Eddie Izzard in Chicago: Izzard’s Chicago stages just get bigger and bigger

[from the chicago tribune]

Back in 1998, I went to the tiny Westbeth Arts Center in downtown New York to see a hilarious little show called “Dressed to Kill.” It featured a mostly unknown English comedian called Eddie Izzard, who maintained he “fancied girls” (not boys), but whose calling card was a love of dressing up in sparkly women’s clothing.

The audience was dominated by besuited Britishers, many clearly letting off steam from their day on Wall Street. Izzard may have been a part-time transvestite, but he was both sweet and safe for international bankers. And, as I wrote at the time, there is a noble tradition of “Anglo showbiz curiosities.”

Well, Izzard is no longer a curiosity. He is a major international star with a mainstream following and a very serious acting career (he is currently attracting U.K. attention for his role in a new TV version of “The Day of the Triffids”).

On Friday Jan. 8, Izzard plays solo in Chicago. At the United Center.

Izzard’s 12-year rise can be aptly charted through his appearances in Chicago. Following that Westbeth show, he got some valuable exposure on HBO. By 2000, he had a small U.S. tour put together for a new show called “Circle,” with a key Chicago appearance at the Royal George Theatre. His audience will still dominated by Europeans, but stateside hipsters were clued in by now. The show was hilarious. And the two-week gig sold out. Already Izzard was revealing himself to be a shrewd fellow. He was (and is) essentially a stand-up comic with a partly improvised act. But he has never played bars or comedy clubs. He has always played theaters. With sets and costumes. Where people shut up and listen.

In Chicago, the venues just became bigger and bigger.

By 2003, Izzard was playing the Shubert Theatre (now the Bank of America Theatre), with Lisa Marie Presley sitting in the front row. “Izzard,” I wrote in this paper, after praising his John Cleese-like peacock-strut, Pythonesque absurdist digressions, Jackie Mason twitter, and Musical Hall love of verbiage, “maintains a popular web log.” Once again, he was an early adopter.

By 2008, Mr. Internet was at the Chicago Theatre, riding the U.S. success of his TV dramedy “The Riches” (and the popularity of the DVDs and downloads of his earlier live shows). The sparkly dresses were gone. Much of the material was about God and the European Union. “Eddie Izzard: Stripped” wasn’t intend to imply nudity but seriousness.

Still, despite that progression of larger and larger venues, the gig at the United Center is still highly unusual. Solo performers of the non-singing kind rarely play arenas. Izzard is unfazed.

“I really feel like we area raising the bar for stand-up comedians,” he said in a post-Christmas interview from his temporary residence in the Alps. “Rock ‘n’ roll acts never worry about playing stadiums. The Beatles played Shea Stadium even in the early days. I think we stand-ups have to prove we can do it. We can. As long as we don’t chuck out rubbish.”

Izzard has rarely chucked out rubbish—his material has always been intellectual and cerebral. But his longtime fans in Chicago might reasonably be concerned that their man won’t be the same in such a colossal hall. “The trick I’ve learned is to play the arenas like you are actually playing a 1,000-seater,” he says. “You have to have really good screens and really good sound. It’s like when Barack Obama spoke to 100,000 people. I’m calling this ‘The Big Intimacy Tour.'”

As Izzard points out, very few of his comedic peers want to play joints like the United Center. The likes of Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld have backed off huge venues in favor of mid-sized theaters. Only Dane Cook is, like Izzard, still trying to make ’em laugh live by the tens of thousands. Clearly, Izzard sees it as a natural progression.

So what’s next for Izzard in Chicago? Soldier Field?

He laughs at that. “I still do muck about, you know?”

Written by Momo in: Tour |

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