Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story is a documentary that chronicles the stand-up comedian’s life story while it follows her through a series of workshop performances that ultimately became the Sexie tour.
This was essentially Eddie’s comeback, as she had quit stand-up after a controversy regarding recycled material. Her normal technique was to ‘roll over’ material, adding new bits and cutting old ones. It’s something Eddie was up front about, but during a tour one venue advertised the show as all-new. Somebody complained this was false advertising, and the resulting furor and fines caused Eddie to step away from the stage for a time. In Believe, she’s working out the material for an entire show from scratch.
I’ve seen a grand total of five live stand up performances in my life (in chronological order): some guy whose name I don’t remember at the Halifax casino because my ex liked him, George Carlin, Ron James, some guy whose name I don’t remember at a Vegas casino because the entry fee was two drinks and I was already drunk enough that it seemed like a good idea (it wasn’t), and Eddie Izzard.
Truth is, I’m not a big fan of stand-up. Or perhaps more accurately, I’m a fan of a few bits, but there aren’t many of them, and it’s not worth wading through everything I don’t like in order to find the gems.
But Eddie … Eddie’s a gem. And it’s not just the stand-up, although I’ve yet to find a single bit that doesn’t make me laugh. Everything about Eddie is a gem. Her intelligence and quick wit. Her honesty. Her courage both in being openly gender fluid and in blazing a trail by coming out over 25 years ago. Her positivity. Her energy. Her philanthropy – especially her literal marathon fundraisers. Her political and social awareness. Her ability to do an entire show in spike heels.
I’ve watched Believe twice now, once long before I saw Eddie live and once not too long after. It’s one of those documentaries that’s a bunch of clips strung together – from stand-up shows, interviews, old home videos – with no traditional narrative. Personally, I find that style jarring and disconnected. But I did find I enjoyed it more the second time around. In the years between viewings, I’d learned an awful lot about Eddie and was able to fill in some blanks and make more sense of the film as a result.
My favourite part, though, stemmed from a memory of the show I saw, where Eddie started out by asking the audience our opinion of her bosoms. This was in 2019, and there’s a clip in Believe from a workshop show in 2003 where she asks the audience the same thing. Nobody in the audience the night I saw her was complaining. We were all too busy laughing our asses off.
It just goes to show how manufactured the recycled joke controversy was.