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October 09, 2003

NYT on Eddie Izzard

A great review of the show we saw in Vancouver, with a great title: A Male Lesbian Whose Appeal Is Mainly Cerebral.

The Times describes Eddie as "the most popular, and exportable, British comedian since the heyday of Monty Python."

Since the Times has that horrible paid archive thing and requires registration, I'm going to break a bunch of laws. Click below for the story.

October 9, 2003
THEATER REVIEW | 'SEXIE'
A Male Lesbian Whose Appeal Is Mainly Cerebral
By BEN BRANTLEY

Eddie Izzard, the exhaustingly funny stand-up comic, certainly looks more at home than most men would in fishnet stockings, stiletto-heeled boots and a thigh-flashing skirt. But even given his ease with femme fatale accouterments, is "Sexie" really an appropriate title for his new touring show, which runs at City Center through Saturday?

Mr. Izzard, you see, is not a come-hither kind of guy. While he is most efficiently identified as that transvestite comedian from Britain who calls himself a male lesbian, his immense appeal has little to do with sex. Mr. Izzard is undoubtedly seductive, but his brand of seduction aims directly at the head, not below the belt. After a couple of hours in his company, your mind is likely to be so crammed with the odds and ends mostly odds of what he's been saying, that you have no room left for your own thoughts.

"Circle" was the title of Mr. Izzard's show of three years ago. That comes closer than "Sexie" to suggesting how his sorcery works. Mr. Izzard, whose theme is nothing less than civilization and its multifarious contents, traffics in delirious, dizzying circles of ideas and images. On the surface they have nothing to do with one another. And yet they flow effortlessly into a single, opalescent stream of consciousness.

Pole dancing and libraries; prosthetic breasts and their relation to jelly fish; jelly fish and their relation to soap opera acting; the possibilities of Monterey Jack cheese as a weapon; the crusades; penises and car doors. All right, stop and catch your breath now. These are just a few of the subjects that "Sexie" links in a melting chain of logic in its first five minutes or so.

This connected disconnectedness has made Mr. Izzard the most popular, and exportable, British comedian since the heyday of Monty Python. In a speeding world of increasingly scrambled cultures and images, he is an emperor of incongruity.

His balancing of ostensibly opposed elements starts with his appearance. As anyone can testify who saw his haunting performance as a disaffected father in the recent Broadway revival of "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg," Mr. Izzard is a handsomely mannish man. His beefy, blond good looks do not make you think, "Wouldn't he look nice in a dress?" Yet there is nothing off-putting about Mr. Izzard in full drag, sporting a new pair of breasts. (Implants that haven't been planted is how he describes them.) They are on display in a sculptured black corset top, and Mr. Izzard calls attention to them early.

Synthetic breasts have their disadvantages, he says; they are prone to explode in airplanes at high altitudes. On the other hand, you can wrap them around your ears to block noise. This antierotic notion of breasts as ear muffs recurs sporadically throughout "Sexie"; so does his confessed tendency to finger his bosom when dealing with bureaucratic figures like customs officials.

That's another one of the miracles of Mr. Izzard, by the way. Once he throws a conversational ball into the air, he keeps it in play for the rest of the night, even when you assume he's forgotten all about it. And every one of them is inspected with a magnifying eye that inflates everything to the point of absurdity.

This allows Mr. Izzard to consider superheroes in Greek mythology, contemporary comic books and world religion; the invention of fire and the wheel by a couple of cavemen named Jeff and Steve; dog racing from the point of view of a greyhound; and what would happen if tigers ruled the world. Somewhere along the way he acts out a conversation between the scientists Pavlov and Doppler, who share a car (with two steering wheels), while Doppler throws cats out the window.

Mr. Izzard gives varied voice to these disparate figures and lets them talk among themselves by shifting profiles as he switches characters. Mr. Izzard, as Eddie Izzard, also talks to himself quite a bit, making notes on an invisible pad about which routines still need work. This gives the disarming impression of letting his loudly appreciative audience in on the process of shaping his act.

There are glancing detours into more usual topical fare: President Bush's encounter with a pretzel, American imperialism, British-American culture clashes, and racists, a group he describes as being less polite than smokers. (They never ask, as smokers do of smoking, if it's all right to practice racism in front of you.)

Yet Mr. Izzard never reads as hostile or even aggressive. Unlike most American stand-ups, he attacks neither his audience nor himself, instead creating the illusion that he is courteously letting you eavesdrop on an infinite internal dialogue.

"Let's have an interval," he says casually at the end of the first act, "and we'll come back in a bit, and we'll talk some more." When the show ends, you can't quite accept that the conversation is over. Mr. Izzard has so infiltrated your thoughts that you almost expect him to be waiting in your apartment when you get home, still chatting away about Neanderthals and jelly fish.

SEXIE

With Eddie Izzard; lighting by Josh Monroe; sound by George Glossop; set by Alex Saad; costumes by Charlotte Mann in association with Russell Sage; music by Sarah Guinness. Presented by WestBeth Entertainment. At City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan.

Posted by jay at October 9, 2003 11:27 AM | TrackBack
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