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Fringe Festival Day 10 - Spevak on Eddie Izzard, an unusual comic

Sep 22, 2018

Credit Amanda Searle

The windows of the food trucks were battened down, and potted shrubs rolled across the Speigelgarden as torrents of rain whipped down Gibbs Street Friday at about 6:15 p.m. and through the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. Day 10 of the 11-day event. The first day of bad weather. The 40-foot wide Immersive Igloo had been deflated as a precautionary measure, the bands were in hiding. But inside Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, Eddie Izzard was coming out to play.

What an unusual comic. He told only one actual joke over his 70-minute set at the sold-out show.

Which is not to say Izzard isn’t a very funny man. He’s like the guy who holds court at a cocktail party, putting everyone in stitches with rapid-fire improvisations, dog-piling one set of characters on top of another, including dogs, creating conversations between jellyfish, giving them different voices, bouncing around, waving his arms, striking poses, creating sound effects, weaving in and out of his stream of consciousness just as Robin Williams used to do. The British comedian had them from the first reference to “Waiting for Godot.” He had them howling at the mere mention of the city of Edinburgh, pronouncing it with a Scottish burr. 

What’s so funny about that?

Well, it was.

Hello Rochester! There is a Rochester in England, he reminded the audience, pointing out that Charles Dickens set “Great Expectations” near there. He wondered if “re-doubled down” was anything different than “doubled down.” Twice as much, quadruple as much, maybe? He got laughs and cheers for a comment about Hitler blowing off his head, and getting laughs and cheers for joking about someone blowing off his head, no matter who it is, is one impressive accomplishment for a comic.

These aren’t jokes, of course.  It’s a guy riffing on the world.

Izzard spent a lot of time mocking religion. Why do people thank God they survived a natural disaster? Those are real men and women working to rescue people and set things right again, no one saw anyone’s God pitching in. Izzard talked about English kings such as Henry VIII, men who killed their wives and grew so fat that after they died, they exploded, like Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote. From the gas buildup. True story, Izzard insisted.

“We lost the Battle of Hastings, but we won the World Cup that year. That’s how long it feels.”

It doesn’t sound so funny when you just type it.

Where was he going with all of this?

He went after superheroes, and how Spider-Man shoots a web out of his wrists, “like spiders don’t do,” he said, pointing to his rear end. He went after karaoke, the worst of humanity. The sloth is actually a very fit animal, while humans are not, Izzard said, then revealed he’s been running marathons. He marveled at how every barking dog is sure he’s warning you of some danger. “They never have evidence, but they’re sure,” Izzard said. “They’re like a right-wing political party.”

Well, that comes pretty close to a joke. And it got one of the biggest laughs of the night.

Here’s the actual joke told by Izzard. It was a joke his father, who was dying, told Izzard’s brother. A rabbit walks into a butcher shop and asks if they have any carrots. “No.” Next day, the rabbit walks into the butcher shop and asks if they have any carrots. “No.” Next day, the rabbit walks into the butcher shop and asks if the have any carrots. “No,” the butcher says, “and if you ask again I’m gonna nail your ears to the floor.” Next day, the rabbit walks into the butcher store and asks they have any nails. “No.”

“Do you have any carrots?”

Jokes. They’re that easy.

And then, Izzard got cosmic. Something he said he’s been thinking about a lot. Rochester is the center of the world, he said. Any place is the center of the world, if you head off in that direction, eventually you’ll come back to where you started. Because everything curves back on space, there are no walls in space. There is no God, because the universe is 3.5 billion years old, dating back to the Big Bang, and do you really think God would create a universe, do all of that work, and then wait 3.5 billion years to put people in it?

There’s a system, you are at the center of the word, yet there is a randomness to it. Izzard is transgender, he reminded his audience, which most of them likely already knew, or should have figured out for themselves, considering the crimson lipstick and high heels. “We have to make it work for seven billion people.”

Make it work for everyone. After 70 minutes, 2,000 people spilled out of Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, and onto Gibbs Street. The rain was gone. The bands were back. The Immersive Dome had been re-inflated, the Ask Us Anything” booth was dispensing advice, the food trucks were alive, people were watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on the big outdoor screen, searchlights were probing the night air, an unauthorized jazz duo was playing on the street corner. They’d put the Rochester Fringe back together.  

Fringe Day Eleven

Fringe Street Beat (2017)
Credit John Schlia

Saturday, the final day of Rochester Fringe, is built around the closed-off Gibb Street. It opens at noon with the preliminaries of the third year of Fringe Street Beat, the DJ-driven dance competition, with the finals set for 3 p.m. The live music starts at 5 p.m. with the Eastman School of Music rock progeny Embers. The fascinatingly quirky acid rock of Seth Faergolzia’s Multibird is at 6 p.m., Rebecca & the Soul Shakers at 7 p.m., the decades-spanning pop harmonies of The Saplings at 8:10 p.m. and Irish-punk psychobillies 1916 at 9:30 p.m.    

Check rochesterfringe.com for a complete schedule and tickets. It’s probably the most-involved day of activities at the 11-day fest. Among the picks for Saturday:

Eastman Percussion Ensemble: Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” 7 and 9 p.m., Eastman School of Music’s Sproull Atrium at Miller Center. Eastman professor Russell Hartenberger, who collaborated with the minimalist icon Reich on this piece during its development, leads the Eastman Percussion Ensemble. Sproull Atrium is across the street from Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, at Max of Eastman place.

Frankenstein Bemshi, 4 p.m., Writers & Books. You know the story: Man destroyed by his own ambition. But this is the 1910 silent film, embellished with music and poetry. 

The Pillow Book of John W. Borek, 10 p.m., MuCCC. Borek, the director of artist development at the Multi-use Community Culture Center, combines words from the court of China’s Empress Consort Teshi, dating back more than 2000 years, and Borek’s dryly amusing observations on his own life, dating back a mere 70 years. Borek promises that Satanic puppet you’ve been seeking these last 11 nights.   

Silent Disco, 11 p.m., Spiegeltent. Dancers wearing headphones, moving to a beat only they can hear. The final notes of this year’s fest, it’ll go on until 2 a.m.

Jeff Spevak, a cultural arts contributor to WXXI and Rochester-based writer, is reporting on the Fringe Festival daily at wxxinews.org. His web site is jeffspevak.com.