A Walking Britannica, With a Fresh, Quick Wit, Who Explains Everything

By LAWRENCE VAN GELDER | NY Times | June 23, 2000

An adoring audience, primed to laugh, met the British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard more than halfway on Tuesday night when he opened a run through Monday at Town Hall.

His fans did not go away disappointed, although Mr. Izzard set himself the daunting challenge of nearly two hours of solo stand-up comedy, surely among the most perilous and unpredictable of performing arts.

But such is Mr. Izzard's charm, his practiced skill, his control and, when necessary, his relaxed self-deprecation in the face of the failed joke or the flat response, that the whole of his latest show, called "Circle," amounts to a rewarding, laugh-littered evening of entertainment.

Clad in a glittery black top and black leather trousers festooned with silvery rings, wearing high-heeled black boots and adorned with lipstick, eye shadow and a heavy coat of facial makeup under his short, frosted hair, Mr. Izzard refers to himself good-naturedly as a transvestite or weirdo. But he has much more on his restless, intelligent mind than looking different from most middle-aged men.

And what a peripatetic mind he exhibits as he proceeds to keep his stated promise to talk about everything that ever happened. In no particular order, but often, as the show's title suggests, circling back to harvest a laugh from material planted earlier, Mr. Izzard theorizes on the origin and demise of dinosaurs. He discusses the life of Jesus, including God's farewell, "See you in 33 years," and God's appalled reaction to his son's account of the uses of wine and bread at the Last Supper.

Mr. Izzard has an intriguing theory about whales as the disc jockeys of the deep, and he possesses the vocal ability to illustrate his point, which leads him into an imitation of dolphin television dramas. He pokes fun at Charlton Heston and his "Planet of the Apes" movies and his advocacy of guns, and then proceeds to act out various scenes involving an armed monkey in the Heston home.

Mr. Izzard's long run through history, which begins with the Big Bang, also takes him through papal history, papal nomenclature and the Spanish Inquisition, which got out of hand; it was supposed to have been merely a chat. He imagines a dialogue between the Crusaders and their Islamic foes, wonders why Iraqis have mustaches like Tom Selleck's in "Magnum P.I." and revisits the Creation, which leads him into a theological discussion involving Kelvin and Celsius temperatures, followed by an inquiry into the debasement of the word awesome.

And that's not to overlook Mr. Izzard's journey through the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, when Michelangelo's plans for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel involve a lot of beige paint, and to World War II as interpreted by "Saving Private Ryan."

With Izzardian logic, the whole show winds up in the Death Star cafeteria and Darth Vader's problems, with an order of penne all'arrabbiata.

Does it all work? Perhaps that would be too much to ask of any comedian. Mr. Izzard is generous to a fault, and a shorter show might be a better one, but he moves from topic to topic so quickly and with such general originality and freshness that it is easy to forgive him and to wait with happy anticipation for his next visit.


A one-man show with Eddie Izzard. Lighting by Josh Monroe; music by Sarah McGuinness. Presented by the Westbeth Theater Center. At Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, Manhattan.