Are You Ready for Eddie?
He may be the funniest stand-up you've never seen

The record for drawing the largest audience to a live comedy show does not belong to whom you would expect. Not Jerry Seinfeld. Not Monty Python. Not Bill Cosby. And no, not Eddie Izzard, a manic British comic who, according to John Cleese, is the "funniest stand-up around." The owner of this proud record is Victor Borge, but Izzard did draw the second largest audience in history. So there you are. And anyway, who the hell remembers Victor Borge?

Remembering Izzard is an easier task, since his skewed, brainy material burrows into your head and remains there, buzzing, long after his two-hour-plus shows have ended. He's not afraid to begin with "All right you fuckers," in his best side-mouthed cockney, before moving on to imagine the Stoned Olympics, in which athletes are forced to ingest performance-debilitating drugs. Oh yes, and he's a transvestite -- both onstage and off, he often wears makeup and high heels. It's no surprise, then, that Izzard, despite an acclaimed HBO special in 1998, has always moved beneath the radar of most of America, although that appears to be changing. Before the Aspen Comedy Arts Festival tribute to Monty Python last year, Cleese secretly invited Izzard to pretend to be a member of the legendary troupe. He played the impostor brilliantly, proving he could hold his own with the de facto gold standard of comedy. More recently, the Harvard Lampoon conferred upon Izzard the title of "Best Purveyor of Surreal Bollocks," admitting him to a club that includes Cosby and Robin Williams. Izzard's increasing fame should be solidified by his latest project -- a furiously funny one-man show titled Circle, which opens in Seattle in late May before moving to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, where it will run through June.

"It circles a bunch of weird shit together," Izzard says by way of explaining the show's title, "and I sort of ramble wherever I need to." In April, during a short run at New York's Westbeth Theater, Izzard often turns to history, seizing its oddities for his own pointed comedic use. He renames Nazi-sympathizer Pope Pius XII "Shithead Coward Bastard the Twelfth" and plays a scene in which Jesus hosts the Last Breakfast, and his disciples are served Rice Krispies ("These are my corpuscles") and orange juice that doubles as plasma. At one point, he rips into Margaret Thatcher, who he suggests should be strapped to Celine Dion and dragged down to the Titanic for an underwater duet. "And if they drown," he states grandly, "that means they're innocent!"

For someone whose own history is slightly twisted (Izzard is a former Eagle Scout who was born in Yemen, and then there's that whole thing with women's clothing), such jugular bits throw off a tinge of catharsis. "It's all so honed, really," he says of his comedic attacks, as he sits down to get made up before a performance. "You can really tear into people. It's like you're trained as a bloody commando." Then he turns and gets his face powdered.

By: Mark Healy
Photograph by: Danny Clinch