Eddie Izzard: Unrepeatable Review
For those of you who don’t know anything about Eddie Izzard, Eddie was actually born in Yemen, but crossed the border to Azerbaijan at a young age and from there to France, on a homemade passport made of brown paper, jam and elastic bands. He was raised in a small French village with a mad bell-ringer, as the son of a peasant farmer. It is undoubtedly this colourful international cosmopolitan background that has influenced Eddie, creating a fresh, inquiring unique outlook on the world that is evident in the geopolitical and historical subject matter of much of his later material as a stand-up comedian. Eddie is also a transvestite, but more of an “executive transvestite” than your Lily Savage, man-in-drag style transvestite. He famously coined the phrase of being “a heterosexual in a man’s body”. Or something like that.
Eddie was initially reluctant to follow the route of many early nineties comedians and appear on television, not wanting to be typecast as a TV comedian and knowing that his material would lose freshness with constant exposure on television. This is somewhat ironic since Eddie briefly had his own television channel ZZ TV, (well, a one night takeover of BBC2) and now doesn’t so much write shows as re-work and recycle routines, seemingly unaware that fans will already be familiar with the earlier stuff from his video and DVD releases. But more of that on my review of Glorious. Back in March 1994, when Eddie recorded a show from his seventh week in London’s West End at the Albery Theatre, his material hadn’t actually reached the stage of building shows (very loosely) around overarching themes as he would later in Definite Article (words and their meanings), Glorious (religion) and Dress To Kill (history), and his show here is consequently more free-flowing and eclectic. And it’s often pretty funny.
Eddie Izzard’s style of comedy, of which Unrepeatable is a typical example, is absurdist-observational. It’s not rapid-fire one-liners, nor audience participatory, but rather finds a topic, picks up on something ordinary and draws the surreal side of it out, mining the topic for as much laughs from the audience as it will yield. Hence, the observation that a cat purring sounds like soft drilling conjures up the image of the household pet in goggles drilling away behind the sofa, which leads into a feline version of The Great Escape. Which is a funny enough image, but made all the more absurd by Izzard in make-up and tights sheepishly doing the said impersonation.
It’s the off-the-wall impersonations and mimes that, for me, draw the biggest laughs – not just of amusing pets and animals – although in Unrepeatable Eddie adopts the personality of tunnelling cats, daft dogs, Steve the directionally-challenged migrating bird, a chutney-making earwig, a gravy-making spider and a stoned wasp – but even more hilarious are his mimes of inanimate objects as a sock, blue underpants disguised as a white handkerchief and a dopey shirt. The Unrepeatable show deals with topics as varied as advertising, going to the launderette, the secret service, being a revolutionary-liberal (kicking down the doors of parliament, but paying for the damage), how to be a transvestite and survive at school, bidding at an auction, cats and dogs, bees and wasps, bird migration, religion, horror movie conventions and Star Trek (“Set phasers to limp!”). Just to keep the audience on their toes Eddie occasionally throws in the odd running joke (“Bunch of flowers!”) – sometimes crowbarring it in, but hey, it makes the audience feel clever for catching the reference and it’s effective. Even better, his fabulous, slightly Welsh-accented James Mason impersonation (he can only really impersonate James Mason and Sean Connery, but they are brilliant) and his Great Escape references start here and carry through like a running joke through later shows.
Unrepeatable was filmed for television broadcast and home-video release, so it was shot on video in 4:3 aspect ratio. Expectations of picture quality should be obviously be adjusted downward. That said, the image is fine for all it has to show, which is Eddie on stage doing his routine. Nothing exceptional, but it does what is expected of it. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is kind of dull with an echoing microphone sound, but again, the spoken routines are perfectly clear with only one instance of loud crackle. The DVD is encoded for regions 2, 3, 4 and 5
The photo gallery shows a nice selection of black and white images from what looks like a more recent photo shoot (no side-parting in the hairstyle), Eddie dressed like a bloke. One of the images adorns the cover of Unrepeatable.
There is an option to switch to a bleeped soundtrack, which will even censor minor swearing such as ‘piss off’. Can’t see that anyone will buy an Eddie Izzard DVD and self-censor themselves, but since the humour is not in the least blue or inoffensive, it’s there if you feel inclined to show it to the kids.
A rather dull commentary, which is disappointing, but not really unexpected, as it would hardly outshine the on-stage material. Eddie, when he isn’t listening to his own material and explaining it – which shouldn’t really be necessary – notes which lines are most often quoted back at him, and how the early material differs and was developed in later shows.
Selection of this option will display a subtitle track with occasional factual information about some of the subjects Eddie talks about – on bees, birds, religion etc. Totally out of place on a comedy DVD, I can’t see why anyone would buy an Eddie Izzard DVD and expect to learn general knowledge facts.
Subtitling is provided for a full range of languages, including English for Hard of Hearing. The English one handles the material well, even impersonating the noises Eddie makes. I sampled the French subtitle track as well and unsurprisingly, since Eddie has performed his routine in French and his style of humour translates well internationally (with the exception of accents), it works reasonably well.
Unrepeatable is a reasonably good introduction to Eddie Izzard’s style of humour from an earlier show. Working here with material that has been well-honed on stage over a period of time, he still manages to make it fresh-sounding and entertains with his blend of surreal observations and absurd mimes. There’s little you can add to this in terms of interesting extra material, but at least Universal have attempted to package the DVD well, with reasonable picture and sound quality.