What's a comedian to do, when an audience's excitement at the mere fact of him, standing onstage, supersedes what he's trying to say?
"I haven't said anything yet," Eddie Izzard said, more than once, during opening night of his six-show, sold-out run at the Wiltern Theatre on Monday night.
The British comedian's latest one-man show, "Sexie," is not as strong as two previous shows that have come through Los Angeles in recent years, "Dress to Kill" and "Circle." Those shows (particularly "Dress to Kill," which became an HBO special in 2000 and led to Hollywood film roles) established his popularity here as a live performer. By then, Izzard was already a cult figure in England, with his bedazzling mixture of reference points (Izzard's a transvestite, but also a stand-up comic, but also an amateur student of religion and history).
Izzard is still all of these things, still winningly charming and goofy, except that now he, or we, must deal with the pre-response to his material, the audience's too-willing laughter at times reminiscent of the studio audience at a Letterman taping.
Should a joke, for instance, about Brits being confused over 9/11, thinking the horrible event happened on Nov. 9 because that's what 9/11 means, in England, elicit howls of laughter? On Monday night it did.
From previous shows and this one, it isn't difficult to discern Izzard's worldview, that history is replete with despots and colonizers whose imperialism, filtered through a prism of Monty Python-esque absurdity, is seen for what it is.
A vintage Izzard bit, from "Dress to Kill," has the comedian reading aloud from Pol Pot's day planner: "Death, death, death, lunch, death, death ...."
In "Sexie," Izzard, whose rhetorical style is to bring up a subject and then veer madly off topic, a technique he calls "thinking sideways," juggles topics as disparate as superheroes and balsamic vinaigrette ("it just arrived, eight years ago," he marveled), Greek mythology and Pavlov's dislike of cats. He flits from topic to topic, creating scenes and jumping out of them, bouncing on his legs as if warming into things. At times it's style over substance (you wish Izzard would hang onto a topic longer, play around with it more), but part of enjoying him is witnessing the energy it takes to keep all the plates spinning.
There was a tiny bit on President Bush (that perhaps the back half of his brain is working well, but it all comes out as "cheeseburger").
Izzard said that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks he went out and bought the Koran, but confessed he didn't get to it right away. "It's a bit of a dip-in book," he allowed, and noted that reading the tome on airplanes, dressed in woman's clothing, made him something of a target for profiling.
Speaking of which, Izzard this time came onstage wearing prosthetic breasts (in addition to leather pants and high heels), which he called "implants not planted," or "ims." There is something undeniably wonderful about the sight of Izzard, dressed thusly, discussing the slowness of archeological discovery or the sneaky way dentists talk in code, then drill you to kingdom come.
Having cut his teeth as a street performer, "talking crap" to get people's attention (and their spare money), Izzard now finds himself at the opposite end of that spectrum: standing before rapt patrons, all of whom have paid in advance to see him and can't wait to laugh. The position is well-earned, and perhaps the nicest of problems.
`Eddie Izzard: Sexie'
Where: The Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
When: Today-Saturday, 8 p.m.
Contact: (213) 380-5005 or (213) 480-3232
Running time: 2 hours