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Joe Brown

Just go with the Izzard flow

23 July 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Talking with comedian/actor Eddie Izzard — or rather listening to him — is like catching a working sketch for his comedy act. Izzard, who has been called "a human search engine," "a one-man Monty Python crew" and "the most brilliant stand-up of his generation," says hello and he's off, taking a series of unpredictable turns and tangents, swerves and side alleys, somehow ending up where he intended to go all along.

It all comes out in a breathless blizzard of words, without punctuation, without even inhaling — you find yourself breathing for him.

Everybody ready? (Take a deep breath every time you see the three dots.) Now here's Eddie:


Momentarily back in England, on a brief break from his 31-city "Stripped" tour, which brings him to the Pearl at the Palms on Friday and Saturday, the actor/comedian is chatting on the phone while in a taxicab in London.

"I'm having a holiday in my home country, which is quite weird," he says. "I've only been here for two days, and I've been trying to do as little as possible. I'm not very good at it."

Izzard has just learned he has been officially shortlisted for an Emmy Award nomination for his role on the FX noir drama series "The Riches." (Shockingly, he ended up being snubbed when the nominations were announced last week.)

"I just played at Radio City Music Hall for three nights, doing weird, surreal stand-up," he says. "And then getting on the top 10 shortlist a few days later — for drama! — that's classic. I was planning to do one of them years ago" — meaning comedy or acting — "but I couldn't get either of them going. So I decided to do both of them."

He veers into a conversational cul-de-sac about acting vs. comedy. Izzard, 46, has won plenty of recognition for both, including an Emmy for his first HBO comedy special, "Dressed to Kill," a Tony nomination for his leading role in a Broadway revival of Peter Nichols' tragicomic play "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg," and acclaim for his role in the "Ocean's" movies and the "The Riches," in which Izzard plays the patriarch of a family of con artists.

Acting, by Izzard's estimate, is "about 50 percent different or maybe 75 percent different" from comedy. "But there's one big central thing in both, and that's to be absolutely inside what you're doing as much as possible. So if I'm talking complete rubbish and then becoming the king of Egypt or a giraffe or Moses, then I've got to be that person, that thing, that animal, that coast or whatever it is. And in drama, it's exactly the same — you want to be your character, so people watch and just relax into it. But acting is so very different from standing on a stage for two hours and just nailing it and living it second to second with no lifeboat, no 'let's do that again.'

"So I do love them both. I wouldn't choose between them. If I had to do one, I think I would do the filmed medium, because you can go anywhere in the world, and it is a lot of fun, you're working with a lot of other people, and you can do comedy or drama. So that would be my cheeky way of doing one.

"Not that you asked that question," he says, cracking up at his own relentless filibustering.


Izzard titled the current tour "Stripped," he says, because "people got very confused with the clothes that I wear. So I've gone back to 'boy mode,' as I call it." Izzard made his name as an unapologetic cross-dresser, appearing onstage in 2003's "Sexie" tour in heavy makeup, dresses, fishnets and falsies. (Izzard has described himself as an "executive," "action" and "underground" transvestite.)

"I say at the beginning of the show that I'm going to talk about everything that ever happened," he says, chuckling as if the idea still tickles him. "I've been going around the Bible Belt talking about God, and having a sort of more European view on God, 'cause I think in Europe after two world wars we agreed that he wasn't watching. I'm not trying to say I hate religious people or I hate religion. I'm just trying to say I think religions are philosophies with a mystical topcoat. And I prefer to remove the topcoat. Of course, you can't just tell people what to think, but you can put out another point of view. Which I have found in America, going through the Bible Belt, talking to a lot of people coming to the show, that people don't feel they can say out loud. No politician can get elected (in the United States), I don't think, without giving at least a nod to religion, saying, 'Thank God, praise the Lord ...'?"

He excuses himself from the conversation to tip his cabbie: "Just keep that, mate." And while climbing the stairs to his office, he starts up again, describing how he approaches playing an American character, as he does in "The Riches."

"I don't tend to see Americans and British and French and Angolans as all being vastly different; I always look for similarities," he says, breathing heavily from the climb. "But I suppose there is an overriding ethos of an American culture thing, which is 'Let's go do it, let's go build it, let's go make it!' Which Europeans, I think, didn't used to have. Maybe the new, younger generation are getting it. But I've always felt that I thought in an American way — my mind-think is 'Let's go build it.'?"

That leads him to how his alternative, very English style of comedy goes over with American audiences, and particularly in Las Vegas, which is a magnet for mainstream comedians.

"I design it to be universal," he says, "so I can play in Iceland and Australia and America. I find that comedy is understood everywhere, even though a lot of references are to culturally specific pop culture figures or brands or whatever. But we just skip over that, just like 'Monty Python' was understood by Americans and not all the references were understood. Or 'The Office' — there's tons of British references all over that. My stuff is not for everyone — it's necessarily for the big mainstream audience — but America is a country of 300 million and you don't need to have 300 million watching every show."


Although he appears in Las Vegas in "Ocean's 13," Izzard has taken his time before bringing his stand-up to the Strip.

"I'm intrigued by (Las Vegas') beginnings, the whole Bugsy Siegel, Rat Pack thing," he says. "But it's generally not really my natural place. I come from a mathematics background, and the one thing I was taught was don't gamble, because you very rarely hear of casinos going into Chapter 11, and there's a reason for it. I find it intriguing and scary, and I do find that when you come down in the lifts — the elevators — that everyone is on those (slot) machines, and I just worry for them. I worry for their savings."

So Eddie is finally ready for Vegas.

"I thought if I got the mainstream audience turning up to see my stuff, it would be like, 'Look at this guy, what is he, a transvestite?' I thought I would die on my ass. So I thought I should get sort of well enough known that I could just go in there and bring my own audience, to an extent."

But is Vegas ready for Eddie? It seems the time is right — Saturday's show is sold out. Certainly the Strip has never seen anything like him before: A manifestation of a roiling restless intellect, Izzard's riffing routines put the physical in metaphysical, flashing with brilliant bits of mimicry, mime and music. And there's true artistry in making it all seem spontaneous.

"I keep it as loose as possible — I call it molten," he says. "I like to not quite know how a piece goes, so I kind of know, like, the motorway journey that I'm doing, but I can't remember what I said yesterday.

"I discovered this thing when I was starting out," he continues. "In the first few weeks of when you're doing a piece on some subject, it's really got this great life, this energy. And then you start to lock it down, cause you know where you want to go, you've got some punch lines. And then it starts to become like a prayer. And then all the life gradually just goes out of it. It becomes, like, stuck in concrete. So I got this idea, if I keep it constantly molten, then it would be constantly alive, and I can be constantly adding to it and subtracting from it. So that I'm not really quite sure what I'm doing. I still surprise myself, hopefully, every night."


Who: Eddie Izzard

When: 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: The Pearl at the Palms

Admission: $52-$72, 944-3200,