At the after-show party of this year's Secret Policeman's Ball, Germaine Greer led the singing of headliner Eddie Izzard's praises, comparing his imagination to that of Peter Cook, even after his so-so performance. Two years before, at the same event, a comedian incredulously asked me how Izzard could get so worked up about flies, after another so-so performance in which Izzard deliberated on the mores of the insect world.
Questioning Izzard's relevance has been a fair game since the disappointing and, guess what, so-so 2003 Sexie tour. Stripped is, you will not be amazed to hear, also so-so. After being almost entirely responsible for bucking the trend of earnest 1980s political comedy, that achievement has come back to haunt him. Tonight he prefaces his tumbling thought processes (housed around a history of everything from dinosaurs to the Middle Ages and then jumping to Darwin and evolution) by murmuring about change: "It's the third millennium... we can go to the moon." He's warm towards Obama and pours cold water on conservatism, including a knowingly belated jibe at Thatcher, saying that he would "piss on her state funeral". These are radical statements for Izzard, but ones that his shtick could never live up to. He sounds like a man wanting to get serious, asking the right questions, but who has no hope of providing a clue to their answers.
As the show progresses through time, paying particular attention to the Bible, Izzard's lack of relevance grates for two reasons. First, comedy should do more than stretch the mouth muscles; it should be something felt in the stomach, so that it touches on the notion of change to which Izzard alludes. Second, Izzard's stand-up feels like it has been left to tick over since the Nineties and we are invited to pick up where we last left it five years ago, only to find it saying nothing new.
On the plus side, Izzard reigns as a king of vague comedy. As an offshoot to his discourse on the agrarian age, the comic muses on the possible existence of self-milking feral cows who would be followed by cats "like seagulls who follow boats". And he describes an unfortunate combatant in ancient Greece impaled on a spear, who can only advance by further skewering himself.
Often, however, the average premise of his routines either cannot be raised above that level by Izzard's whimsical embroidery or are overblown by it. It might not be so-so bad, but it's not so-so good either.
To 23 December (0870 040 0081)