dressed Englishman prancing from side to side of the stage and wondered why he was absent of makeup — even sporting facial hair — the assembled crowd seemed to be incredibly happy for a deeper and more intimate look at the world of Eddie Izzard, and the chance to share a casual and friendly evening with him. Having guessed that a good deal of persona and panache goes into Eddie’s standup, I was extremely excited to get a deeper look at the mind of this whimsical comedian, and was surprised but happy with what I discovered. The very humanized and soft-spoken Eddie Izzard is not something we’re often able to witness — especially in San Francisco, the city famous for his Emmy-winning breakout performance, the cult favorite Dressed To Kill — and was definitely a glowing gem in the treasure chest of Sketchfest shows this year.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joanne Owens February 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm

It’s *Dress To Kill* for goodness sake! I was there & you’re review was mostly spot on but your improv of fill-in text was not.

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