Into Izzard (added 02.24.00) By DARYL JUNG /NOW FEBRUARY 24-MARCH 1, 2000

Eddie Izzard, Britain's cross-dressing answer to Robin Williams, bounds into the Barristers bar in the Toronto Hilton -- without his trademark garish makeup -- deliberating on what kind of cigarettes to buy.

WHEN / WHERE CIRCLE, performed by EDDIE IZZARD, at Bathurst Street Theatre (736 Bathurst), from Tuesday (February 29) to March 4 at 8 pm. $35-$40. 872-1111.
EDDIE IZZARD'S MAKEUP TIPS *"Always use a lip liner. And practice is essential. The more you do it the better you get. But what's most important for blokes, if they decide to wear makeup, is to realize they can't be touched. If you wear it and people slight you, you just say, 'Fuck you.' It's a great, open place to get to."

*"If you come out as transvestite and people say, 'Hey, you're dressed as a woman,' you say, 'Yeah!' That's very empowering. You've told people about the skeletons in your closet, so it becomes a big open closet. It makes you bolder. Your confidence goes up three notches."

*"Mix it up. Exercise your freedom to choose, like women do, what you want to wear at any given moment. And make sure your choices fit your mood."

He figures they ought to be Canadian. Sticking with his own brand, he's convinced, would undermine his compulsion to experience North American culture to the fullest. He likes to personalize his act for the various regional sets of unsuspecting masses.

A practitioner of surreal, spontaneous stand-up and a burgeoning star of stage and screen, he's also fluent in French. He does his stand-up act for Parisians in their native tongue, which nobody else in the world does -- not even the French, for whom stand-up is an otherwise unknown quantity.

Wardrobe choices

Best of all, Izzard is not "always on." But he's charming, articulate and sardonically funny all the same. And though he's been out as a transvestite for years, he's still surrounded by middle-brow misconceptions about his wardrobe choices that he takes in laid-back stride.

"Most transvestites are straight, essentially," says Izzard, in town to promote his stand next week at Bathurst Street Theatre in the next installment, Circle, of his cavalcade of one-man shows.

"We're not gay and we're not drag queens. And I still have to explain all of that, even though I'm not entirely sure how the sexuality works.

"In trying to get around it, I came up with the description 'male lesbian' or 'male tomboy.' And that's my best explanation of it. But then people say, 'Well, what the fuck is that all about?'"

That said -- any trouble getting girls while prancing about in drag?

"No, it's actually bizarrely helpful," he giggles. "I didn't think it would be when I first came out. Some women, obviously, have problems with it. But there are a whole lot of women who have the inverse of problems with it.

"They find it very positive, very fascinating and sexy, which is born out of the whole British glam rock thing. Girls were totally into Bowie and that lot. So it's not a problem.

"But what I get quite often is people insulting me and being fascinated at the same time. They are negative and positive right in the same space, which I understand.

"They have their own narrow lives and are looking for anything out of the ordinary to lay into. Then they feel better about themselves. They can say, 'Look! There's a fuckin' weirdo. I'm not a weirdo, so I feel great.' It's just a closed, schoolyard mentality."

The title for the new tour, Circle, comes from his idea that everything in the world is is spherical, including his material. Other than that, he admits, it has nothing to do with the show, which, like all his stand-up spectaculars, is a constant stream-of consciousness work-in-progress.

Talking crap

"I just go on and talk crap," says Izzard. "I'm very lazy and that has caused me problems with the theatre and films. Doing them, you really have to do the research up front. You gotta get in there and know the back story of the characters so when you do a scene you know where that character is going.

"My stand-up style works against that. I do the research on the spot, a lot of the time by asking the audience questions. So I have to work a lot harder to do film stuff -- which is a good thing, because it means there's no free ride."

Among Izzard's seven "small films" are such gems as The Secret Agent (with Williams), Mystery Men, The Avengers and Velvet Goldmine. He also starred as Lenny Bruce in the London West End production of Peter Hall's Lenny.

He's hip to the idea that it's hard to imagine the good-natured Izzard playing such a heavy role. But his reviews were raves, and he's doing it again off Broadway next spring, despite his fear of a "knackering" six-month commitment.

"Doing Lenny was great," he laughs. "And it was fuckin' difficult. I love to ad lib like Lenny did, and I learned his style. But his earlier stuff was more surreal, so I was also able to ad lib in my own style.

Lenny's legacy

"But you think of him as much more political and angry. In the end he was just reading court transcripts while off his fuckin' face. It was great, though, because it gave me a chance to do serious acting and comedy at the same time. And no stand-up has ever played Lenny."

But a blond English transvestite portraying a legendary Long Island Jew? A stretch, for sure.

"Yeah, it is very wrong," he says. "The critics'll all want to kill me. But being a transvestite helps, I think. It's so wrong it could be right. It's so American in that way."