Laughing Matters: Eddie Izzard, “Cake or Death?”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too..

As I recall it, the first time I ever encountered Eddie Izzard’s name was in a piece at the online magazine Salon, when online magazines were still the height of novelty. The comedy performances touted in the article were still devilishly hard to come by, so I simply filed the name away, deeply intrigued by the excited celebration of a comic mind that approached the world in a decidedly different way. And that was even without any consideration of Izzard’s self-identification as an “executive transvestite,” terminology still wildly foreign in the wilds of the late nineteen-nineties.

As is the cast with many, I suspect, my first true exposure to Izzard came in the special dubbed Dress to Kill, as perfect of an introduction as any performer could hope to have. I’ve now seen several Izzard performances — including, on a splendid night, a live show in Chicago — and I’m confident Dress to Kill is a grand comic mind at its most inspired.

Izzard has a loose style that recalls the improvisational sparking of Robin Williams, but there’s a deep, inquisitive intellect at play. That quality is rarely more evident than in the stretches in which Izzard — unlike practically any other person who makes a reasonable living standing on a stage and making people laugh — mines the strangeness of global history for his material.

There have been other bits that have made me laugh louder and harder — Darth Vader in the Death Star canteen comes to mind — but nothing exemplifies to me the unique brilliance of Izzard than when he finds a way to pose a deceptively simple question; “Cake or death?”

Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Laughing Matters” tag.

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