I loooooove Eddie Izzard. I have watched or listened to everything he's ever done (stand-up), and seen most of his movies. I think he's brilliant. He's the only comedian I know to have figured out how to combine history so effectively with comedy.
The place was packed; at one point the audience started chanting "Cake or Death"; they obviously knew his material by heart. When he came out, it was the loudest audience response I have ever heard. The poor man could hardly speak for the screams of delight, and got into the habit of regularly shushing us whenever we would cheer for a particular line, just so he could get through his material. He performed without intermission for almost 2 hours straight, which has GOT to be exhausting, and my face got tired from smiling and laughing.
I don't begin to be able to articulate my disappointment in what he obviously thought of us. There's usually some kind of overarching theme throughout one of his shows, and tonight, it appeared to be Why Religion is Stupid, and I'm Here to Straighten You Out. He's touched on his dissatisfaction with the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of organized religion for years now, so it wasn't unfamiliar... but last night, I felt like he was on a mission to disabuse us of our blinkered and illogical devotion to God. It felt like he had tailored his show specifically to this Bible-Belt audience to correct us in our irrational habits. Every 5 minutes or so, he'd take a step back and make a little disclaimer about how there WERE things he admired about religion, like the sense of community and whatnot... but then he'd jump right back into mocking various stories in the Bible, the proliferation of gods throughout world history, the fact that some don't believe in evolution, etc. It felt like he took every single stereotype of Southern Christian culture as true across the board, and riffed on how foolish it was off and on for 2 hours.
I am NOT hypersensitive to this in general. I am used to it in almost every form of entertainment media I can think of, and I often agree. But I paid $59 for a ticket to have a good time laughing, and I came out of there feeling a little depressed, as thought I'd been gently scolded for more than an hour. Even my friend A. M. who went with me, and who generally shares his same opinions on religion and Middle American (and particularly Southern) culture said that she felt "patronized," as though he had come on a mission to try and fix us. I don't mind stand-up shows that use comedy to teach certain principles, such as Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman... but Eddie doesn't do that in general, so to have him try and correct what he thinks is wrong with American culture in his show here in the Bible Belt really made me feel disappointed, and for the first time in a long time, defensive.
I don't generally feel offended by that sort of thing; when it's addressed to an audience in San Francisco, and I watch it on a TV screen, it's not directed at me. But this WAS directed at me, and as I think of the supportive, genuine people at my church who help take care of each other so well, of the kind-hearted, generous, open-hearted relatives I have in Georgia who would do anything for a stranger, I was hurt. Because Eddie obviously thought they - we - were foolish and misguided.
AND YET, he was a little bit hypocritical himself, last night... despite gently mocking the religious culture we live in, he dressed down for the occasion - he wore jeans, boots, and cutaway coat - and barely any makeup. I have NEVER seen him wear jeans in one of his shows; he doesn't wear dresses, but he'll wear really gorgeous silks and brocades in beautifully cut suits, loads of makeup, nail polish, etc. But last night, he dressed for a Nashville audience. Perhaps it was meant as a sign of respect for what he perceives as a more conservative crowd, but I suspected that it was more of a "don't scare the crackers" choice.
The ridiculous thing is that, for the most part, he was preaching to the choir last night! The audience was made up of the most liberal-minded elements of Nashville society, with a huge majority agreeing with pretty much every word out of his mouth. So it was a wasted effort - I would venture to guess that 75% or more of that crowd would be voting Democrat this November anyway.