Full `Circle': British comic's cross-dressing, historical repertoire takes shape with new show
by Robin Vaughan

Monday, March 6, 2000 | Boston Herald

Eddie Izzard, the high-heeled, lipstick-slathered British comic whose unconventional repertoire includes such subjects as Hannibal crossing the Alps and the concept of original sin, is not the kind of standup performer his audiences easily forget.


Izzard's current show, ``Circle,'' which starts its five-night run at the 57 Theatre tomorrow, promises to be the most memorable standup event of the year, not just because he'll be talking about world history wearing makeup and heels, but because he is simply one of the funniest people on the planet.


Whether he's discussing the Trojan War or Armageddon, it's nearly impossible to hear Izzard's bizarre takes on history and culture without crying with laughter. It's funny enough to make you forget about the dress he wears, which ``has nothing to do with the comedy at all,'' Izzard said, speaking from Toronto.


``(Transvestism is) just my sexuality. Like, a woman will wear whatever she wants onstage, so can I,'' he said. ``Since I came out (he first appeared onstage in women's clothing at age 30), most people go, `OK, whatever.' In general, I think 80 percent of the world's population is like `Live-and let-live, do whatever you want, I'm busy doing what I'm doing.' ''


He addresses this subject but doesn't dwell on it in his shows. It's an area he's researched heavily for personal reasons (he was aware of his transvestite sexuality at age 4, he said, but he believes it actually ``started at age zero''). But he has yet to come up with all the answers.


Izzard's grassroots American club audience swelled with his 1998 theater tour, ``Dress to Kill,'' and then grew exponentially when a San Francisco taping of the live show debuted last summer on HBO. His exposure has risen with appearances in such major recent releases as ``Mystery Men,'' ``Velvet Goldmine'' and ``The Avengers.''


Now, with four of his one-man shows charting in the video Top 20 and with featured roles in three new films (``Shadow of a Vampire,'' ``The Circus'' and ``The Criminal''), Izzard's profile is about to become larger still. But for the moment he's comfortably poised between full-blown celebrity and cult comedy fame.


Izzard said he's ``happy not to be totally well known'' just yet, because the more famous his comedy persona becomes, the more likely he is to be limited in the kinds of film roles he's offered.


He developed his style, he said, ``through failing. I was doing Monty Python-like sketch comedy in the early '80s and that wasn't going anywhere, so I got into street performing.''


In trying to capture people's attention on London's streets, ``I lost my confidence initially then found it, and finally got to a point where I could host my own show like a standup comic does, with my own voice instead of a character,'' he said.


The voice is ``essentially an extension of me normally,'' he said, ``which is sort of quiet and morose and lugubrious. And then onstage I switch on, so I'm me - more pumped up. It's a common thing with comedians.''


His character voices tend to pop up in the same seemingly arbitrary manner.


``It's just sort of people talking to each other, not characters with names,'' he said. ``If I have a scene with Hannibal attempting a route over the Alps, Hannibal will turn up talking in some particular voice, talking to some guy in a ski shop as he's trying to hire elephants instead of skis. Sometimes the voices are quite disparate. . . . I'm lazy about developing them for specific characters.''


Intellectually lazy he is not. In the ``Circle'' show, which includes ``about 40 percent'' of his ``Dress to Kill'' material, as well as new commentary on such topics as ``hatred, the universe and Greek thinking,'' he's begun spinning a cosmic, circle-themed premise.


``It's a (new idea) I want to put it in the show but haven't actually done it yet,'' he said. ``I can't hammer it in by writing it down, because I never write anything, I just ad lib. But I am attempting to creep this in in the shows. I'm very interested in universal themes. I'm curious about life on other planets, I think it must be out there, just because there's too many bloody stars out there.''


With Izzard's kind of talent, there's certainly room for one more.


Comedian Eddie Izzard performs "Circle" tomorrow through Saturday at 57 Theatre, Stuart Street, Boston.


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