The last time many American audiences saw Eddie Izzard perform stand-up, he was wearing a dress and makeup. Ah, the life of a cross-dressing straight transvestite. Or is that redundant? Well, at least we know it’s not drag, as Izzard explained to reporters before his sold-out performance Saturday night at Caesars Palace for The Comedy Festival. Drag, he said, is the province of gay men. "I’m expressing a feminine side of myself. I’m wearing a dress," Izzard said. "I’m trying to sell straight transvestism to an American audience — that’s strange." For him or for them? "I could wear an elephant suit — it doesn’t matter."
Tis true: No matter. Izzard kept on his jacket, facial hair and jeans for this performance, which got huge roars of approval even befrore the show itself, as Izzard took over the pre-show announcement and riffed about each and every element of it.
He told me beforehand that as he’s worked out this hour of material in Los Angeles, he hasn’t noticed audiences treating him any differently since his wicked performances on FX’s The Riches. "But maybe some people have come up to me and said, ‘Oh, I love you on The Riches and I heard you do stand-up.’"
Izzard opened his set by riffing some more — as is his wont, don’t you know that he loves flying by the seat of his pants or dress — starting with our football versus his, which actually fits the name of foot and ball. "That’s the clue of it," he said. In the U.S., "it’s throw ball, catch ball, hit man! Throw ball, catch ball stop."
He told the wildly appreciative Las Vegas audience that he doesn’t gamble, "but I do go home with a house." After some more specialized local jokes, a bit about how we don’t go to the library any more ("Wikipedia is written by three guys in a toilet"), and a few words about how no one reads the license agreement for iTunes when they update their software, he announced the theme of his set would be…nothing short of the history of world civilization! Monsters, the Ice Age, and the Egyptians and already he was off and running past Stonehenge ("Once a year the Sun goes through this hole and this hole, it all lines up") toward hunting and gathering and his first major act-out, an elongated charades-like bit about one giraffe trying to tell another that he’s seen a tiger. He didn’t stretch his neck to the rafters, but the audience howled all the same. Then he was off and running again, with only a mild comedic hiccup when he stopped to cover the well-trodden stand-up ground of Noah and the Ark (not that that mattered to his fans), and then he sprinted forward to the story of the battle of the 300 Spartans. This fed into another act-out spoofing the intracacies of Latin that echoed his giraffe bit in terms of structure and silliness.
About 40 minutes in, he got heckled by fans asking about his wardrobe. "I am a transvestite," Izzard barked back. "I don’t have to prove it to you…I’m not the Human Torch. You can’t go up to him and say, ‘Do the flame thing!’"
Izzard resumed his world history overview with Darwin and evolution and intelligent design, illustrating his disdain for the latter by describing the elaborate process of the birds and the bees — which also served as his segue into a bulk of material about animals, from bees and bears to spiders and flies, with a final act-out of a fly stuck in a household window, dying and going to fly heaven.
"I always like to end on a thing where people go, ‘What?!’" Izzard said.
And like that, he ended. Not quite, though, because the audience demanded an encore, and he complied with a few words on the ongoing Writers Guild strike — Izzard said studios somehow believe if they keep all the money, they’ll get to go to heaven — before taking on his own activist bent against fox hunting, since English protestors are marching for the right to fox hunt. Izzard mercilessly mocked this traditional English "sport" until you realized just how silly it was, and threw in a callback to flies.
Eddie Izzard seems to defy logic. Many great stand-ups create the illusion that they’re improvising live onstage, but Izzard really does allow himself to start and stop his planned routine for diversions into anything that comes into his mind, no matter how silly or surreal the idea. No wonder that before the show, he confessed once again his love for Monty Python. Izzard also embraces that notion of "and now for something completely different." As he said earlier that evening, "Python are my gods. I asked if I could be their bastard child and they told me to f–k off!"
But I bet they said it lovingly.