Eddie Izzard goes on, on in 'Sexie'
Chicago Tribune | 10.01.03 | Thanks Patsy

With a jovial crowd, Lisa Marie Presley in the orchestra (go figure) and a guy on stage in a sparkly skirt sporting fake breasts, it was quite the Midwestern bacchanal at the uncommonly crammed Shubert Theatre on Tuesday night.

Once the outré acquired taste of English collegiate alternative comedy, Eddie has morphed into the most unlikely of hip, global cult stars. This has been a rapid transition.

When I first saw Izzard live in 1998 at the Westbeth Arts Center in New York, his small audience was almost exclusively young, Wall Street-type British expats.

All seemed to be there to prove to their dubious dates they could still loosen their conservative designer ties for a cheeky, not-so-threatening transvestite comic from Sheffield University with a loose tongue.

After a pint or two, at least. As long as he didn't go on too long.

These days, it seems that for every person who still has never heard of Izzard, someone else is buying a ticket to his genuinely global "Sexie" tour.

For sure, there aren't too many solo comics or performance artists who can sell out an entire week at the Shubert with barely a peep of advance media attention or advertising.

Izzard, who maintains a popular Web log and an otherwise legitimate acting and film career, has his own people all over the English-speaking world now (even if Brian Dennehy, who made a famously off-color remark about him at last year's Tony Awards, is not among them). And Izzard's fans flock anywhere to see their gentle hero totter around a stage in his high heels and yak about nothing—but really everything—for well over 21/2 hours.

But if you strip away the eyeshadow and the gags about the breasts and the cool video backdrop, Izzard is actually a closet intellectual with an internationalist agenda that's as explicit and heartfelt and poorly concealed as that of a United Nations delegate lost in the Pentagon. In many ways, his glittering persona is a kind of cover that gives him permission to yak about the Koran and the legacy of British colonialism (how post-modern is that; these days you have to come out in glitter to do internationalist comedy and have anyone show up).

With his John Cleese-like peacock-strut, Pythonesque absurdist digressions, Jackie Mason twitter, Musical Hall love of verbiage and his very British trope of asking rhetorical questions and then answering himself six ways to Sunday, Izzard pays homage to the usual comic traditions. And with his ability to crack himself up and his tendency to take "notes" on every bit that misfires, he's mastered the art of both trendy meta-comedy and of making the audience feel that everything is utterly fresh and spontaneous.

"I am going to finish now," he said nonchalantly Tuesday night as things took a Beckettian kind of twist. "That's the way you gotta do it otherwise it just goes ... (pause) ... on."

Does it ever. But very few comics can improvise like the dazzling Izzard—a putdown of a heckler Tuesday became a 10-minute monologue imagining the fellow's complete back-story, with nary a pause for breath.

Few but the masterful Izzard offer material that flows easily from Ulysses to the utility of flies—or the physical weaknesses of Agamemnon to the fact that it wasn't the guy who invented the wheel who was a genius but actually the guy who invented the axle.

Or maybe it was the fellow who put the second wheel on the axle.

Or maybe ... why again is America reluctant to ban assault rifles? And did you hear the one about the two chickens who go into a fox coup with daggers strapped to their wings?

We never really did. But we heard plenty about the European perceptions of America and the death of global unity. From a very funny man in a skirt.

"Sexie" plays through Saturday at the Shubert Theatre; phone 312-902-1400.

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