July 14, 2003 | The Sun-Herald

Comedian Eddie Izzard tells Brett Thomas he wants to cut back on stage comedy and make more movies. 'If somebodywas to say to me, "You can only do one thing", I'd probably choose film'.

The phone rang and Eddie Izzard, the caller, was very polite. "Do you mind if I call you back in a couple of hours?" he asked. "Something has come up."

Izzard was in New York and had only just stepped off stage after completing one of the final performances of his acclaimed Broadway stint in A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg. It was already after midnight, Big Apple time, and hopes were not high that the phone would ring again any time soon.

But ring again it did, and Izzard sounded just as fresh as he had earlier. Something about New York had obviously agreed with him.

"It's apparently the city that never sleeps," he said, making reference to his peculiar showgirl hours, "although a number of places do close before you get there.

"It has been an amazing experience. It is surreal - I seem to have won these awards . . ."

That's right, one of the world's better-known and in-demand stand-up comedians has been receiving plaudits from all directions for his theatrical performances.

He won the Drama Desk award and the Outer Critics Circle award for best performance, and was nominated for a Tony award, ultimately losing out to Brian Dennehy.

He has even made American magazine Entertainment Weekly's It List, as It Drama Queen.

So the 41-year-old Englishman rightly sounded pretty chuffed.

"I have managed to garner several things for my stand-up, but as an actor I've never won anything," he said. "The only thing I've ever been up for was when I was 17, at school and playing the Nazi in Cabaret."

It turns out that Izzard's first love is acting, and he's been quietly combining smallish roles in films such as The Avengers, Velvet Goldmine and Shadow Of The Vampire with his more high-profile stand-up career for the past decade.

"I'm splitting myself down the middle," he said. "But if somebody was to say to me, 'You can only do one thing', I'd probably choose film. I just love it.

"I did a western for five months last year [the upcoming Muraya (l'experience secrete de Mike Blueberry)]. It's what I've wanted to do for so many years. I was riding around on horses with Michael Madsen and Juliette Lewis. It's insane!

"I realised early on if you do too much comedy, there is 'comedy baggage'. I thought, don't get too well-known, keep it live and I'll do videos and chat shows. I've never done a comedy show on television. Ten years ago, I got myself an acting agent and started pursuing dramatic roles."

Better get in while you can then, comedy fans. Although he is just to about to embark on a world stand-up tour called Sexie, which begins in Melbourne this week, Izzard may not be long for the live laughter business should his thespian standing continue to grow.

He saw his first play at seven, a year after his mother died, and, after noticing the attention the actors received from the audience, he immediately decided that's what he wanted to do. His ambition continued to burn through his school years, but at 15 he discovered Monty Python and the ability to make the other kids laugh.

"I thought, let's write sketches, so I went to uni and did sketch comedy at the Edinburgh Festival," Izzard said. "But I decided it was a non-sexy area in which to be.

"A year later I thought I'd get into street performing. I was really bad at that but got better and learned how to capture an audience. Then I realised you had to be in stand-up because that was the sexy area to be in - it was the antithesis of sketch comedy."

Soon Izzard was flying. Not only was he funny, but at 29 he revealed to the world an impossible-to-ignore sexuality that differentiated him from every other stand-up comedian.

He can truly lay claim to being the world's first "straight transvestite" comic.

He appears in the advertising material for Sexie in full make-up, shiny black leather, fish-nets and stilettos.

It's an image that conjures up thoughts of boy racer-era Marlon Brando, with the added and slightly surprising influence of Emma Peel and Pamela Anderson.

"It scared the hell out of me when I first came out, there is a lot of shame and guilt involved in the job of a transvestite," Izzard said. "But I've gone beyond that and I don't have shame or guilt any more, so that's great."

But he resists suggestions that he is a role model for other like-minded men. "I'm a role model for myself, so I can just exist and be honest about my sexuality," he said. "I don't want to march up and down with a transvestite flag."

Eddie Izzard's Sexie plays at the Enmore Theatre on July 24, 28, 29, 30 and 31.