If the joke fits, wear it
The Australian | IAIN SHEDDEN

HE may operate under the banner of comedian, but there's more to Eddie Izzard's theatre of the absurd than a mere stand-up routine. The English comic can take on any number of roles, not to mention languages, during his one-man performances. It might be a team of astronauts one minute, a gaggle of European politicians the next. Deep down, however, it' s one man's incisive, irreverent and often surreal view of the world.
Then there's the frocks. Transvestism may not be central to Izzard's comedy but you have to admit it adds a certain stage presence. He likes to talk about his sexuality while performing, too, but in a way that's enlightening, slightly askew and never in that nudge-nudge manner.

``It is just the comedy,'' he says, playing down his stage attire. ``It doesn't make any difference. I could wear an elephant suit. I'll go onstage wearing a skirt, not wearing a skirt, I change it around.''

Izzard has reached the heights of a select few in solo comedy, trailblazing his way around the world and earning reviews that even one of his heroes, Billy Connolly, would be proud of. Tomorrow he begins an Australian tour in Melbourne.

``It's like a conversation,'' is how he describes his work. ``If you can imagine you had a conversation on something you were interested in and you recorded it with five different people, it would be different each time but cover similar things, but you wouldn't repeat it word for word.''

It's his capacity for thinking on his feet, reacting to any situation,that also gives him an edge in the highly competitive comedy market.

``I keep it loose as much as I can and I adlib, otherwise I'd just get bored. That's my way of creating new stuff. In a good show, about half an hour would be adlibbed.''

Izzard grew up worshipping the likes of Richard Pryor, Connolly and Monty Python's Flying Circus, but his early years as a comic involved busking around London and struggling to find an audience.

``For years I couldn't play to three people somewhere in Streatham in south London,'' he says. ``Now I can do big rooms in Los Angeles. It is odd. I wanted to do that but it was 10 years of `this really isn't working'.  Then stand-up became the feeding ground for alternative comedy in Britain. Once I got into it, I found I could do these strange sketches
and play all the parts.''

Does he think being a transvestite has affected his career? ``It's supposed to have been a hindrance. In America they said somewhere: `He wasn't going anywhere until he told people he was a transvestite', which is an annoying lie because I was already in the West End before that.''

A healthy section of Izzard's performance picks out the foibles and inanities of European history. It's a subject he takes quite seriously,keen as he is to make the European Union work. He has campaigned for the British Labour Party on European issues.

``I'm interested in a lot of things -- politics, religion, philosophy, sexuality. I'm interested and I'd like to know more. I'm hungry to acquire knowledge and I'm quite happy to talk about my own experiences.

``It's a passion,'' he says of the new Europe. ``If it doesn't work there's no hope for the world. If different continents don't come together you're going to keep on having despots, people invading Kuwait, Milosevics. We have to make it work.''

And might there be a role for him in the European parliament?

``In charge of rubber bands, perhaps,'' he says.

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