|Izzard doesn't come onstage as if shot from a
gun. He sort of shambles out, pitched slightly foward in his high-heeled boots, with his
blue eyes shining and his shoulders in a sailor's nonchalant roll. He once began his
act by making strange guttural sounds, and he still does alot of preliminary
"uh-ming" and "ah-ing", a technique his fellow comedians call
"Eddying". He stands slightly pigeon-toed, bending a bit at the knees--a
loosey-goosey correlative for the millennial confusions about mind and body.
On the night I saw the Toronto show, Izzard was cooking. He was acting out his meditation on the discovery of random dinosaur bones ("How were these dinosaurs dying? Were they going "I'm near death. I'll be leaving an arm over there. A jawbone over there. My bum in a hedge--ha-ha, that'll fuck off the paleontologists?") when a statuesque young woman walked slowly down the aisle and came to the lip of the stage while he was in full swing. She held out a beer and a pint glass. "I got you a beer, " she said.
"You got me a beer?"
"You look thirsty." She poured the beer out slowly.
"There's a thing called timing, " Izzard said. By now the auditorium was roaring.
"You can drink it later." She pushed the beer toward him.
"All right. All right," he said, moving the beer upstage.
"Thank you." He turned back to the audience. "You don't get that in Shakespeare, do you? Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio. We, uh, we had a beer together." Then, pivoting from one side of the stage to the other, Izzard started to dispute himself. "You never fucking knew me." "I did!" Somebody called out for him to drink the beer. "Not now, " he said. "Not now. Later I can drink a beer."
On occasions when he is interrupted and has to talk to an audience, his brain, he says, is "almost like a split screen," on which he can play and "work things out at the same time." Once, at the opening of his show "Definite Article," in London, a button off his jacket popped off. Someone threw a sewing kit on the stage, and Izzard, talking all the while, threaded a needle and sewed on the button. "If I failed to sew it on, that would have been seen as a real pyschological failre," he explains. "I thought, as long as I sew it on, I'm fine, I can't really lose. I needed to keep the energy going." On this night, with the beer as with the button, Izzard, feeling the imperative of the audience's collective will, picked up the glass and chugged own the beer in one gulp.
Izzard's special way of playing is, he says, "a childlike thing that I locked in afer six, which is when my mother died and which I wanted to keep hold of." He adds, "There's a kid there that comes in and plays onstage." His company , "Ella Communications," is named after Doroty Ella Izzard, who died of cancer at the age of forty-one. (Izzard was born in Yemen; the family was relocated to Bangor, In Northern Ireland; and after Dorothy's death her husband, who was an accountant for British Petroleum and rose to be chief auditor, settled at Bexhill-on-Sea.) Izzzard has very few clear memories of his mother, who was a nurse and midwife and was devoted to Eddie and his older brother. "She was very understanding. I remember I would demand glasses of water and cups of milky coffee in the middle of the night. She'd get up and make them," he says. "She was great, and I didn't want her to go away." In fact, Izzard didn't know that his mother was dying. "I just thought she was ill and would get better," he says. "Then you come home one day, and she isn't there, and you don't see her ever again." Izzard's transvestism is a way of keeping his mother in mind. According to Stephen Grosz, an American psychoanalyst living in England, who has worked with transvestites, "There's an underlying belief that the mother has everything; and so by becoming the mother you've then lost all need, all want." Izzard stands before an audience as both man and woman, father and mother. As he jokes. "I'd be the perfect one-parent family."