Eddie Izzard’s First Frock
Tim McHenry helped turn the freckled schoolboy into the tantalizing transvestite of today
by Tim McHenry

June 23, 2000

Eddie in his dressing room

To say that I was instrumental in the transformation of Eddie Izzard from yet another freckled English schoolboy into the world's most popular transvestite would be stretching it. That I had played even a small part in this metamorphosis I came to realize only Monday night, when I stopped by the Town Hall to see Circle, his latest one-man show -- the first time I'd seen Eddie since I left Eastbourne College, on the pebbled coast of the English Channel, twenty-two years ago.

Anticipation is running high. It is twelve minutes past eight when the house lights flicker. Screams of excitement rain down from the balcony. Then the lights dim, and a barrel of jelled spots rolls over the audience to the tune of "Tinkerbell, Where Are You?" The long-awaited answer comes with Eddie's emergence through a curtain of stretched spandex ribbons. Were he not wearing a shimmering black top and seventeen hundred dollars’ worth of tight Dolce & Gabbana leather trousers festooned with metal cock rings, you might almost describe his entrance as unobtrusive. But with the level of audience hysteria as high as his heels, this is not a possibility.

Eddie and cast member with Eddie’s falsies

The sold-out show, playing the English-speaking world since October, modestly bills itself as a "talk about everything that has ever happened," in which Eddie airs his views on religion and the artists responsible for its iconography ("Raphael was not only a hairdresser. He did coffee as well."), and his profound reconceptualization of creation ("God created man in his own image. God created dinosaurs in the image of his cousin Ted.").

But how did God create Eddie? With a little help from the Bard.

Rewind to year 1976. I was playing the leading part of Antipholus of Ephesus in the school play, Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. Eddie was cast as Guard With Helmet. He only had one line in my big solo scene. But, positioned behind me, he stole it lock, stock and smoking barrel. By surreptitiously raising the visor on his helmet with the aid of an invisible string, he offered the audience a vacuous smile through its aperture, deftly lowering it the moment I turned to address him. Tugging at that visor as if it were a cow's teat, Eddie was milking his first stage appearance for all it was worth. "That was the beginning," Eddie confessed, at Balthazar, after the Town Hall show Monday night. "I said to myself: I can do this." And he did -- but not without a stumble along the way. I had devised a comedy revue for our boarding house called Don't Get Your Toga in a Twist. In it, a gumshoe in the vein of Mickey Spillane investigates the murder of Julius Caesar. Eddie had been allotted the roles of Mrs. Caesar, a belly dancer and various other Roman dames. But then he mysteriously fell ill and couldn't go on. Monday night, I finally found out why.

"You see," Eddie explained, "I've known I was a transvestite since the age of four. But this was the first time I was able to dress as a woman in public and have a good reason for doing so. It was so close to my dreams, I got totally overwhelmed and came down with a psychosomatic illness."

I hated to remind him that all he would have got to wear was the cotton sheet off his bed, just like the rest of us. But these two long-ago moments remain the pivotal points in the process of what is now the phenomenon of Eddie Izzard. Let that be my contribution to the theatrical arts.