The Arizona Republic
Aug. 8, 2007 12:00 AM
Having just 10 minutes to talk with British transvestite comic Eddie Izzard
is like dripping chocolate on your tongue and never having a chance to swallow.
It's nothing short of tantalizing, the precious moments fleeting.
The voice calling from Los Angeles, where Izzard was shooting promotional bits
for his FX series, The Riches, was unmistakable: a little Elton John, a
little Colin Firth, and was that a touch of good old Tony Blair?
Izzard, who brings his solo stand-up piece, Work in Progress, to
the Scottsdale Center for the Arts on Aug. 17-18, was not particularly funny in
our conversation. It was late, he'd been working. Yet the British accent somehow
made every word fascinating.
Who else could say "rabbit suit" and make it sound like Monty Python in a bottle?
A talk show host once challenged him to utter the word "marmalade" in his best
British accent, and it brought the house down.
Izzard's sartorial reference to giant hares was in answer to queries about what
his own apparel would be for his first appearance in the Valley. Izzard, appealing
to women and vice versa, yet enjoys the freedom to cross dress when the mood strikes
him, much as women may dress androgynously without fear, he said.
Sometimes, Izzard just feels like slipping into a frock and packing on the Maybelline.
But Izzard will arrive in town fresh from Berlin where he's shooting a film starring
Tom Cruise with the working title, Valkyrie. It's the fact-based story
of a plot to assassinate Hitler during World War II. Izzard plays a German officer
in the Wehrmacht.
It's no Hogan's Heroes. Still, Izzard said, "I'm a good guy," a supporter
of the murder plot.
Given the sober nature of his role, he guesses he won't be in the mood to go drag
and wear his trademark make-up.
"It's a slightly schizophrenic thing," he said of his switch from comedy to drama
and back again. "I confuse people."
A little like driving on the right side of the road in America and the left side
back in London?
"No," he corrected, "it's like driving a car and then flying an airplane."
The difference is that great.
Phoenix fan Tiffany Thompson likes both sides of Izzard and was one of the lucky
ones to snag three tickets for the sold-out concert.
"I'm very excited," said Thompson, 27, a materials planner for Honeywell.
Thompson was introduced to Izzard's humor while living in Scotland in 2000.
"I like it because it isn't just typical jokes," she said. "He deals with history,
and the real world. It's more educated humor. It seems more thought out."
Izzard said his comedy is not, in fact, dependent on what he's wearing. When he's
doing his stand-up routine, his garb doesn't inform his material.
"I could be wearing a rabbit suit" - there it is - "and I wouldn't do rabbit jokes."
The cross-dressing style has its roots in classic English comedy, back to Benny
Hill (Izzard adores the early Benny) and Monty Python's Flying Circus
(more comic heroes), which had only the odd episode in which a male cast member
did not dress as a woman.
Now Izzard has taken the tradition and made it his own.
"I don't think I'm a trendsetter," he said. "I'm just an 'out' transvestite. It's
built into my genes."
And that, he added, was not a pun.
So trousers it is for Arizona. Izzard's monologue, however, is less predictable.
His style of comedy is the epitome of improvisation. Something is always on his
mind, and then his mind takes him down a different path. There's a little planning,
and then he takes his cues from audience reaction, making it up as he goes.
He might talk about Tom Cruise. Maybe he'll discuss the new British prime minister.
maybe get in a plug for The Riches, set to begin taping its second
season. Izzard co-stars with Minnie Driver as a couple of Irish scam artists called
travellers who assume the identities of a deceased couple living in rural Louisiana.
It's another dramatic role for Izzard, who also had a serio-comic role in the
George Clooney caper movie, Ocean's Thirteen, as Roman Nagel.
And then, Izzard's producer, who'd been on the telephone line all the time, chuckling
softly, said the actor-comedian-diva had to get back to work, and Izzard politely
The chocolate drip stopped, leaving only a desire for more.