Starring Eddie Izzard
SF Chronicle| 09.11.03
Through the years, many comedians have been famous for their walks -- Jack Benny had his distinctive sashay, Milton Berle could walk on the inner sides of his feet, for example. Walking style isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Eddie Izzard.
In fact, it's probably way down the list after fishnet stockings, a lovely frock and full makeup. However, if you watch him strut around the stage at the Orpheum, where his latest one-transvestite show "Sexie" launched a five-night run on Tuesday, it's unmistakable: Eddie Izzard walks like a chair.
It's those stiletto-heeled boots, of course. They're so high, Izzard has to thrust his knees slightly forward, push his shoulders slightly back and allow his butt to serve as a kind of pendulum, just to keep his balance. In the rare moments when he doesn't have you transfixed with loopy riffs on everything from the moment Homo sapiens assumed dominance over Cro-Magnons, to the fable of Goldilocks and the three bears repopulated with ex-world dictators, watch his body language: pure Chippendale, and I don't mean male strippers.
Actually, maybe wingback is a better reference here because although Izzard has always done drag, he is now sporting store-bought breasts. Acknowledging what the audience couldn't help noticing Tuesday night, Izzard explained, "I've had an eye operation to get bigger eyes (beat) . . . so I can see my tits more clearly."
You probably don't have to be British to be Eddie Izzard, but, somehow, it seems to help. For the uninitiated, Izzard is a straight man who dresses in drag with full makeup; when he's not doing his one-man shows, he's also an accomplished stage and film actor. He recently starred in "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" in New York, before taking "Sexie" on tour. He had a big hit with "Dress to Kill" on HBO, and he was last in the Bay Area three years ago with "Circle," out on DVD and CD later this month. That show was still being fine- tuned when it hit the Curran, and that showed in its length and relative formlessness. "Sexie" arrives fully ready for prime time.
Like Robin Williams, who was in the audience Tuesday, Izzard seems to work without a net and the idea is to get the audience hyped up wondering what he'll do next, and if he'll fall flat on his Tammy Fayed face. He only occasionally tells a joke, in the strict definition of the word. Instead, he rambles on with a tangled string of instantaneous and often illogical segues from Greek mythology to the Iraqi war, comic book action heroes to Steve McQueen in "Bullitt," his own childhood in Yemen, where he was born, to being transvestite-bashed in Cambridge. Sometimes he'll try something out but then pull back, admitting with a sheepish grin that it's not quite there yet.
All in all, there's a not-so-quiet sense of danger when guys like Izzard and Williams get going. When you watched Benny or Hope, you knew that every joke, every pause, was rehearsed to a T. There was never a moment's doubt that those guys would deliver the line and get the expected response. Obviously, Izzard's worked out his routines as well, but both because he lets himself free-associate between the rehearsed bits, and because he has perfected a faux- dithering delivery which makes him seem as if even he has absolutely no idea what he'll say next, the audience suspends its collective disbelief that any of it's planned in advance.
His favorite topics are present again in "Sexie" -- world history and religion. He does make a passing comment here and there on current events, such as his acknowledgment of the events of Sept. 11, 2001: Pointing out that because the rest of the world lists day/month/year, while the United States lists month/day/year, Izzard says folks back on the Sceptered Isle are a bit confused about why the United States "goes banging on about Nov. 9." But Izzard is no Mort Sahl. It's either a complete head-scratcher or a blessed relief that he's probably the only comic on the planet to arrive in California without making a single reference to the recall election.
Although there's much about world history and religion left to be covered, Izzard's past fondness for those topics makes them seem less interesting this time around than his casual observations about such things as how one is supposed to react when a hairdresser puts a mirror to the back of one's head in a salon to show you his handiwork. Seeing the back of one's own head can be disconcerting, Izzard opines. In fact, you only care about the parts in front. Why? "If you've got a fantastic back of the head, do people shag you?"
From there, he wonders how Medusa had her serpentine locks done, which, in turn, leads him to imagine what the Sirens sounded like when Odysseus and his crew sailed by. If the mythological Sirens, indeed, had hypnotic singing voices, wouldn't it stand to reason that a fire engine siren might sound lovely and hypnotic as well? "There's a fi-i-i-i-re," he warbles sweetly. And, of course, firefighters, while dousing a blaze, routinely toss cats out windows, you know, which causes said felines to meow rather loudly. If one is standing on the ground watching, the sound grows louder when the falling tabbies get closer. This was observed by a Mr. Doppler, Izzard deadpans, which is how the Doppler Effect got its name. And, by the way, fire was invented by a caveman named Jeff Fire who knew it would make him famous. Unfortunately, he wanted to call it "Jeff."
That's the way the mind of Eddie Izzard works. He'd be funny even if he didn't walk like furniture.
IZZARD BUSTS THEM UP
The guest of honor had taken off his pants and slipped into something more comfortable, a swingy little skirt, by the time he arrived at the Tosca Cafe party after his opening in "Sexie," but under his tight black top, Eddie Izzard's biggest jelly-filled breasts looked seriously poised for work. "I had a C, but I was advised I had a large frame and needed these," he said, but he's hanging on to his earlier chesticles while wearing the new ones, too. Do the smaller ones come in handy for leisure activities? TIC asked, like gardening or just hanging out at home? "I keep them to throw at small children, " said Izzard.
The buzzy audience at the Orpheum had included Robin and Marsha Williams, Phil Kaufman, Davia Nelson, Carol and Jeff Hays, Gina Moscone, Tosca proprietor Jeannette Etheredge and Nick Graham, who with the Week magazine co- hosted the after-party. Item-lets, which shall be served as tossed salad forthwith, abounded:
Mayor Willie Brown arrived early, a rarity, and vamped with The Chronicle's Catherine Bigelow while awaiting the start of festivities. Graham, a host resplendent in his trademark pinstripes, said that when he ran into Pierce Brosnan at Green's last Friday, Brosnan told him he'd just had breakfast with the Dalai Lama (who probably eats rice, but seems like a Cheerios kind of a guy). Debbie Durst said that her husband, Will, is so intent on not breaking a 23-year-long tradition that he's driving in Sunday from Sacramento, where he has a gig at the Punchline, just to do Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park, then driving directly back. Lars Ulrich was hanging out with Rob Trujillo, Metallica's newest member. Among the other Etheredge-ites on the scene were Huey Lewis (getting stoked for the Giants postseason) and Joshua Robison.
And Charlie Rose, who happened to pop by -- "let him in," said the proprietress to the man outside with the clipboard -- said that in addition to his segment on the Dead, he's been here working on a "60 Minutes II" piece about Larry Ellison, who he described as friendly and charming. Rose, a natty kind of guy, was wearing a nautical-looking navy blue sweater he said he'd bought at Banana Republic to wear in a segment he'll tape today, when he gets to crew in a practice sail of Ellison's racer. Designated the 17th crew member,
"You just sit
there and do nothing and hold on for dear life and hope to hell you don't fall
in," he said. Which is exactly TIC's approach to the after- party beat.