Something brilliant is happening in Pigalle. Or rather, someone. When I was a student back in the 90s, I remember seeing Eddie Izzard’s face on the cover of a Paris events magazine promoting a show in French. I didn’t know who this British stand-up comedian was back then, but I would soon discover (from an Englishman, of course) that there’s more to the British comedy scene than Monty Python. There are also blokes in frocks.
I watched “Dressed to Kill”, Eddie Izzard’s 1999 HBO special, over and over until, like “The Holy Grail” I could recite any line on cue. I’m pretty sure my last relationship only lasted as long as it did because he could recite them back. Needless to say, I’m a fan.
Today Eddie Izzard is one of the most famous comedians in the English-speaking world, able to fill huge concert halls in the UK and US. If being funny isn’t enough, in 2009 he also ran 43 marathons in 51 days to raise money for charity (he never ran even one before that). I wish I was the brilliant genius behind the anonymous Legoland animations of Izzard’s sketches that are getting zillions of YouTube views (if “The Deathstar Canteen” doesn’t make you laugh, you can just move along now, nothing to see here). So 15 years after I first heard about (then ignored) Izzard’s Paris show, he’s back and en français at the Theater de Dix Heures at Pigalle, right across from the Sexodrome.
It’s a tiny venue, only seven seats deep and about forty seats wide, so everyone in the room is close enough to see that Eddie Izzard is not actually wearing that much make-up, but despite the name of the show, “Stripped”, he is indeed wearing clothes. Just not women’s clothes (I suppose for a guy used to standing out, cross-dressing in Pigalle wouldn’t get nearly as much attention as a handsome British male walking down the street). In this setting, the theme “Stripped” seems to refer more to the fact that it’s just Eddie on stage and his audience. No music, no big screens, no fancy costumes, no blinding lights, no flowers nor encores.
So the real question on everyone’s mind: is he funny in French? He often uses French in his sketches, but can he keep it up for a whole hour? As an expat, I can tell you that one of the most joyous moments of living abroad in when you finally figure out how to be funny in another language. Ce n’est pas évident.
Izzard manages to pull it off for three reasons. First, he’s actually quite fluent in French. I was quite impressed how he managed the plus-que-parfait and imparfait when telling the story of how the Stone Age was born. Second, his material is general enough to translate well. After all, who on Earth hasn’t demanded that God show himself – maintenant! – if he really exists? Third, even when he screws up he works it into the act with a bit of “audience participation” to help him figure out when to use une or un. In the end, my only complaint is that the show was so short, and because there’s another act on right afterwards, no encore. Guess I’ll just have to go see another show! Even if your French sucks, dive into Eddie’s world and listen closely for the bigger message, well-disguised in his defiant and irreverent view of the world we live in.