LIVE: Eddie Izzard @ the Palace Theatre, 5/12/14

Review by Tim Mack

“Human sacrifice!”

How often does that phrase get played for laughs? But when Eddie Izzard uses it to kick off his current show, it all makes sense. And if you’re an Izzard fan, you know that probably sounds about right.

His new Force Majeure tour is a globe-trotting comic odyssey currently working its way across five continents and more than two dozen countries, and for one brilliant night in May, the tour lit up the Palace Theatre in Albany.

The British comedian is an intellectual hurricane who’s performing this same 60-minute opening routine in at least four (and possibly more) languages as he goes from country to country. His mind and material move at such a frenetic pace, it’s a struggle to keep up with him in his native English. But it’s a thrill to be along for the ride.

One of the reasons for his success: Izzard is the rare performer who assumes his audience is as sharp and engaged as he is. Eddie’s shows are always a colorful history lesson, and that’s half the fun. More than once, he suggested heading for Wikipedia after the show, which is excellent advice, unless you’re well-versed on the Magna Carta, King James, Richard the Lionheart, the origin of languages in Europe, the history of the major religions and speak fluent French. And if you don’t, somehow it all works anyway. Just to show some local color, he dropped a few pearls of wisdom about the origins of Albany’s name, so he does mix up the material from night to night.

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He went on to dismiss the Romans as “fascist plumbers,” detail his agnosticism (the one part of his act that may have rubbed folks the wrong way), and recount stories of teenage crime: As an aspiring “action transvestite,” the cross-dressing Izzard once got caught shoplifting make-up (he wore men’s clothes and nail polish at the Palace). Again, not necessarily topics you’d pick for big laughs, but not many people approach comedy the way he does.

Like so many headliners, he’s touring on his new stuff, but he’s not afraid to give a wink and a nod to his greatest hits collection. One mention of flags was all it took to get his fan club fired up, as he not-so-subtly referenced a riff on colonialism from 1999’s “Dressed to Kill” concert film. Minutes later, he took it even further with a light-saber battle between God and Darth Vader in a cantina, a variation on one of his classic bits that became an animated Logo sensation on YouTube. This was the comedy equivalent of Clapton’s acoustic “Layla” on the Unplugged album: built on the original, but a very different re-imagining.

After wrapping up the one-hour set, he gave the audience a welcome intermission. It was a hot night in the old theater and quite frankly, after 60 minutes of Izzard in high gear, it’s good to let the crowd catch its breath.

The second set was lighter and more whimsical than the first, but still covered a fascinating scatter-shot array of topics. Everything from Olympic dressage, the Battle of Alesia, moles getting lost, a robot-chicken singing “Nessun Dorma” and whether the Kraken that Liam Neeson released in “Clash of the Titans” is responsible for the current state of the Greek economy. And if Hell was like a trendy restaurant, how hard would it be to get past the maître de? (“Can I get a table by the fire?” “They’re all by the fire.”)

The Force Majeure tour is spanning the globe, and the world-conquering Izzard has miles to go before the finish. Albany was lucky he made the Palace one more stop along the way.

SECOND OPINIONS:
Dave King’s review at Metroland
Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union

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