THE IZZARD QUEEN
Man in Dress Is Funny as Shit
by Bret Fetzer | www.stranger.com
IN THE VIDEO of his 1997 show, Glorious, nimble and flouncing comedian Eddie Izzard takes the stage wearing a shimmering burgundy two-piece suit, platform heels, no shirt, and a black choker. He breezes his way through topics ranging from the Bible and the Trojan War to drunken baboons and the love life of a beekeeper, never giving the impression that he's thought much more than half a second about what he's going to say before he says it. He gets by on sheer charm as much as wit; while lines such as "I like my women like I like my coffee--in a plastic cup" are cleverly absurd, what really makes them fly is Izzard's lazy, raffish persona. Routines like his impersonation of an evil giraffe--"I will eat ALL the leaves, ha ha ha ha"--would be disastrously silly in the hands of anyone else. Izzard makes them impeccably silly; he has a kind of cunning frivolity that, combined with his deft physical skills and his free-associative improvisational mind, makes him a supremely entertaining person.
However, in our phone interview, he was a pain in the ass.
So, you use a lot of historical references in your shows--in fact, they often seem to be structured as a timeline, starting at an early era and moving forward. If you had to live in a different time period, which one would it be?
Oh... I dunno... never really thought about it... hmmm. No idea.
As you've been touring around the world, have you come across any foods that you either really liked or really found repulsive?
Any foods... no... um, not really.
Thus demonstrating that a lot of work goes into the loose spontaneity Izzard affects.*
Fortunately, my dismay over Izzard's lack of brilliant responses was allayed when I watched a video of his 1998 show, Dress to Kill, which has been running relentlessly on HBO. Izzard ambles impishly on stage, jumping around as the audience applauds his lipsticked grin, wearing a delightful quasi-Chinese top over shiny black poly-vinyl pants and platform sandals.
Now would seem the moment to explain that Izzard is a transvestite, a fact he's probably sick of discussing in interviews but that still crops up in his act. (In his youth, he was going to join the military, but "there's not a lot of makeup in the army--they've only got that night look, and it's a bit slapdash, isn't it?") He is not a drag queen; he's not aspiring to impersonate or satirize women. He wears dresses cut to a man's form, and he is heterosexual, as most transvestites are. That, however, doesn't make his lifestyle any less alternative, which clearly informs his comic perspective; and of course, for many people, a man in a dress is just funny. But more significantly, mascara makes his eyes look enormous, and lipstick exaggerates his broad mouth, turning his already elastic features into a virtual cartoon. Somehow this effect draws us inside of his anything-goes sensibility. Robin Williams is capable of astounding improvisations, but you're always looking at him from the outside. Izzard cozies up to you and achieves a delicious intimacy, almost as if he's inviting you to use his sprightly mind as an extension of your own.
Izzard is slowly working himself into the world of film, having played small parts in flops both highbrow (Velvet Goldmine) and low (The Avengers), but he seems unlikely to stop doing live performance, where his talent is most fully unleashed. His new show, Circle, is reported to cover subjects like cows, a new Canadian national anthem, and the Olympics, but by the time it gets to Seattle it may have completely changed. Izzard doesn't sit down and write; he uses old material as a platform to improvise new stuff, slowly rolling things over until it's an entirely new body of bits. This organic approach results in two-hour monologues that only get funnier the longer they go on. Izzard's sense of humor collects in your bloodstream like the active ingredient of marijuana; the more exposure, the more you laugh.
Eddie Izzard performs Circle Tues May 30-Sat June 3 at ACT. Call 292-7676 for tickets and info.
*Now, it could be that he was just bored from an afternoon of interviews and weary from his return from a tour of Australia, and I suppose it was like asking a doctor at a party to examine your pustulant boils. But if you're a celebrity, giving entertaining interviews is part of your job, and I'd taken the time to concoct questions he'd probably never been asked before, so I see no reason to be charitable.