[16 July 2008]
The fishnet stockings are gone, as are the fake breasts, but Eddie Izzard’s brain still runs at amazing speeds. Flitting from one topic to another to something completely unrelated and back again, he careens through his comedy as though these asides never even happened.
If you’re not familiar with Izzard, you are certainly missing out. The British comedian has a unique flair for humor and often tackles issues that other stand-ups steer clear of. While most are ranting about their lives, Izzard looks to history for influence. Call him the thinking man (or woman’s) comedian. The self-proclaimed “executive transvestite” initially made a name for himself in America in 1999 when his show, Dress to Kill, was on constant HBO rotation.
Executive transvestite? Yes, Izzard has a penchant for women’s clothing. In some of his earlier shows it was all consuming: skirts, stockings, sparkly tank tops, and a pair of fake breasts supposedly borrowed from Uma Thurman’s stunt double on the set of The Avengers. But, as he has often pointed out, it has nothing to do with his sexuality, often referring to himself as a male lesbian or the male equivalent of a tomboy. Women, he says, have the freedom to wear anything; he just wants that ability as well.
This time around, Izzard has decided to go “off-duty” when it comes to clothing, choosing instead to wear jeans and a dapper black jacket. Seeing him on stage in this attire, he is more Wayne Malloy (his character from the FX series, The Riches) than cross dressing comedian. This decision to dress down may be due to his rising screen presence. Aside from comedy, Izzard is a veteran of the dramatic stage, the big screen, and now, thanks to his turn as a drifter Malloy on The Riches, television. Although his fondness for stockings and heels is common knowledge, he may be more bankable for bigger film roles if it is kept to a minimum in the professional forum.
On the first night of his sold-out three-day stint at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, he easily lived up to the giddy comedic highs of previous performances. As expected, a night spent with Izzard is an enlightening experience. The “comedian for the intellectual set” remained true to form, tackling topics such as religion and promising to cover everything history has to offer. He most certainly lived up to his promise.
Indeed, the two hours Izzard spent on stage were propelled by his musings on the ancient Egyptians; the creation of earth; dinosaurs; religion; dinosaur religion; Scrabble in a world before language (quite the high scoring game); giraffe communication; where Noah would have kept the two giant squid on his ark; the Romans and the Greeks; dyslexia as a horrendous name choice for sufferers of the disorder; Wikipedia; and much more.
Watching Izzard often feels more like observing an entertaining dinner guest. His style is remarkably conversational and less a fixed routine. Setups often start with his trademark, “So, yeah…,” which is something you would expect to hear from your best friend when telling a story. Although he claims in the beginning it is a “tightly scripted” program, it seems he allows much room for variation—even occasionally startling himself with what comes out of his mouth.
Without a doubt, the evening’s entertainment was enhanced by Radio City’s two large video screens. While Izzard’s comedy is worth the price of admission on its own no matter how far away your seats are, his facial expressions and small nuances truly add to the effect. From flitting eyes to a comical shuffling that accompanies the formulation of his next quip, his mannerisms and physical characteristics are some of his most endearing qualities.
The aspect of Izzard I find to be most fascinating, however, is the reverence of his fans. He is more cult than simple comedian. Think Star Wars fan boys quoting their favorite characters and you’re only a step away from the Izzard fans who can conjure up his one-liners and entire skits at the drop of a hat.
Izzard fandom starts friendships (two of my dearest friends were indeed found through an Izzardism while out one night), disarms potential fights, and could quite possibly end wars if used in the right situation. Off-the-cuff Izzard lines spoken in public can form instant approval from the knowing, often through a nod or a squeal of recognition at having found another member of the “Cult of Izzard.”
As we waited in line to make our way into the hall, the cult was in full effect. Lines from the highly successful Dress to Kill wafted through the air. This was our opportunity to bask in the humor we all share, no matter who we are or what clothes we wear.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/eddie-izzard/