Daily Elysium: Now Showing - Cake or Death

In a continuing effort to find a variety of things to prattle on about, I thought it might be fun (for me) to discuss some of the fine films, specials, documentaries, and assorted nonsense that have recently been projected from my DVD player onto the back of my retinas.  This is not a DVD review exactly, because that would be boring for you to read, and more importantly boring for me to write.  I'd have to talk about aspect ratio, and Digital 5.1.  I'd have to watch all the boring parts of DVDs that I don't really care about, like what the Gaffer thought about the cruller he shared with Tim Robbins, and then he might go on to tell me what the hell a Gaffer is, and I just won't put up with that.  Also, I'd have to watch DVDs I don't care about, like movies with Vin Diesel and Anime.  Frankly, someone's going to have to get busy paying me money before I watch that stuff!  If Certis or Sway want to take up that angle, I welcome them to it.

Today, I'd rather talk about British Comedy.  Read on if you like funny.  For those of you who don't like funny, we have plenty of articles by Certis in our archives!  (rim shot)

"There's not much makeup in the army, is there? No. They only have that nighttime look, and that's a bit slapdash, isn't it?"

Eddie Izzard is a transvestite.  I thought that might matter to some people, so I'd get it out of the way from the start.  It's not actually relevant in any appreciable way, but it's probably the first thing you'll notice if you should pick up Dress to Kill, his HBO comedy special.  As he's quick to point out, he's not a particularly feminine transvestite.  He is, as he characterizes it, an Action Transvestite, which involves running, jumping, climbing trees, and putting on makeup.  The second thing you'll notice is that Eddie Izzard is remarkably funny.

"You!  Cake or death?", "Umm, cake please."

If there's one thing I know it's funny.  Well, actually, if there's one thing I know it's not to eat things I found in the sewer, but funny is somewhere on that list, perhaps lower than I might actually care to believe.  But, we're not talking about me.  We're talking about Eddie Izzard, and he knows funny.  I can't say what his position is on eating things from a sewer though. 

"And Henry VIII, a big hairy king, went up to the Pope and said, "Mr. Pope! I'm gonna marry my first wife, then I'm gonna divorce her. Now, I know what you're gonna say, but stick with me. My story gets better. Second wife, I'm gonna kill her! Cut her head off. Ah, not expecting that, are we? Third wife gonna shoot her. Fourth wife, put her in a bag. Fifth wife, into outer space. Sixth wife, on a rotissamat. Seventh wife, made out of jam..."

I think what makes this stand-up routine work for me, is how very different it is from the vast majority of stand-up routines I've been subjected to.  I've heard ten-thousand different jokes about impotence, digestive processes, dating, and a variety of excretory functions.  On the other hand, I can't say I've heard many routines on the formation of the Anglican Church, or Henry VIII, or even Englebert Humperdink.  Better still, any comedian who can perform the vast majority of his encore in a language I don't even pretend to understand and still make it uproariously funny, has got to be doing something right.  And, that's precisely what makes the sometimes muddling wandering humor of Eddie Izzard so approachable, that it is based on creativity and genuine wit as opposed to rehashing tired and familiar material with a slight rewording of the precise vulgarities. 

(Re: The European Union) "It's the cutting edge of politics in a very extraordinarily boring way!"

I wouldn't exactly recommend Eddie Izzard for every taste.  For example, if you're not very smart then a great number of his jokes will do irritating and somewhat mocking fly-bys over your head without ever landing firmly in your consciousness.  You've got to have some basic understanding of the world's histories and cultures to get the fact that it's all quite funny when put a certain way.  For example, there's a wonderful moment when Eddie attributes the portrayal of the French in American movies repaying the"debt of honor" owed to General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette.  Naturally, not a great many people are going to be familiar with General Lafayette or his role in the Revolutionary War, though it becomes funny even if you don't get it at first, but those that are will be doubly entertained for the fact that Lafayette is successfully incorporated into the routine and explains why English people play bad-guys and French people have a lot of on-screen sex.  It's the kind of humor that has only been tried and applied well a few times in the past, and Eddie Izzard's attempts harken back to the best Black Adder episodes or historical Monty Pythos skits (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition).

You can't land on the moon and say, "Ooh, it's all sticky! It's covered in jam!" 

That's not to say that Dress to Kill isn't marred by a few faults.  First, and perhaps most notably, is the simple problem of having been filmed in 1998.  As such, some topics and discussions might seem, at times, politically anachronistic.  It's not a serious flaw, and certainly was unavoidable, but you'll notice it when he discusses topics like Islamic Jihads and American Foreign Policy.  That's not to say that he's particularly controversial on the issues, and he's certainly never mean-spirited, but he's clearly drawing his comments from a perspective that has since shifted slightly.  Further, he often wanders obviously from his script.  Usually he ends up somewhere funny, but on occasion he trudges right through funny and winds up firmly planted in 'huh?' territory where he decrescendoes to a flat stop.  It's not a regular or serious issue, but it will occasionally draw perplexed lines into your forehead.  And, yes, there's profanity, so Dress to Kill is not necessarily family viewing, but it's not blatant vulgarity or overt, just emphatic.  Here's an example.

You say 'erbs', and we say 'herbs', because there's a f*cking 'H' in it!

All told, I own just one stand-up comedy DVD.  I might occasionally rent a classic George Carlin routine or stay up late for a Dennis Miller rerun, but Eddie Izzard is the only stand-up that I feel I need to actually possess for its originality and quirkiness.  An unusual, but funny, blend of Robin Williams, Monty Python, and a well-written Social Studies textbook, Eddie Izzard reaches into an entirely different bag of inspiration for his material and in the process provides a new perspective on comedy.  I highly recommend.

- Elysium


Dress to Kill is one of my favorite standup routines ever. Anyone that enjoys the genre should give it a whirl.

My wife & I caught Dress to Kill on HBO late one night and loved it.  I agree...not everybody will "get" the jokes.  Definitely a great bit of comedy.

I should also point out, and now am pointing out, that the DVD includes about a half hour of additional material cut from the HBO special.  Not all of this is solid material, and sometimes you can see why cuts were made, but it is there and a lot of it is quite funny.

Another funny comedian who I enjoy listening to, mostly because he's really geeky, is Ernie Cline. Rants about Blue Thunder, or Hiding the Geek inside... they are teh funny.

Oh, I meant "AirWolf", not "Blue Thunder". I'm not sure what Blue Thunder is even. Some helicopter I guess. It's late and I made a mistake. I plan on making more, too.

BTW, when can we have an "Edit comment" option? it would be nice. Not "I dont have a date for the prom and I'm miserable oh whats this you are a high class supermodel escort and my uncle paid you to go with me to the prom thats so cool thanks ok bye"-nice, but "Oh, I wish I could edit this comment so it's not plain moronic"-nice.

If you liked "Dress To Kill" do yourself a favor and find "Glorious" from Eddie Izzard. I don't think it's out on DVD (I've got the tape) and it's older too (96 or 97 i think) but it's drop dead funny.

Looking for more top class British (well, more Irish actually) comedy? I don't know if Father Ted made it over to the States but if you haven't seen it, you haven't lived. You can buy the series in it's entirety from here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006LSFW/ref=sr_aps_dvd_1_1/026-5543305-7134023 and it's an utter bargain for all the laughs you're getting.

I've never been able to tolerate Eddie Izzard despite everyone else's oozing enthusiasm. Dunno why. He's just never done much for me. Which is surprising because I'm sort of an Anglophile (I think that means I love fishing). BBC America is one of the few TV stations I devote any time to. I've watched and loved any number of the comedies they've shown: Red Dwarf, Brilliant (AKA The Fast Show), Father Ted, Coupling, The Office (was this show done by the same people who did People Like Us?), and all the others I'm forgetting. Perhaps my favorite, however, was The Royle Family. I've never seen a funnier show in all my life. And, of course, they refuse to release the DVDs for The Royle Family in Region 1. I've e-mailed and called and currently they have "no plans" to do me this favor.

I saw "Coupling" on TV yesterday. It was VERY funny. It seemed like something out of "Friends", but smarter, with more attention to detail, and great phrases.

"A woman's breasts are a journey. Her feet, the destination".

Heh, Eddie Izzard is one of my favorites. I've got a bunch of his CD's, and yes, he's damned funny.