When Eddie Izzard’s “Dressed to Kill” played Gotham’s Westbeth Arts Center in 1998, legions of besuited Wall Street Brits showed up to gawk at a sweet but safe transvestite carrying on the noble traveling tradition of Anglo showbiz curiosities. But thanks in part to HBO exposure, Izzard’s Stateside reputation has now exploded with such rapidity that he is now able to leave the mascara and dresses at home and still attract big crowds for his beguiling mix of standup social satire and liberal political commentary.
Under the auspices of Arnold Engelman and the Westbeth, the short road tour of Izzard’s “Circle” has being doing capacity biz in hip, medium-sized venues (he plays bigger spots at home). Even though local presenters Jam Theatricals spent little on paid promo, the two-week Chi run at the Royal George sold out. Jam would have been happy to book — and sell — more weeks if only they could have snagged them.
Eddie is a busy guy. Following his gig in the Windy City — which he uncharitably dubbed “The Iceland of America” in the middle of his show — Izzard does a few nights in Philadelphia and then returns to the Westbeth for a weeklong New York gig that is already pretty much sold out. Izzard then goes to Oz and says he will return later in the year for the “western leg” of his North American tour.
This funny 37-year-old has certainly handled his career well in the last couple of years. Although his show is pretty much straight standup, he’s shrewdly avoided the comedy-club circuit in favor of legit-style venues where people are more likely to shut up and listen. For various economic and other reasons, the current times are not easy for alternative comedy (especially on this side of the Atlantic), but Izzard has carved out a very workable niche. His name will only get bigger.
Although the producers saw no reason to spend money on production values when Izzard is boffo solo, they did at least manage a few flashing lights and some techno dance music, ensuring a hip environment. His material is aimed at a younger demographic, but it is intelligent and connected to the political world at large. His ramblings on the evils on Margaret Thatcher may seem dated, but who else is doing political commentary these days in this kind of venue? He also has an off-kilter but progressive worldview that means his gags flow mainly at the expense of narrow-mindedness, pomposity and other liberal targets.
Much of “Circle” draws on the stranger-in-a-strange-land motif that has well served generations of Brit comics over here. But even if we’ve heard the stuff about American TV or the arrogance of the “World” Series many times before, Izzard has a great gift for spontaneous delivery and conveying the sense that his monologue is mainly improvised.