Eddie Izzard- Don't Mention the Red Stilettos!

BY John Boston

Comedian Eddie Izzard is a dyslexic cross-dresser from Bexhill-on-Sea who rambles on about chickens driving Range Rovers and the effect of blue underpants in a white wash. Is he just odd, or is he surreally saying something? John Boston checks out the man in lipstick.

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If a man wearing high-heeled, thigh length boots and PVC trousers, blood red lipstick and impeccable nail varnish tried to tell you he was raised by a pack of wolves or that squirrels crept into your bedroom at night with combs and moose to mess up your hair, you'd have every right to think he was mad. Or extremely funny.

Meet Eddie Izzard, the award winning comic surrealist, language terrorist, campaigner for total clothing rights, rising actor and shrewd businessman, whose Glorious tour reached the sticks in November 1997, taking in the Cambridge Corn Exchange.

Since his "coming out" as a transvestite in 1985, Izzard has raised eyebrows, and spent many media minutes trying to explain his sexuality. He dislikes the transvestite tag and explains that it's more to do with self-expression and equal rights for men: "I'll wear whatever I want to wear. Just like a woman can. It's no big deal. I'm just experimenting." Twelve years on, and Izzard no longer wants to talk about it.

Ironically the "TV" issue has played a major role in his career in a very different sense. Izzard became known as the comic who wouldn't do television. While the Ben Elton's, Harry Enfield's and Jack Dee's were over-exposing on TV, Izzard refused to appear. A cunning plan. His growing reputation and stubborn reluctance to widen his audience created greater media attention than all the others put together.

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While his one-man shows were selling out around the country, the general public had to be content with sporadic glimpses of his talent on the Just For Laughs comedy programme which treated us to ten-minute excerpts of his act. In 1994, Izzard finally cracked and appeared on Clive Anderson's chat show. He hasn't stopped since, and can now be seen frequenting chat shows and game shows and even sharing a sofa with Richard and Judy.

"I'm doing telly now", he says."The thing of not doing telly, forget that. I love it, I always did love it and I'm going to prostitute myself and do every show that's going." But don't hold your breath, he admits that it will be a long time before we see the Eddie Izzard Comedy Show.

Eddie Izzard was born in Yemen in 1962 ("150 years to the day after Charles Dickens") and spent his early life in Bangor, Swansea, and then Bexhill-on-Sea. One of his great comic heroes, Spike Milligan lived in Bexhill, and Izzard confesses to walking the streets trying to find out where he lived. His mother died when he was six, something which instilled in him a desire for perfection and the need to achieve and impress.

Boarding school made him independent-minded, but he concedes that it left him "emotionally dead." He often draws on the experience in his act, talking about the "mad kid" and "the smelly kid" that every school seems to have: "We had the kid who smelled of egg sandwiches - and he was egg."

Izzard was diagnosed as dyslexic ("I'm from the school of I-haven't-been-taught-anything"), which makes his success even more remarkable. He has now rediscovered literature and has recently taken on the brave challenge of appearing as the lead in Marlowe's demanding play, Edward II. He has also just completed filming The Secret Agent, with Bob Hoskins and Gerard Depardieu, and The Avengers alongside Sean Connery and Uma Thurman.

The road to success began for Izzard as a street performer in London's Covent Garden, where he honed the skills of improvisation and holding an audience's attention - although he recalls going through his entire routine in a crowded shopping centre in Oxford without anybody noticing.

Izzard's one-man shows are a whirlwind affair, a leap into the absurd, and by 1993 his world of caricatures, fantasy and anthropomorphic animal references reached the West End, where his four week run at the Ambassadors had to be extended twice.

Audiences at an Izzard show are assailed by a barrage of wondrously strange images, delivered with boyish enthusiasm and a rambling stream of consciousness style. He can talk for twenty minutes on the gravitational qualities of fluff ("Fluff is the hang-glider of the dust world") and even longer on Goldfish and their three second memory's. He often goes off at a tangent - "I don't know where I'm going with these things sometimes, but I go" - but admits that only 5-10% of the show is ad-libbed. Improvisation is certainly one of his strong points, as appearances on Channel 4's Whose Line Is It Anyway have proven. He recently lost a button to his Gaultier jacket while on stage, and proceeded to sew it back on, getting twenty minutes worth of spontaneous material from the incident.

He is a Gary Larson cartoon brought to life, with much of his imagery being drawn from the animal kingdom: cats that drill ("When you hear a cat purring, he's actually drilling another cat flap"), and Pants Cat, his feline superhero. He talks of 'new improved' dog food: "Who knows? Who checks? You have to give it to your dog and say 'is it new improved?' and the dog goes 'I don't know, I'm a dog'. And then there's Cows. Izzard's sitcom pilot about a family of cows, was six years in the making and crirtically received like a long lost relative who turns up at the wrong house with an overdue Christmas card. "Cows are inherently groovy," explained Eddie. "They're big and agrarian and vegetarian and they're not very good with technology."

Constantly meandering around the point, he talks about thimbles, supermarket queues, tampons, lobsters, sweet shops, ironing, Star Trek and Daleks ("death or plumbing!"), and the unwitting murder of a Benedictine monk killed with satire in a karaoke bar. Izzard on the Internet: "It takes longer to download pictures from the Internet than it would take squirrels to make an apple crumble."

Abnormal? Almost certainly. Funny? Definitely. And if you find yourself leaving his performance trying to figure out quite what it was you were laughing at, maybe you should just think of Eddie's own description of his show: "Bollocks, with more bollocks on top."

The definitive article - Eddie Izzard. Faster than squirrels making apple crumble.

From The Sticks Nov 1997 issue