Last night I went to see Eddie Izzard at Le Palace in Avignon. He is performing there for five days (July 13-17th) as apart of the local festival, and I was lucky – and also mad – enough to convince some of my loved ones to drive there and watch the show. It was an unmissable chance to see him extremely close in a tiny venue. Now a Hollywood film and TV star (Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen, Valkyrie, United States of Tara, The Riches to name a few), an English speaking comedic icon, an inspiring runner and an activist, this courageous man has decided to re-work his Stripped show for French audiences, so it is all in the language of Balzac.
He performs in a a small room that barely fits over 100 people, and with Madonna’s Hung Up, Eddie makes his appearance on stage. I am sitting on the first row, and as he is barely a couple of metres away I spot his beautifully manicured nails, in deep shiny burgundy red, very much the shade of a good Merlot, with his ring finger dressed with the Union Jack colours.
Does the show work in French? Speaking with fellow Eddie Izzard fans just before the show, discussing wether his gags could actually be translated, we all admired his determination, but wondered what the final product would be like. And it really isn’t a disappointment, more accurately, it’s quite a brilliant performance.
The best gags from Stripped work perfectly in French, mainly because Eddie’s humour is very visual, and extremely surreal, making it timeless – you can watch his former shows on DVDs and YouTube and they never get old – but also lacking geographic boundaries . He may be talking about the differences between a Mac and a PC, or digressing over the differences between dinosaurs: it’s absurd, funny, both in English and in French.
And also I am playing the Avignon Festival in France in July. Et aussi je joue au Festival d’Avignon en France en ju… http://t.co/VkCLYHqulv
— Eddie Izzard (@eddieizzard) June 15, 2013
In French, his stream-of-consciousness, free association technique, his ramblings, when closely watched, look like extremely hard work. You see Eddie squinting his eyes, touching his temple with his fingertips, his mind quickly working under the heat of the stage lights, tying gags together, pushing it a bit further, all in a foreign language. All of this is, including his now famous hand gesture of taking notes for future performances, acquire an extra touch of charm, humour, and brazenness that enrich the original English act, and that the audience during that opening night seemed to lap up.
What comes across when you watch the show is the sheer determination to make it all work: to make up your mind about learning a language and then, present yourself in the countries in which this language is spoken, and attempt to make people laugh. I spoke to a comedian who was promoting his gig outside of the theatre, and to him, what Eddie was doing was madness, “you can’t translate everything, it doesn’t work” he told me. Eddie Izzard seems to differ, and his style of comedy appears to be the perfect vehicle to pull it all off.
When the show finished, it wasn’t the end of Eddie Izzard for me. I have a stubborn boyfriend named Rob who was determined I talked to Eddie after the show. I’m not one to approach celebrities, I’m always worrying about bothering them, but Rob was determined we congratulated him on the gig, so we waited for 20 minutes and that’s when Mr Izzard made his way out.
Extremely scared I stood behind him and called his name, he turned around, shook my hand and when I told him I came from Barcelona, his eyes widened and he said “wow, thank you!”. We then proceeded to briefly chat about him doing his work next in German, then Spanish, and then we discussed linguistics politics for a bit. He was soon ushered to move on to other people. But I got to look him straight into the eye and thanked him for a great show.
I never got to tell him how much he has changed the way I look at life. I didn’t manage to explain to him how his film Believe made me question everything I had done, made me accept the misfit that I am, and pushed me to want to strive to become the version of myself only I wanted to be, pursuing a career in writing.
I didn’t bore him with an account on how after watching him running 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief, with tears of admiration and also frustration, I grew determined to find a remedy to end my nasty back injury and be able to run again. I didn’t get to explain how every time I complete my modest 2km runs, when I feel like my insides are going to disintegrate, when tendinitis flares up and my injured back and muscles force me to stop, I think of him fighting during those Mandela marathons, and then I remember that, like him, I am a runner already. That, in my brain, I have already ran the London marathon, or done the Iron Man challenge, it’s only my body that needs to catch up.
If you have the chance, go to Avignon. Si vous pouvez, allez á Avignon , ca vaudra la peine.
PS: I also never got to offer my services as experienced University teacher and language expert, so Eddie, if your brother needs a hand with the lessons, let me know
Picture: Fashion Limbo, Eddie’s Twitter page