I went to see Brit comedian Eddie Izzard perform live this weekend. He was hilarious; great. He did one bit illustrating the idea that Latin became a dead language because it was just too complicated. A Roman legionnaire comes running to tell a centurion that Hannibal and his elephants have crossed the Alps but he can’t get the verb conjugations or noun declensions right and keeps stammering: “Elephantis… elephanti… elephantitis…” while the puzzled centurion says, “Quid? Qua? Quo?” It was genuine comic genius and nearly killed me.
Now along with being a brilliant comedian, Izzard is a couple of other things I’m not: a transvestite and an atheist. The transvestism is whatever it is – he mentioned it but did not, as he sometimes does, dress the part.
The atheism, on the other hand, was central to his routine, which included some very funny mockery of Bible stories and religious beliefs – including mine.
Now I know this sort of thing bugs some believers, but it doesn’t bother me at all and here’s why – two reasons. First, Izzard comes across as a person of good will who works hard at his humanity. The honest atheism of a man like that is, I feel confident, far more pleasing to God than rote, Pharisaical or fanatical faith.
But more than this, faith is central to a person’s interior world – and that world is the raw material out of which artist’s make art. As someone who has written atheist novels myself, I’m painfully aware that an artist’s spiritual journey becomes perforce a matter of public record. And if he’s a good artist and honest, that can be an important force for good. T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland is a brilliant evocation of a world without God – it was also a stepping stone on Eliot’s journey to Christ. It was a stepping stone on my journey to Christ, for that matter. So, having been exactly where Izzard is in this regard, I was actually delighted to see him making something so wonderfully entertaining out of it. What God makes out of it is yet to be seen.
Anyway, he’s a terribly funny guy and it was a great show. If you’ve never seen him, try this – Darth Vader in the Death Star canteen – Not Suitable For Work… unless, of course, you work at the Death Star canteen.