Who Needs it? Quick-witted Izzard Shoots Straight From the Mind
SeattlePi.newsource.com | 09.04.03
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER ART CRITIC
With Bette Davis eyes and a blokey build, Eddie Izzard doesn't look as if he imitates squirrels.
And yet, telling a childhood story of hiding makeup in a tree hole, his big blues become furtive and his square jaw softens. Presto, he's a small rodent who finds the glamorous stash and experiments with the lipstick.
"Squirrels eat with both hands," he says, holding his tight like cupped paws, "and then they look up, wondering if they left the gas on."
Izzard (iz-ARD) is riding a comic wave of his own invention. Without backup writers, scripts or a plan worthy of the name, he has rocketed from counterculture kook in London to international big deal on the strength of his motormouth, timing, nerve and intelligence. On top of that, he's funny. Even without talking, he's funny. Had he lived a century earlier, he'd have been serious competition for Buster Keaton.
"Prince Philip is dead," Izzard says. The audience gasps.
"Yes," he says, "A car wreck. Just happened. You were probably on your way to the show."
Buzz of alarmed voices.
"No, he's not," he says.
The audience laughs with an undercurrent of anxiety.
"Yes, he is."
Facial expressions keep the argument going: odd gleam for living, slack weight for dead.
In a phone interview, he said he wasn't sure is-he-or-isn't-he would work. Now he can't get rid of it. "I'm just swinging along out there, saying whatever comes into my head, and the dead bit keeps coming out, but with other people. Whoever I'm talking about who's known to be living."
Izzard is appearing tonight through Saturday at the Moore Theatre. Those with tickets count themselves lucky. Not since Richard Pryor was young has a comic so enthralled the brainy. On stage, Pryor channeled his neighborhood. Izzard channels the world, sliding up and down the evolutionary ladder and dipping into history to examine the odd bits. From his point of view, that's nearly everything.
Increasingly, Izzard can be found in movies and in plays. He was Charlie Chaplin in Peter Bogdanovich's 2001 "The Cat's Meow" and was the lead in London and Broadway revivals of Peter Nichols' play "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg," which closed in New York in June. He also is starring in "Revengers Tragedy," a film opening a one-week run at the Grand Illusion Cinema in the University District tomorrow. He'll be on hand with the director, Alex Cox ("Repo Man"), for late screenings tomorrow and Saturday nights at 11.
Stand-up is his forte, however, allowing him to present himself as a sensible guy reacting to the crazed actions of others. If his version of sensible comes in hot pants and high heels, he takes it for granted that he's entitled, living as he is in the third millennium.
"The word transvestite is so second millennium," he says. "By the end of the third millennium, men in makeup will be everywhere, and you'll be dead."
He accepts the word transvestite but prefers male lesbian, because he fancies women. He'll bandy terms about, but that's as far as he'll get into his personal life. On stage you won't hear what his dad is like, how he felt about his mother's early death or what his girlfriend thinks of his girl gear. The topic of boarding school occasionally creeps in, especially as an explanation of why as a teen he hid his desire to don gay attire: "I'd have been killed."
Instead, he strides recklessly into religion. "The pope: What's he on about?" Izzard muses about a papal apology for the Spanish Inquisition, which lasted 300 years and put hundreds of thousands to torturous death in the name of Catholic Church orthodoxy.
"It was entirely too inquisitional" is Izzard's paraphrase of the Pope's retraction. "It was supposed to be the Spanish Casual Chat."
His current show, titled "Sexie," will focus on Muslims.
Asked if that wasn't, all things considered, a touchy subject these days, he brushed it aside. "Not for me. I'm going to say they're groovy. If we can't talk about it, God, we're stuffed."
Reminded that Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" is a surreal comedy and not an attack, he paused. "Really? Well, I didn't read it. I don't read, you see. I'm a pop telly kind of guy. Something's on about sharks, I'll watch it. I'll read economics, to find out who's pulling the wool over our eyes, a bit of history and philosophy but not novels. I'm dyslexic, so reading's not a pleasure. I get most of my information visually. There's passive and active research. I like passive research. I let the research come to me."
This may or may not be true. Izzard speaks French fluently, German and Spanish passably and is learning sign language. In America, he likes to kid the audience about its national self-absorption and imperial pretensions.
"You do realize there are other countries, don't you?" he asks. He praises us for always winning the World Series. "Impressive in a world event, that America always wins."
Asked for his influences, he always says Monty Python and admits to memorizing their routines as a kid. For John Lahr writing in the New Yorker, Izzard recited a variation of the Monty Python "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch. ("We never had a house. We lived in a corridor." "Oh, we used to dream of a corridor. We lived in a shoebox in the middle of a road.")
His routines cannot be memorized. They're different every time and delivered on the fly.
Does he ever bomb on stage?
"Yes. Sometimes the audience helps by breaking the flow." (He'll retaliate with insults: "Bugger off" or "You're probably the person on the plane who watches when they do the belt bit.")
"Sometimes I come up blank and crash. The possibility of that crash keeps it interesting."
The term "Eddying" is about to enter the language. It's what other comedians call Izzard's preliminary "um"-ing and "ah"-ing. As John Lahr observed, "Izzard doesn't come onstage as if shot from a gun. He sort of shambles out, pitched slightly forward in his high-heel boots, with his blue eyes shining and his shoulders in a sailor's roll."
Izzard's jokes are known as Eddyisms. Here are a few: