"Tout en Français!" the posters proclaim, and indeed Stripped – Eddie Izzard's whistlestop tour through the history of civilisation, which he has performed on and off in English since 2008 – sees him hold forth on evolution, Nazis, sharks, God being a crack addict and giraffes playing charades – all in French.
His command of the language is excellent: he's fluent enough to hop, skip and tumble from one surreal topic to another just as he does in his native tongue. In fact, he uses barely a word of English, just the occasional bit of swearing for effect; if he can't quite remember the conjugation of a verb he will ask the audience: ("Comment dit-on 'éteindre' au passé composé?" – "What's 'to extinguish' in the past tense?") and they are delighted to help out.
Although venerated by French comedians, Izzard is by no means a household name. He has played in Paris twice before, but the last time was 11 years ago. The title Stripped is apposite: the venue is a small, boiling-hot 135-seater in the heart of Pigalle, home to the Moulin Rouge and many a saucy cinema. (His next gig, incidentally, is the Hollywood Bowl, capacity 17,000.) After an initial flurry of bilingual expats, the vast majority of the audience now is French and they take to him right from his opening "Bonsoir!" The show is classic Izzard – universal themes illustrated in surreal detail: dinosaurs singing hymns, opera singers omitting consonants; a literary giant squid running out of ink. If anything flags slightly, he stops and makes his trademark notes on his hand: "Non. C'est drôle, mais peut-être pas pour lundi." ("It's funny, but maybe not for a Monday.") There are passing topical references to Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Marine Le Pen, but bigger laughs come when he references George Formby and tries to explain his most famous song "Quand Je Nettoie Les Fenêtres"; or Kenneth Williams, whom he compares to a velociraptor opening a door. (I found out afterwards that he had improvised that scene and was so pleased with how it went down, he'll now use it in English.) Izzard's linguistic dexterity is particularly evident in a satisfying climax involving two soldiers trying to discuss Hannibal, but getting horribly entangled in Latin declensions and verb endings. Amo, amas, amat. We all loved it.
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