A square peg in comedic 'Circle,' but a brilliant one

By Reed Johnson | la daily news | june 15, 2000

Ever wondered how God talks? Well, according to Eddie Izzard, the Almighty sounds a lot like James Mason, the late great silver-tongued British actor.

Alas, that's not to say the Supreme Being always orchestrates his universe eloquently. Take, for instance, the time God mistakenly sent Jesus to preach the Sermon on the Mount to a bunch of dinosaurs, who gave a big claws-down to the idea that the meek shall inherit the Earth.

"Blessed are the war-makers," Izzard's Jesus hastily ad-libs, "blessed are the things that rip and tear."

This snippet of comic cosmology from "Circle," Izzard's spiky but humane new solo show at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, isn't perhaps quite as irreverent as it sounds, though it's guaranteed three times as funny when performed live. Though "Circle" flirts with sacrilege, behind its barbed wit lies a fundamental sweetness and goodwill, a plea for peace and tolerance to unite our circuitously interconnected planet.

"I don't really hate people," Izzard tells us near the end of his two-hour show. "As a transvestite, I can't afford to."

Indeed, the high-heeled, bottle-blond 38-year-old Brit may be many things: cross-dresser, stand-up comic, sometime Hollywood actor and superb improviser of one-man character studies. But hate-monger isn't among them.

Neither is ill-informed. Will Rogers only knew what he read in the papers. Izzard only knows what he sees on the telly, which is plenty.

Decked out simply but elegantly in a black shirt, tuxedo pants, stilettos and a smear of red lipstick, Izzard made a grandly inconspicuous entrance to the twang of spaghetti western guitar, his wit loaded for bear.

Since his 1998 showcase at the Tiffany, he has honed his theatrical instincts and tightened his formidably allusive writing skills. Referencing films, songs and breakfast cereal jingles, his cultural insights ricochet left and right. Now and then, they sail into some overly cerebral black hole but always emerge at the other end.

From surreal scriptural revisions, Izzard segues to some cockeyed reflections on Pope John Paul's apologizing for the Spanish Inquisition ("It was supposed to be the Spanish casual chat"). He also offers a modest proposal to the National Rifle Association: How about putting a monkey with a loaded shotgun in Charlton Heston's house just to prove that only people, not guns, kill people?

There are timely digressions on Anglo-French antipathy, mad cow disease, the Falklands War and whether L.A. hates other cities the way San Francisco hates L.A.

"Were there Native Americans here?" he politely asks the audience. "Did you kill them all?"

But don't think Izzard's preaching a PC gospel. A keen history student, he simply feels compelled to gently chide insular Americans about not repeating the past. And by the way, couldn't we have snuck just one Allied soldier into "Saving Private Ryan"?

Izzard thinks globally but jokes locally, as befits an heir of the Monty Python comedy school. It's a small world after all. A funnier world, too, with Eddie Izzard in it.