The time has come. Eddie Izzard might pretend to love all points on his Force Majeure tour equally, but my date and I know in our hearts that those 28 countries, three years and four languages have just been a warm-up for this, here, tonight.
With Force Majeure Reloaded opening at the Palace Theatre, his marathon of a tour’s finally back in London. The red carpet’s out and littered with famous people, a lot of them comedians themselves; Izzard’s clearly the stand-up’s stand-up. And the fact he’s settling in for a four-week run, when this tour’s has largely been made up of single, arena-filling dates, gives it a sense of homecoming.
Because Izzard is such a known quantity, his audience feels like they’re in a very safe space. Nobody’s turning up at his shows by mistake, expecting searing vitriol and then getting intricate, soaring surrealism instead. And this show doesn’t veer far from Izzard’s standard territory: the sprawling tangents, the anthropomorphic flights of fantasy, and sketches from previous shows revisited – Death Star Canteen from 2000’s Circle getting reworked to tie in with the humanist strands weaving through this show.
That familiarity, coupled with the years he’s been touring Force Majeure – its rhythm refined over so many countries and so many audiences – makes Izzard’s the safest hands in stand-up. It’s impossible to imagine him being derailed, and almost as hard to imagine this show really catching anybody else off guard. This is a warm bath of the familiar and the recognisable and the inarguable; it’s also so comfortably meta that Izzard throws in the occasional fourth-wall-smashing sidebar on why French audiences don’t love his material about weasels and gravy, or why Berlin claps harder than London for a riff on spoons.
Where there are targets, they’re mostly uncontroversial ones. Most people can get behind some light Nazi-bashing. Everybody seems largely on board with his position re. human sacrifice being a bad and strange thing. And anybody who can’t enjoy Izzard’s dog impressions – covering all the obvious sub-species, like dogs as hairpieces, dogs masquerading as horses, inexplicably French dogs – has a withered raisin for a heart.
This might not shake anybody’s world views but it’s all tightly-wrought, scattered with cultural references from George McFly to Friedrich Hayek, and physical comedy so perfectly surreal – especially a sketch about the bizarreness of competitive dressage – that it’s not hard to see why John Cleese once called Izzard a ‘lost Python’. But it’s the second half of the show before it really feels that you’re seeing something beneath the surface. When he starts mining his teenage years, with a narrative that takes in football, French romance, shoplifting make-up, an obsession with the SAS and his confusion about how to reconcile the different pieces of his life, Force Majeure Reloaded starts to feel personal for the first time.
There’s a lot to love in Izzard’s two-hour tour of humanism, the universe and everything. Not least the generosity that has him taking on the massive themes like faith, and conquest, and war, and weasels and gravy, and how language shapes us all. It has all the polish of a stadium show, and some of that same feeling of distance. For most of the night Izzard’s very much your friend who turns up at the pub, spends the evening being dazzlingly funny and impossibly self-assured, and keeps everyone always, easily, at arm’s length. It wouldn’t matter, because it’s Eddie Izzard; it’s all exuberant, it’s all compelling – except that the times when he lets the pace slacken a little, and turns to the personal more than the universal, are actually the most compelling of all.
Eddie Izzard’s Force Majeure Reloaded at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 5AY, until 20th February. For tickets and more information visit the website.