"There was Pope John, if you remember. Now there's Pope John Paul. And the next Pope's gonna be Pope John Paul George…and we can see where they're going. It's that more populist edge…"—Eddie Izzard
Circle documents the return to America of British actor-comedian Eddie Izzard's one-man show after the massive success of his 1998 HBO stand-up special, Dress to Kill. Recorded on June 26, 2000 at New York's Town Hall, Circle has the same stream-of-consciousness flow as the 1998 effort, but is less personal. The night is a meditation on religion, philosophy, and the history of ideas with Izzard taking frequent tangents to explore such things as bastards; Popeman and Altar Boy; organ grinders and their monkeys; Charlton Heston, the NRA, and monkeys with guns; Richard the Lionheart and the crusades; the five major religions (including the two silly ones); airline safety instructions; Jesus as Ripley in Aliens; baseball, its bad organ music, the "World" Series, and how it's amazing that America wins every year; Jesus' message to the dinosaurs; the meek inheriting the earth—by force; the true meaning of awesome; American rejection of the metric system; the secret talents of animals (including seals and balls, and tigers and banjos); Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"; Da Vinci's non-working helicopter; Venn diagrams; and Star Wars and the Death Star cafeteria.
Sound scattered? It is, and therein lies the danger: if you like a comedian who gets to the point, Izzard is not for you. If you're able to accept his rhythms, idiosyncrasies, and the central role of the absurd in his work, though, he can be quite funny, even if the act swings sometimes violently from hilarious to droll and back again. Izzard's comedy is smart, but not pretentiously so; it's often biting but never venomous. It's an even-keeled, but rapid-fire affair. Perhaps the most startling thing about Izzard is how he tenaciously works his tangents until they're fully woven into the fabric of the evening's show. For instance, near the beginning of Circle he takes a swipe at the lack of gun control in America by changing the famous slogan to "guns don't kill people; people kill people [and monkeys kill people, if they have guns]." Absurd, to be sure, but it segues into monkeys with guns assaulting NRA chief Charlton Heston's house (he's had trouble with monkeys in his film career, after all). Nearly an hour (and many tangents) later, the monkeys return to fire starting pistols at the Stoned Olympics, where athletes are allowed to partake in drugs as long as they are of the performance debilitating variety. Now, either Izzard is incredibly adept at tying together loose ends and drawing connections between unrelated topics, or his serpentine act is carefully planned and he's a master of mimicking the scattered and sometimes dead-end nature of stream-of-consciousness. Either way, he's talented.
When all is said and done, Circle is enjoyable but Dress to Kill is a better, more consistent introduction to Izzard's work. Circle is best enjoyed as a companion to the original. When viewed in tandem, the two programs provide much insight into just how quick-witted, inventive, and improvisational Izzard is. In Circle, for instance, he returns to Dress to Kill's conversations between Jesus and God, but the subject matter discussed between Father and Son is new and once again fully integrated into the night's themes. For those who've seen the 1998 act, the shtick is both familiar and fresh.
Circle sports a vibrant, full screen transfer with fully saturated colors. The show was shot on video and looks it, but you won't find any shimmering or compression artifacts. Audio is Dolby stereo and, considering the content of the show is one guy talking, that's just fine. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are provided (the English subs are a nice feature for those North Americans who have trouble making out English accents).
Among the supplements is Dress to Circle, Izzard's performance of his act in France and in French. It's aptly called the "raw cut" because it was shot with a video camera on a tripod. Audio was recorded live from the house with the camera's microphone, but is decent considering the amateur video aesthetics. The show runs 56 minutes, and Izzard provides a full-length commentary. Too bad Dress to Circle was included on Dress to Kill and is unnecessary here. There's also a commentary by Izzard for the Circle main program. A talk track on a stand-up comedy disc is odd, but it's surprisingly entertaining as Izzard is smart, insightful, and wry throughout. The Trivia Track extra is an exact aping of VH1's Pop-Up Video: we're thrown information about New York, Town Hall, and the variety of subjects Izzard touches on in his act. It's straight-up trivia, adding zero in the way of humor. Finally, a 23-minute documentary gives a behind-the-scenes look at two of Izzard's shows, one at the Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles as well as the Town Hall gig. It's presented in 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen with Dolby stereo audio, and is reasonably entertaining.
If you're a major fan of Izzard's stand-up, Circle is for you. If you think he's funny but are far from fanatical, give the disc a rent. If you've never seen the actor-comedian do his one-man show, check out Dress to Kill before you give Circle a spin.
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