Izzard's Comic Act is One Sexie Beast
Contra Costa Times| 09.11.03

Seeing Eddie Izzard perform is similar to what you imagine a long trip, late into the night, on the Green Tortoise bus might be like.

You figure you're going somewhere, and eventually you do get there, but digression is the rule of the day -- you don't know exactly what happened during the ride, except that you had a great time.

Izzard, the self-proclaimed "action transvestite" comedian, wearing the expected eye makeup and 6-inch high heels, surprised most of his San Francisco opening night audience Tuesday by strolling onstage in a tight shirt, working like a Spandex slave to contain the decent-size pair of artificial breasts he sported (if, indeed, a 41-year-old man can sport breasts).

"You noticed they're so big," remarked Izzard, about 10 minutes into his act, pausing for maximum effect. "Uh ... my eyes."

It was one of only a few offhanded comments about his transvestite accouterments. When Eddie performs you don't really notice the accessories not normally found on gentlemen -- the nail polish, high heels, and even the breasts. Even though there is no small shortage of boys in boas in the audience, Izzard's "Sexie" is about as far as you can get from a drag show and still wear eye makeup.

The fact is, Izzard is probably the funniest, most inventive stand-up comic performing in the universe, so it really doesn't matter (except, apparently to him) what he wears.

What you get in an Eddie Izzard show is hard to describe in any concrete terms. It would be futile to repeat his material, since routines follow a circuitous route, sort of a scenic tour of the galaxy Izzard, as they meander from beginning to end.

Transvestites and superheroes, he says, have a lot in common. They both change, for example, only transvestites take about 20 minutes, then it's too late to rescue anybody. That seems like an easy enough gag, but it comes during a digression into Greek mythology that includes a stop at Medusa's hairdresser and a bit of musing on Achilles' heel.

He ponders President Bush's ability to say anything that makes sense, compares archaeology in the United States with that in England. There, he says, you can find a Norman sword; here, maybe you can find a watch someone lost the other day.

But it isn't the contemporary nature of his humor, or his keen eye for life's comic absurdities; with Izzard, it's all in the delivery. It's a sometimes halting, occasionally muttered, always brilliant collection of random thoughts woven into a comedic tapestry that leaves you breathless just listening to the intricacy of his seemingly casually chosen words. But Izzard uses words as a sculptor uses clay, molding it to suit his passion and creating a memorable and highly complex picture.

One difficulty now with Izzard is he has become a victim of his own success. He strolls onstage to receive the same sort of adulation reserved for teen idols and the rock act of the month. Only Izzard's audience is an eclectic mix of mainly ordinary Joes smitten with his words, along with digital hipsters, disco refugees and graying survivors of the '60s. And he really doesn't have to work all that hard for their worshipful cheers and applause.

Fortunately, he does continue to work hard at his material, which is every bit as sharp as it had been in two previous San Francisco appearances, when he was slightly less well-known.

What has changed is the venue -- and the huge Orpheum Theatre is a poor place to see his act, especially for those who recall his appearance at the tiny and intimate Cable Car Theater, where Izzard was a flat-out triumph.

Still, it's by far the best show in town.


 close window