he had to work hard to "get an audience together." He used to set out a series of tea cozies in the shape of various animals. "They were very visual. People would look at them and think something was going to go happen to them," He says. "I'd take ages to put them out. I wouldn't do anything with them, except this one thing where I'd say, "This is a boomerang hippopotamus. Wherever I throw it, it will come back." He would then throw the hippo tea cozy outside the ring of spectators. "I'd repeat, 'Wherever I throw it, the hippopotamus always comes back,' " he says. "By this time, somebody got the hang of it and chucked it back 'I told you it always comes back!' I could always get it through to people." He adds, "If they play with me, it makes it work, and everyone's happy."


Izzard does not tell gags; he does not have a written "routine"; he rarely invades his own privacy for material; he does not attack the audience, or, conversely, try to "dig it up," as comedians say ("Who here is from....?").   "I just want to fuck around, take the audience one way, then back up on it," he says, likening the madcap mosaic of mind which he delivers to channel surfing.

In "Dress to Kill," for instance, he goes into a riff about the stiffness of British movies between the thirties and the fifties

("Darling, I'm off to the war," "Oh, don't go, darling, it's so noisy") and observes that all the regional characters and even the working classes seem to speak in the Received Pronunciation of the upper orders. ("I must go, darling," he says in plummy tones. "It's my duty as a Cockney man. As a man of Cockney persuasion. I was born within five inches of Bow Bells. Ding dong, ding dong.")  And that leads him to an imitation of Dick Van Dyke's mangled Cockney in "Mary Poppins."

"He's dead, you know," izzard says about Van Dyke, bursting the bubble of laughter.  Then he shakes his head.  "No, he's not."  he pauses and continues, "He is...No...He is...No."  At each volte-face, which he delivers with either a dour shake of the head or a smile, the audience's energy switches back and forth between worry and delight.

Izzard has about him the whiff of comic greatness but none of the presenting symptoms of most inspired funnymen.  He is not morose, or aggressive, or chronically insecure.  "He's always been a good bloke," says the director Stephen Daldry, who was directing plays at Sheffield University when Izzard, after being kicked out of his first-year accounting course, was hanging around the Student Union and developing such alternative epics as "Fringe Flung Lunch," "Sherlock Holmes Sings Country," and "World War II: The Sequel," which he ultimately took to the Edinburgh Festival.  Daldry adds, "There's never been any edge to him."