Give English comedian Eddie Izzard full marks for one thing: There’s no bloke like him. The self-described transvestite funnyman, whose singular, artful brand of humor has earned rave reviews, took several American cities by storm last year. Though the telecast of an appearance in San Francisco lacks the immediacy of a live event, viewers unfamiliar with Izzard’s particular brand of inspired lunacy are in for a treat. Those already enamored of Izzard’s skills will find themselves laughing wildly, just the same.
Certainly, no other comedian makes an entrance like Izzard does. He walks across the stage in heels, dressed in a Chinese silk smock. When the camera zooms in on his face, it’s clear he’s wearing more makeup than Helena Rubinstein.
But Izzard is an “executive transvestite,” you see. Or an action one, as he sometimes dubs himself. In other words, he’s not gay. Whatever. The jokes about makeup and childhood confusion are funny regardless.
Izzard then goes into what is, in effect, one long monologue, in which he touches on World War II, colonialism, the Church of England, the Heimlich maneuver, and J.F.K.’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. The topics are not inherently humorous, but what Izzard does with them — as he gesticulates in a particular way, adopts a variety of British brogues and winks at his audience — assures that bursts of laughter will fill the air.
Turning the sacred into something funny is an Izzard specialty. His riff on Leonardo’s “The Last Supper,” for instance, is a hoot. (He refers to Jesus doing “the big-arms thing.”) And his interpretation of Christian hymns and the building of Stonehenge are marvelous digressions into silliness. “Before there was Stonehenge,” Izzard says, “There was Woodhenge and Strawhenge.”
Sometimes, Izzard can’t contain his own laughter. He, himself, breaks up during his “Star Wars” spoof. And he seems delighted with himself as he impersonates Italians on their Vespas, or Sean Connery and James Mason out of context.
A few of Izzard’s routines are already classics. One of them, his meditation on how the singer Engelbert Humperdinck came by that name, is a laugh riot.
But it’s his unexplained shift into French that may be this show’s highlight. Who else, after all, could conduct a comedy routine in a foreign language and not lose his audience?