The Georgia Straight
May 18-24, 2000

Dude Does His Best to Look Like A Lady
Eddie Izzard can't help talking about being the world's funniest - and only - transvestite comic

By Guy Macpherson

I swear I wasn't going to ask him about the woman's clothing. But when you talk to Eddie Izzard, the British comedian who plays the Arts Club Theatre Tuesday to Friday (May 23 to 26), the subject inevitably comes up. I promise, though, he brought it up first.

I know what you're thinking: British comic, women's clothing - so? The difference between Izzard and his countrymen in that Izzard's wardrobe has nothing to do with his act. He's not playing characters; he's doing standup. Izzard just happens to be a transvestite, and he's the funniest transvestite comic in the world. Granted that's not particularly difficult when you're also the only transvestite comic in the world. Although most comics have a hook, for Izzard dressing up as a woman is a way of life. And he gets tired of people assuming it's some sort of gimmick.

With reams of rave reviews from across North America in his press package all giving ample space to his sexuality, I was determined to leave the topic alone. And now here I am contributing to it. On the phone from Adelaide, Australia, Izzard started off with observations on a wide variety of subjects.

We talked about his itinerary ("I'm doing a world tour, but when you look at the globe, it isn't actually the world. We seem to have missed Asia out") and the meaning of life ("Never stick your dick in a toaster"), The Kind of Kensington (okay, I was talking about it, be he asked about Canadian sitcoms and it was the only one I could think of), Canada as Ireland vis--vis the U.S. ("The Irish don't have any sitcoms either, because they're right next to Britain and they watch all the British sitcoms"), his act ("It changes every day. I use my own boredom threshold to change material"), his influences (Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Billy Connolly, Monty Pythons, the Goons), British standup ("We've got the biggest comedy scene in the world in London with 85 to 90 clubs"), and Canadian comics making it huge in Hollywood ("That's got to piss off a lot of American comics. I'm just trying to give you a sense of national pride").

So you see, I did my part. I wasn't going there. Honest. But when comparing himself to other British standups, he said: "My personality's different and people get confused about me being transvestite and think that has something to do with the comedy. So that visually gets in the way." I felt the subject was now fair game. I've long thought Izzard's wardrobe does get in the way of his comedy and that his crazy fame is a direct result of his unique situation in the world of standup. But he certainly makes a case against that line of thinking.

The 38-year old Izzard (who, for the record, is not gay) came out as transvestite when he was 23 but didn't tell his father about it until he was 29. At the age of 30 he performed his first gig in a dress. You can see why he might get a little edgy when insensitive journalists suggest it may just be a gimmick.

He bristled when asked how much of it has helped his career. "Jesus Christ," he said. "If being a transvestite is a gimmick, then I seem to have spent my entire life acting out this gimmick and I seem to know way too much about it. I tire of the idea because I did this thing [coming out] and it scared the shit out of me. Just put yourself in my place. I didn't even think it would work. Everyone advised me not to do it. No one seems to mention that it was a scary thing to do. That's fine. But the first thing is like, "'Is is a gimmick?' And I understand journalistically that you need to ask that, but it just comes up over an over again."

It's not easy being one of a kind. "Imagine if you had to launch a positive image of being transvestite around the world," he said. "How would you go about doing it? It's quite a tricky thing to do and get it to land perfectly. But just the fact that my career hasn't gone down the toilet is a big plus, I think."

Izzard's career is in no danger of going down the toilet. He continues to pack 'em in everywhere he goes. And he keeps getting roles in films (seven to date), including Velvet Goldmine and Mystery Men. He has three coming out this year alone.

Despite our ties to the British, Izzard said his shows are selling out quicker in the U.S. than in Canada. Vancouver's going to be a tough sell, he admitted. On his way up, he played here twice to good response, but little else. "People came and they went, 'Ha ha,'" he recalled. "They laughed. And then they went away and there was no buzz. It really was quite odd. It didn't build any momentum up. I was below the profile level. Sometimes if you're below a certain level it just doesn't ignite."

Vancouverites, like most people, love a good bandwagon, and with Izzard's success of late, he and the crowd will likely feed off each other. And, perhaps because we're polite Canadians, it's possible no one will even mention his attire.