Tribune Chief Critic
March 16, 2000

So, anyway--as Eddie Izzard would say, while groping for a liftoff line . . .

The English comic, known for his cross-dressing, somewhat surprised his faithful following at the Royal George Theatre by appearing in fairly straight dress. True, he was wearing high-heeled black boots, but the tuxedo trousers and black sweater-shirt are not unusual, and, in place of the lipstick and eye shadow, there was a blond mustache and goatee.

"He's not a transvestite anymore," he growls into his mike, anticipating the reaction from an audience that has whooped and whistled with glee even before he stepped on stage.

In all other respects, however, Izzard lives up to his billing. He's very bright, very fast and very hip--or at least he fulfills his fans' ideas of what is very hip.

His material, partly ad-lib and partly scripted, teeters between the banal and the brilliant; and, because he speaks so rapidly. it takes a little while to tune in to what he's saying.

The first, long half of his performance on Tuesday, the opening night of his sold-out two-week engagement, found him freewheeling all over the place, testing his sensitive comic antennae. Here, he made jokes about Chicago ("The Iceland of America"), the Guinness Book of Records, the National Rifle Association and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. (Why poor old Mrs. Thatcher? She's over. Why not Tony Blair, who's now in power and just as ripe for satire?)

In the second half, Izzard turns to more scripted material. Not that it's predictable. Pacing nervously, playing two or three roles in the bizarre little scenes he dramatizes, picking up on the slightest vibration from his audience, Izzard is in ceaseless flux.

As with Lenny Bruce, the late American comic whom he most resembles (and whom he played in a revival of the play "Lenny" in London), Izzard takes off into the wild blue. Noting that a joke about two Nazis and Hitler in a bar is going nowhere, he says, in a quick aside, "Chicago says no to Hitler." Later, when he fumbles a joke, he takes note of it, and then says it was all part of the script.

This second part of the program is, roughly, Izzard's history of the world, beginning with age of the dinosaurs, which, by his calculation, came 65 million years before God created man. If God created man in His own image, Izzard asks, then in what image did he create the dinosaurs? In the image of his Cousin Ted?

This material, which gives Izzard a chance to display his knowledge of art, culture, philosophy and dinosaur jokes, has some of the evening's best, and zaniest, inventions. Jesus trying to deliver the Beatitudes to a saloon full of dinosaurs, with a dinosaur playing piano in the background, is an image no other comic in the universe could have dreamed up.

From there, Izzard moves on to the Greeks, the Romans, Plato, Aristotle and the Dark Ages. About the time he reached the Renaissance, I had to leave.