Clothes don't make a man, nor invective a comedian

Thursday, March 16, 2000 | By Betty Mohr | Correspondent

Every comic has to have a gimmick. For British comedian-actor-writer, Eddie Izzard — who struts on stage wearing makeup, skin-tight silky black pants, a frilly black blouse and 2-inch high heels — it's that he's a transvestite.

It's not just his dress, however, that gives him away. Izzard doesn't let anyone forget his cross-dressing for a moment, going out of his way to mention that he's a transvestite at least 20 times during his one-man show, "Circle."

After the first few minutes of listening to Izzard's outrageous, in-your-face narcissistic overdrive and venomous put-downs, in his Chicago debut at the Royal George Theatre, one begins, however, to ignore his constant "I'm a transvestite" refrain and focus on the rest of the show.

With a nonsensical, top-of-his-head, stream-of-consciousness delivery, Izzard goes on about anything that pops into his mind. Unfortunately, much of what floats between his ears and comes out of his mouth is flippant banter that's either absurd and meaningless, or barbed with prickly insults of undisguised anger.

Along the way, he tackles a variety of topics that range from the most inane to the most serious, all of which he treats with equal ridicule. Everything is grist for his counterculture-mockery mill, and the more serious the subject, the better for laughs.

With childish glee, he goes into silly-speak about how smart whales are, as he mimics their subterranean call of the wild. He imitates a tiger playing a banjo, and then lifts his arm as he explains how swans have wings that can break your arm.

His subject matter turns less innocent when he goes into a you-are-there conversation between God and Jesus. Izzard thinks it's really hysterical to have Christ call God "Dad." While he's on religion, he makes fun of the English Anglican Church and skewers America's Christian fundamentalists.

And then he cracks up over barnyard depictions about "piles." It's hard to believe that anyone can find much humor in talking about hemorrhoids, but Izzard clearly thinks the subject is a riot.

Following a long-standing tradition of British bad boys, Izzard makes sure he trashes everything English. From Parliament to the Queen of England, nothing escapes the jaws of his salivating invective. Not satisfied with spewing indecencies about Queen Elizabeth, Izzard targets former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — who hasn't been in office for over 10-years — for special attention.

Spending half an hour out of his three-hour monologue cursing Thatcher, Izzard accuses the former prime minister of having mad cow disease (a sickness that matches Izzard's incoherent foaming at the mouth). As if that's not enough, Izzard then calls Thatcher a name so vile that it's literally unprintable.

Some people in the audience, who paid big bucks for their tickets, were heard during intermission saying they didn't know what all the fuss was about because they didn't think Izzard was that funny. I couldn't agree with them more.

If you'd like to point out the errors of Miss Mohr's ways, feel free to email George Haas who is the features editor for the Daily Southtown.

Read what others have written to the Daily Southtown:

Mr. Haas:

Having recently penned an article on the genius and delight of Eddie Izzard,
and having read largely rave reviews of his recent Circle tour, I was
astounded at the tone and content of Ms. Mohr's review in your paper.

What struck me upon first read was that Ms. Mohr seemed to be shocked and
take offense at his being a transvestite, and for making fun of politics and
religion. Exactly what was she expecting to encounter from a transvestite
comedian? Did she perhaps stumble into the wrong show?

Knowing Mr. Izzard to be a transvestite, and yet criticizing his display of
it (however mild) and his discussion of it, is appalling in what is supposed
to be an era of greater tolerance. She even goes so far as to refer to his
being TV as a "gimmick", which is so offensive it's "off the map", as Eddie
might say. Can you imagine reading a similar review of Janeane Garofalo:
"We could already see from her longish hair and lipstick that she was a
woman, and yet she mentioned that she was a woman at least 20 times during
the show...well, every comedian must have a gimmick!"? Sounds ridiculous,
doesn't it?

As far as Eddie's subject matter and treatment of it, apparently Ms. Mohr
has no appreciation for his influences, such as Monty Python and Steve
Martin. And certainly, if she is taken aback by challenges to convention,
she has no respect for Dennis Miller or Chris Rock. Eddie Izzard is as fine
a comedian as any out there--indeed an overall performer, who creates entire
groups of characters and scenes and brings them to life for the audience.
He, like great comedians before him, satirizes and sillifies "sacred"
subjects, with the intent of illuminating flaws in our thinking and promote
positive change. Not being able to laugh at oneself or accept criticism is
one road to censorship and dictatorships.

Having seen 3 of Mr. Izzard's previous shows, and having read the accounts
of his most recent tour, I find it hard to believe that he comes off so
angry and insulting. Most of his lines are delivered with a boy's impish
smile, and his tirades mostly come off as mischievous. As for the silliness
of some of his bits, he is there, after all, to entertain, and the majority
of people find it uproarious.

I plan to see Mr. Izzard's show next week, and feel certain that I'll find
him as brilliant and funny as ever. However, if I do feel there's room for
criticism, I'm sure I can manage it in a more constructive manner than Ms.
Mohr has.

Thank you for your attention to my letter.


DVL Spencer