British Comedian Leaves SF In Stitches
KTVU-TV| 09.15.03


When Eddie Izzard first brought his flamboyant cross-dressing and free-associating, history-obsessed style of stand-up to San Francisco with an extended run of 'Dressed to Kill' in 1998, the British funnyman was far from a well-known commodity. He still might not be a commonly recognized name on the shores of the States, but judging from the diverse crowd in attendance at his second of five sold-out nights of his latest one-man show 'Sexie' at the Orpheum, Mr. Izzard is no longer an underground sensation in the Bay Area.

Youthful hipsters on cell phones frantically coaxing tardy friends to the venue jostled with grey-haired theater patrons and gay fashion plates at the entrance to the Orpheum, anxious to find their seats in order to avoid missing any of the comedian's rapid-fire commentary. The lights dimmed and Izzard was ushered to the stage with a barrage of projected abstract images and a thunderous blare of rock-concert volume electronica.

The Brit's make-up and wardrobe were considerably more subdued than during his 'Dressed to Kill' visit -- gone were the shocking red lipstick and sequined evening gown -- but Izzard's dizzying gift at ad libbing and fascination with religion and world history remained delightfully intact. The enthusiastic whooping and squeals from the audience (which included songwriting iconoclast Tom Waits and his wife/writing partner Kathleen Brennan) prompted a deadpan warning about "very pointy springs" poking from some of the theater's seats.

Prowling the stage in leather pants and stiletto heels, the comedian found plenty of tangents to go off on as his absurdist observations careened wildly from recollections of early upbringing in Yemen to his take on certain tales of Greek mythology (including Medusa visiting a hairdresser and hilarious character summaries of participants in the Trojan War) to the rest of the world's perception of President Bush's mental faculties.

Though the worshipful crowd at the Orpheum didn't offer much in the way of hecklers to inspire his usual off-the-cuff brilliance, Izzard's focus on history gave plenty of opportunities for diversion. Playing up the average American's flimsy sense of global history, the comedian would regale the audience with accurate descriptions of past events before slipping random outlandish details of his own invention into the monologue.

Though it's apparent that Izzard draws from a store of well-rehearsed material, his ability to deftly inject new ideas into his act as they cascade out of his mouth gives the audience a vicarious, seat-of-the-pants thrill. Only local treasure Robin Williams (who was reportedly in attendance opening night) offers the same kind of kind of exciting comedic tightrope walk from the live stage.

Izzard's changing attitude towards being a transvestite also offered up some interesting material. The comedian likened crossdressers to costumed comic superheroes, albeit with far less practical superpowers and a bit of a disadvantage when it came to emergency rescues (the heavy application of make-up can really slow things down).

After a rather abrupt intermission, the Brit came back to the stage with the shorter, somewhat less entertaining second part of the show. While some of his observations about the discovery of fire and how Homo Sapiens came to take over for Cro-Magnon man came off well, the repeated motif of a grunted conversation between cavemen started getting old, even in Izzard's skilled hands. Still, the comedian was meet with ecstatic applause at the end of his performance before treating the crowd to his impression of Christopher Walken (reenacting his Vietnam speech from 'Pulp Fiction') as a brief encore. Eddie Izzard remains one of the most remarkably creative risk-takers of the comedy stage.


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