chin-wag, a fag.
That is, before we sit down
fo an interview in the no-smoking dining section of a Back Bay restaurant, British comic
Eddie Izzard avails himself of a quick smoke in the smoking-OK front bar. Izzard is a bit
stressed. He has been buzzing about the five North American cities in which he is
unveiling his latest one-man show called "Circle"- it's at the 57 Theatre
Tuesday through Sunday - and apparently the flight from Chicago wasn't turbulence-free.
Nor were the hotel accomodations.
But, having smoked, Izzard begins to relax, settle in, and unwind, freely associating
about his life and times. The first, most obvious point to make, is that Izzard, 38, is
the world's only known transvestite stand-up comic, a peculiarity that is a neat paradox:
It is both inconsequential to the substance of his act and essential to his essence. He is
very likely to don make-up and dress in woman's garb to perform (or even just hang out),
but he does not do camp. His work is rooted in the banal currency of most contemporary
comedy. Izzard's comedy can work as social and political commentary; his discourse is
intelligent and surreal, coming from what he calls a center-left world-view. It's as
timely as the case of the former Austrian Freedom party leader Joerg Haider and as
historical as Adolf Hitler.
"Hitler never played Risk as a kid." Izzard has said in his act. "You could
never hold Asia. Marrying Eva in a bunker, honeymooning in a ditch covered in petrol, on
fire-how romantic Adolf. Yeah I know...vegetarian painter." Then, as Hitler
attempting a landscape: "Can't get these trees! Damn, I'll kill everyone in the
world. A twist on history Why are other villians like Josef Stalin and Pol Pot less
loathed by the world at large? "They killed their own people," says Izzard, and
it didn't bother the rest of us as much. Izzard has fun with genocide, mocking the
despot's schedule:"Death, death, death, lunch, death, death..."
Of America, the pixiesque
Izzard cheerfully opines, "You are the new Roman Empire...You have vomitoriums and
orgies to look forward to. Let the president lead the way!" Of America's little guns
and violence problems: "Guns don't kill people, people do, but I think the gun helps.
Just standing there and going "bang" doesn't work."
Izzard loves the History Channel and has noted in his act "I'm from Europe - where
the history comes from." He says, "I do like getting history and shoving it into
stand-up bits." Izzard is the wittest Brit comic to cross the Atlantic in, well,
eons. Not that, as he explains, many others have tried. There's Dudley Moore and Peter
Cook, Monty Python, Billy Connelly, Rowan Atkinson...a short list. The Pythons,
particularly Michael Palin, are one set of heroes ("even though I've met them and
they're quite human"), and Steve Martin would be another. And, of course, Lenny
Bruce, whom Izzard played onstage in London last summer.
Izzard, in Boston two weeks ago, is sporting a trace of color-enhancing foundation on his
cheeks, but he is not wearing eyeliner or mascara. He is clothed in a fairly plain, but
designer-label, blue shirt and trousers. His spiked, stylishly mussed hair has blond
streaks. He's got a tidy goatee. On his feet are modest pumps, which makes his gait seem a
trifle ladylike as he walks to a unisex restroom. "I'm very blokey," he says,
"I look like a bloke wearing make-up."
Asked if, in fact, he is straight or gay, Izzard replies thus: "I'm a male lesbian, a
transvestite being a male tomboy." He used to just say he was straight, Izzard says,
but "then journalists would write 'He insists he's straight,' which is implying like
it's not true. But if you are a transvestite, you do fancy women. It is an alternative
sexuality. Perversion? That word is very easily bandied around and I kind of want to move
it out and say "I'm an executive transvestite" - get it into this new area,
Izzard came out as a transvestite in 1984, at 22. As he was about to come out to the news
media, he figured he should tell his family, too. He braced for his dad's reaction. His
father said, "oh, OK." Audiences echoed that reaction.
What exactly is "Circle" about and why is it a "one-man show?" How
does if differ from a stand-up comedy routine?
"I think I am doing a stand-up comedy routine," says Izzard. "But when I
got to America, people were saying, 'Well this isn't really stand-up comedy' But it is in
my book. I mean, I get the impression that in America, stand-up comedy can be looked down
on in a way. If you're a stand-up comic you're expected to go, 'You know how it is when
you stick your finger in your ear and stick a hammer to your head - it really hurts.'So
I'm not quite like that."
Izzard started by performing street comedy during the 1980's and then "came up
through the comedy clubs of London," a circuit of 80 plus clubs. "So," he
says, "it is some form of stand-up comedy, but it's more surreal. Also, in theaters
they'll give you a lot more attention so you can (mess) around a lot more and widen things
out or go on long, disparate angles and put things together and be more complicated. But I
still think it's stand-up comedy."
Izzard's specialty, akin to that of American comic Jake Johannsen, is to find a theme,
deviate from it, weave a tangled web of thoughts - mixing the absurd with the pointedly
profound - and somehow, mostly, emerge with something both hilarious and coherent, gentle
He doesn't telegraph his jokes, but he will indicate that a punch line is approaching with
a slight hesitation in his voice and a sideways dart with his expressive eyes. He uses -
but doesn't overuse - the English language's favorite profanity with well-timed emphasis,
not for the rote "shock value".
He worked five months off Broadway in 1998. In June he broke
through with an HBO special, "Dress to Kill", shot in San Francisco, which set
the stage for this tour. Izzard, who has acted in movies such as "Mystery Men",
"The Avengers" and "Velvet Goldmine" among others, says he doesn't
write down his material - it's all spew. "I've tried to do a concept," he says,
"but it doesn't work. I was trying to on this one which I haven't done yet at
all." He says his act is like a conversation, albeit a one-sided one, with his
audience. He likens it to a bloke in a pub who bends your ear. He says he is horrible at
structure - "it's my weakest area, so if you do get a shape that sort of works,
that's kind of accidental."
"Circle", he says, may be based on this notion: "The planet is circular,
the sun is, everything goes around in an orbit...um...major Native American religion
believed in circles - everything goes back to the land." He sighs and tries again.
"I am trying to talk about some sort of relational sphere, and look back to the
classical Greek thinkers, and I'm still toying around with that - I was trying to see if
there was some sort of link there. At the moment, it's still a work-in-progress. My shows
are always work-in-progress."
He's not aiming for "middle America but just switched-on, alternative-thinking
America. It's not the entire population, but who wants 265 million people coming to a gig?
Don't need it." And Izzard defines entertainment not just by the number of customers
in the seats or the laughs heard in the hall. "For me," he says, "I kind of
entertain myself, actually, so I don't really care what (happens). It's me doing stuff and
going, 'Oh that's funny.'"