He struts to conquer-Yes, Eddie Izzard enjoys wearing women's clothing, but the guy's OK

Eddie Izzard does stand-up comedy. In heels, at that. But to describe his act as stand-up comedy is probably a little like saying that the Monty Python troupe does sketch comedy. It's true, as far as it goes, but it's not particularly descriptive or enlightening.

Izzard's act - the latest incarnation of which, called "Sexie," comes to the Moore Theatre this Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 4-6 - does involve standing, alone, on a stage and addressing the audience on a range of subjects including history, religion, politics, sexuality, zoology, pop culture and national differences. There's even a little "observational humor," the point of which is to make the audience laugh. But Izzard isn't Jerry Seinfeld. Indeed, if he were Jerry Seinfeld, his name would begin with a "J" instead of an "E," and he would have had a very successful sitcom on American television.

But that is not the case. Among the distinctive qualities possessed by Eddie Izzard, actor, comedian, monologist or however you want to characterize what he does, are:

1. He is from Europe - "where the history comes from," as he puts it. Specifically, he's British, a proud product of the land of Stonehenge, "one of the biggest henges in the world!" He also speaks some French.

2. His act is largely a series of spontaneous leaps and digressions - physical as well as verbal - from previously memorized material. Izzard estimates that "Sexie" (like earlier shows "Glorious," "Circle" and "Dress to Kill," a San Francisco performance of which was seen on HBO and DVD) is about 10 percent different every time, depending on where he is performing (physically, geographically) and where his mind wanders to (uh, mentally). He has described his own performance style as "a great big conversation where nobody else gets a word in edgewise" and "me talking surreal crap nonstop for two hours."

3. He is a transvestite or, as he explains, "a male lesbian" or "a male tomboy." "It's a running, jumping, climbing trees and putting on makeup when you get to the top kind of thing," he says in "Dress to Kill." On stage, Izzard wears tastefully applied cosmetics, stylish frocklike garments and boots or open-toed heels - because he enjoys it. All the same, Izzard isn't particularly feminine. He may be "in touch with his feminine side," but his physical presence is more like that of a graceful and coordinated rugby player with a background in dance and pantomime than your run-of-the-mill swooshy drag queen. He's unmistakably a "bloke," and although he fancies women and likes to wear their clothes, his act is not much about transvestism. (Just a little bit, now and then.) He prefers to be thought of as an "executive transvestite."

4. He is very silly. Or absurd. Or perhaps "surreal" is the right word. As when he imagines going to France in order to find a way to work his newly learned phrase, "Le sange es sur le branch" ("The monkey is on the branch"), into a real conversation. Or when he acts out the history of the British Empire by sticking a flag in India and claiming it for Britain. When 500 million Indians object that they are not available for claiming and that Britain is not entitled to their subcontinent because it's theirs and they live there, he responds haughtily, "Do you have a flag?" Or when he presents the Anglican version of the Spanish Inquisition: "Cake or death? Um, cake, please." (This, too, is from "Dress to Kill," so it's spoiling nothing for "Sexie.")

When backed into a corner, Izzard has said, "I'm a mix of Monty Python, Steve Martin and Richard Pryor. So if you like that comedy, that's where I fit." He's also cited Lenny Bruce and Bob Newhart among his influences. And some have compared his improvisational swoops and soarings to Robin Williams. (Okay, maybe - if Mrs. Doubtfire were wittier, sexier, less manic and considerably less hairy.) Izzard's delivery, though, is breezy and conversational rather than assaultive. So I guess you could say that if Richard Pryor were a Caucasian surrealist transvestite from England ... well, he probably wouldn't have got that part in "Lady Sings the Blues."

Where were we? Back to Izzard. He shares a casual sensibility with the "new wave" of stand-ups from places like LA's Uncabaret or Largo, where performers such as Beth Lapides, Kathy Griffin, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Bob Oedenkirk, Janeane Garofalo, Scott Thompson and Julia Sweeney ditch their acts and just talk to the crowd about whatever's been going on in their lives, or whatever they've been thinking about, more or less the way they would talk to their friends at home. Not everybody can do this, but when the usual steady, repetitive rhythm of setup-punchline, setup-punchline becomes more relaxed and fluid, and the tempo less mechanical and predictable, it's liberating - the difference between a Casio drum machine and, say, Billy Higgins.

Indeed, the last few times Izzard has played Seattle it's been at ACT Theatre, where the ambience is decidedly living room rather than club or concert hall. This time he's at the Moore, but his disarming affability and charm on stage should be capable of domesticating even that cavernous space.

Because all his shows kind of run together, Izzard has mentioned that "Sexie" isn't really any more about sex than his other stuff. He still talks about the usual subjects - history, religion, politics, language, greyhound racing, etc. But "Sexie" is a, well, sexier title for an age in which even intelligence dossiers are "sexed up."

"I was going to call it 'Elbow,' but 'Sexie' seemed sexier, while 'Elbow' is more elbowie," he has explained to the curious press.

Last year, Izzard was nominated for a Tony for his performance in a revival of Joe Orton's "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg." He has also appeared in a number of films, including Todd Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine" (1998), "Shadow of the Vampire" (2000) and as Charlie Chaplin (good casting) in Peter Bogdanovich's "The Cat's Meow" (2001). He and director Alex Cox ("Repo Man") will be on hand to introduce their new film, "The Revenger's Tragedy," at the Grand Illusion on Friday and Saturday nights, Sept. 5 and 6. His last show, "Circle," has just been released on DVD.

Eddie Izzard in "Sexie" has three shows at the Moore Theatre, corner of Second Avenue and Virginia Street, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 4-6. Only a handful of tickets ($20-$50) remain for each performance; they'll be available at the box office while they last.

Jim Emerson, former film critic of the former The Rocket and editor of the late, lamented Cinemania, is founder and principal of Waggerdog. Visit his works at www.cinepad.com.

E-mail regarding this story may be sent to qanews@nwlink.com

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