Street Wit Takes Stage
Portlandtribune.com | 08.29.03 | thanks Karen

Comic and actor Eddie Izzard won't have to 'go bloke' for his local dates

Men's or women's?

"Mine."

The British standup comedian is instantly recognizable for his frock-wearing, but his fans know him as a quotable surrealist. People recite his lines:

"I like my coffee like I like my women. In a plastic cup." And, "You say things differently over here: You say 'tow-may-tow,' we say 'ta-mah-to.' You say 'erbs,' we say, 'herbs,' because, well, there's an H in it. ... "

Izzard is on a six-month world tour with his show "Sexie."

"I'm trying to stop myself from doing tit-for-tat stuff like that," he says on the phone from Los Angeles. "History and mobile phones are the only areas where Europe can compete against America."

History triumphs. He's stepping up his method of riffing on serious subjects in an amusing way. "Sexie" ranges "from Mohammed to greyhound racing, from cave men to Greek myths, horse whispering ... just a load of things that rattle out of my brain ...," Izzard says.

With his tall tales and unflappable presence, standup Izzard is fabulous in both senses of the word. The women's clothes can make for an interesting distraction for the audience. But knowing just how ambitious he is makes him even more fascinating.

He went from boarding school Shakespeare to sketch comedy (emulating his heroes, Monty Python), to street performing in London's Covent Garden sword fights, miming escape from a woolly sweater. "I did some real rubbish down there. Lost my confidence."

Even doing standup in the 1980s was just another attempt to get his act together. Eventually, it clicked his writing, his voices, his body language. After the street, hecklers were toast.

The successful "Dress to Kill" and "Circle" U.S. tours brought acting offers. He has been in a dozen movies, including Todd Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine" (1998) and Alex Cox's "Revengers Tragedy" (2002), which play at the Mission Theater next week in his honor.

He almost got the Robin Williams part in "One Hour Photo," and this year he had a Tony Award nomination for playing the lead in "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" on Broadway. He's employed acting coach Larry Moss and attended Robert McKee's screenwriting workshop. His dream role? Macbeth. On Broadway.

Although the motormouth has just revealed his vulnerable side his ambition he can still joke about something that all Hollywood hopefuls hold sacred: the audition process. He does the voice of the vaguely dismissive movie studio suit: " 'I've heard of yoooou, you confusing person, you transvestite. What the hell are you?' They have a lot of swirling 'maybe' things in their minds, and you have to go in and control that room."

Izzard risked his life coming out as a transvestite in boorish Britain at age 23 and risked his career by doing it on stage at 31. Now 41, he knows he needs to "go bloke" to land more mainstream movie roles. As for Portland, though, it'll be fun.

"It'll be clothes. And it'll probably be girly."

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