To get the most out of an Eddie Izzard show, audiences can’t just sit back and let the comedy wash over them. They have to pay close attention to catch his historical references and lightning-fast wordplay. Knowing a little French helps, too.
But even if you don’t comprehend everything he throws out — and granted, a lot of it is pure absurdity — Izzard’s stand-up act is an enlightening, uproarious experience.
After a dramatic entrance set to music, smoke, and flashing lights, Izzard ran onstage at the Citi Wang Theatre Thursday night, his first of three “Force Majeure” shows in Boston, wearing a tuxedo with a red pocket square, nails painted to match. He immediately ditched the bowtie and got down to business: “Let’s start with human sacrifice.”
And he was off and running. Charles I, Genghis Khan, the Battle of Hastings, Martin Luther, and God all made appearances during his two-hour set, as did the Magna Carta (signed in 1215, “just before lunchtime”) and Caesar (“People of Rome, remember me . . . as a salad.”). His intellect crackled as he dashed off twisted bits of world history, complete with people wearing dogs on their heads and chicken military advisers with mechanical legs.
Izzard’s torrent of consciousness can be hard to follow, and sometimes drowned out by laughter, but when it’s pure nonsense it really doesn’t matter. Who killed Caesar? Vesuvius? Tenacious? Erroneous? Hippopotamus? Tenacious — you again?
Izzard, who was born in Yemen and grew up in Northern Ireland and South Wales, is fascinated by language. For his current tour of a staggering 25 countries, he is also delivering his act in French, German, and Spanish — keeping one key unprintable English word for “seasoning.”
It’s hard to imagine he can be as nimble in other languages. He likes to do dialogue between imaginary characters — his go-to guy is “Steve” — jumping back and forth onstage to illustrate both sides of the conversation. And many of his bits have an off-the-cuff flow, including a nonsensical song about a spider losing three legs in a tractor accident, Pontius Pilate flying a bald eagle through a toupee factory, and the “mathematician’s cut” of “Lord of the Rings.”
Izzard is clear about the fact that he’s not a believer, but he loves making fun of religion. And so there was the Buddhist version of the Jimmy Stewart Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life, This Time Around,” and the reprise of his “Star Wars” cafeteria bit in which God visits in scuba gear and fights Darth Vader over a plate of spaghetti carbonara.
And don’t forget Roger, the god of haircuts, and Jeff, the god of sandwiches.
Izzard, who treats his act almost like a one-man show, complete with an intermission and encore, is an accomplished actor, recently filming a movie with Dustin Hoffman and landing a deal with NBC. And like other thespians before him, he has talked of going into politics, starting with a run for mayor of London. If his way with words and ability to spin the facts are any indication, there’s no doubt he could be a very skilled politician indeed.Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.