Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story

Believe is not your usual Eddie Izzard DVD. This is far more akin to a biography and memoir. Following allegations of fraud for re-using material in his touring shows, Izzard worked to develop entirely new material using a series of workshop shows, preparing for a return to the big stage.

At its heart, Believe tells a story of confidence; confidence lost after the charges of fraud, confidence found and lost and found again throughout his life as his career developed. Izzard plumbed the depths of his own life story to provide a launch point for his comedic style.

As a dyslexic, Izzard is loath to work from notes or a written script, as it kills his flow. Therefore, he preferred to start with established material, then work in new content and then improvise to develop a distinct flow for the performance. It’s an organic approach, developed in part because of his dyslexia but also because of his experience as a compere (host) at comedy shows and his time as a street performer.

Believe tracks Izzard’s life story from the childhood trauma of losing his mother through his boarding school days (and the popular Teddy Theatre he conducted illicitly and then with the staff’s approval, his rough times in college, years working as a street performer, transitioning to stand-up comedy and working as a compere, and then through his time as a popular touring comedian with well-known DVDs, and then his time as an actor in film and television, and his impressive tour of marathons run for charity. Nearly everything in the story is directly from Izzard’s own mouth, his description in interview as well as in the evenings of workshop performances as Eddie tried to find workable material from his life story. Along the way, there are many excerpts from interviews with friends and family, who share their perspectives on Eddie throughout his life.

Sections are broken up with chapter title cards reminiscent of Monty Python, and as the narrative develops, it’s not hard to see the places where the steps taken along the way lead to Izzard’s distinctive style. Years of working as a street performer developed knowledge of what will catch a crowd’s attention, time spent as a compere gave him opportunities to make many connections in the comedy world and also a lower-stress opportunity to develop material.

Eddie consistently returns to discussions of confidence – where his fates and fortunes in comedy rise and fall with his confidence. Without confidence, his performances would consistently fall apart.

Later on, Eddie discusses being a transvestite, his decision to dress on stage and out himself as a transvestite. He became a spokesman for transvestites, and once integrated into his performance persona, dressing helped make him the distinctive performer which became an international comedy star.

The DVD’s extras include a recording of the famous “Wolves” sketch, which was excerpted in parts throughout the main film. This is a pre-tranvestite-performing-Eddie sketch, showing a younger and less seasoned version of the performer well-known now for a slick, put-together look (aka “Executive Transvestite”).

Also included is a featurette on street performing from Vince Henderson, a well-regarded street performer who talks about the art of street performance and his experiences/impressions of Eddie Izzard as a practitioner of that art. The third special feature is a throwback to Eddie’s Teddy Theatre, from boarding school days. Izzard pulls out the stuffed animals and performs a short sketch using the stuffed animals.

Believe is a DVD for a die-hard Eddie Izzard fan or a devotee of street performance. It’s more of an add-on than a stand-alone disc. This is not the DVD you pop in the player in an evening to get some laughs and learn the obscure references which Izzard fans bandy about to one another (“No flag, no country” or “Azerbijan”, “Ciao”, etc). It’s far more somber and contemplative, a more quiet piece, but no less compelling than one of his shows, especially if you’re interested in the nuts-and-bolts of performance and the making of a comedy super-star.

RATING 6 / 10