Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In a Plastic Cup

Yesterday the news that Robin Williams had died was all social media was concerned about. I wrote about it, something I've never done before for the death of a celebrity, and something that I saw criticised quite a lot across various media platforms.

Some people got quite angry about people who didn't know Williams personally writing a message about what they'd thought of him. I think I saw it called "competitive grieving". I found it interesting that people would have a problem with it; preferring to believe people are crass than emotional is a nice way to feel like you are above such ridiculous reactions possibly? And in some cases, I suppose I did look at a few statuses and think - "Yikes! Bit much?" But it's not for me to criticise people disliking the grief any more than for them to criticise the grief.

What it did make me think though, was that perhaps this anger stems not from people having a love for the deceased, but from this love having never really been shown up until this point. The death may have felt like a bandwagon rather than a jolt to realise you'd had affection for a face you didn't know? How many people daily had a status about Williams prior to that? Very few. So of course it might seem odd that someone suddenly couldn't live without him somewhere in the ether.

What with my Facebook and Twitter being largely comics and creatives I had a plethora of tributes to read from people who had been influenced by Williams as one of their earliest comic idols. It was really interesting to read and very moving. It got me thinking... who would mine be? Who will I one day be writing for when I am shocked and saddened they are gone?

I don't want to wait. I have decided from now on to write the occasional tribute to someone still out there that I think is brilliant. Someone famous, someone not so famous, but someone who I want to recognise now might have that capacity to give me a jolt when they are gone. The cynics among you might think of this as a crafty way to wave an "I loved them" flag now so that my future grieving is legitimised. But you can fuck off.

So. To Eddie Izzard. The man I have loved since I was about 11 and my parents had a copy of Glorious on cassette. At first I remember it being on in the car - I thought it was weird. I didn't know what stand-up comedy was and it took me a while to work out the genre... not quite story telling and not quite anything else. The genre just seemed to be "being silly".

I fell in love.

The cassette was fairly swiftly stolen from the car by my sister and me, and it came to live in our bedroom. We were never very good at falling asleep and Glorious quite quickly replaced George's Marvellous Medecine as our bed time reading. I remember the opening music really used to give me chills... it's odd, spooky music and I wasn't keen. But then Eddie's voice would kick in... "Hamm-ersmith Apollo! Apollo! The God of the sun..." and so on and so o. I remember the intonation as though it was my own material.

Having it on cassette meant I didn't know a lot of the actions. I had no idea he ran around like such a perfect giraffe, I didn't know he wore lipstick, and I didn't understand some of the laughs he was getting. But then, I didn't understand a lot of his laughs anyway because the references were too much for me. But the imagery he put into my tiny stand-up virgin brain was incredible. I had no idea what the 6 million dollar man was but I had my own Izzard version played by the Queen and it was funny enough in its own right for me not to need to know the original.

Even looking back now, I find it hard to watch Glorious and pick it apart as material like I would do to someone else. For me it is total woven magic. Blurry lines between each of his lines, seamless and carefree, chasing a picture across the stage and then smashing it with a sledgehammer.

"Rwanda doesn't work very well."

I vaguely knew what Rwanda was, but that image of him dragging Rwanda back to lie it back down was incredible. Mind fireworks exploding left right and centre for things this grown adult must be doing on the stage.

His section on losing his mother and Diana was an absolute lightning bolt. I thought for a long time he must be lying about that - how could someone quite easily talk about that and then go straight back in to being very funny? I found him very impressive for having that little cold section in the middle in between the big beards and the French dogs.

Many, many years later and Eddie Izzard had become a major feature in my relationship with my sister. We'd since gone on to discover Definite Article and Dress to Kill on VHS, and then for my 17th birthday my sister took me to Birmingham (A CITY?!) to see Sexie. Wow. Probably the best birthday present I had ever, or have ever, been given. It was amazing. I laughed and laughed and bought merchandise and didn't even care that he was so far away I watched the whole thing on the big screen. It was incredible.

I remember buying a copy of Sexie when it came out and being so bitterly disappointed that it was nowhere near as funny as that live show had been. I would defensively tell anyone who would listen that the reason it didn't seem as funny was that it had been filmed really early in the tour before it had been developed as far. I have no idea where I got that theory from but I defended him, it, and my birthday with an iron will.

When I went away to University and I moved from Somerset to Kent and missed my family something chronic, my sister filled my first birthday card after the move with little cut out paper bees so that when I opened it I would be "covered in beeeeees!" and I stuck each tiny bee onto the wall of my halls around my giant "Labyrinth" poster. Yes, I was extremely cool in my first year. No wonder I didn't have a single boy back to my room for the entire year. I was chronically lonely in my first year... I hated going clubbing, I just wanted to do acting and I couldn't seem to get a part for love nor money. But then in the first reading week my mum brought my little TV VCR combo over to Kent and suddenly I had company in my little room. Eddie was back and with his videos came the idea to go into town and buy more videos from the million charity shops in Canterbury. I had Alexei Sale, Tim Vine I think, and various other contributions. Eddie was still my favourite and it was an extremely pleasing thing to know that he was to my taste - he wasn't just the only flavour I'd ever had. Billy Connolly was up there in Eddie's league but Izzard still had the top spot in my heart.

I studied him for my dissertation at the end of my masters... I used an excellent clip of Phil Jupitus doing an impression of Eddie at We Know Where You Live, Live to write an essay on the levels of comedy in the clip. You're laughing at Star Wars, you're laughing at Phil, you're laughing at Eddie, you're laughing at the cleverness of Phil's writing in the style of Eddie, you're laughing at the actual jokes Phil has, and you're laughing at the relationship between the two (Izzard was compering the gig). I love this clip and, having just watched it back there, I still find it just as funny now even after having studied it. The same cannot be said of Waiting for Godot.

I've never gigged with Eddie Izzard and I've not seen him live since that birthday 11 years ago in Birmingham. But I did have the pleasure of meeting him very briefly last year when I was performing in a play in Brighton and he happened to be staying in the hotel we were performing at. It is the only time in my life I have ever just had to go and say hello to a celebrity and tell them how much I admired them. Yes, bit pathetic looking back, but he shook my hand and asked my name and told me to carry on with stand up as he thought there really should be more females doing it. I was shaking like a leaf. One day I'd really hope to catch him on a bill in a tiny club and see him where I love comedy being the most. To gig on the same bill as him would be a dream and terrifying all at the same time. He's the direction I hope my material moves in - towards the caricature and the mini-play and the downright silly logic. He's also the first glue that started to hold my relationship with my sister together and that's a weird thing to attribute to a man who had no intention of doing that. Possibly a bit creepy. I don't know.

But, Eddie Izzard, I salute you. Thank you for introducing me to stand up comedy and for remaining my favourite long after I'd discovered Mitch Hedberg and Simon Munnery and Tim Minchin and Billy Connolly and Richard Pryor. Hero #1.

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