Comedy: Tales of the unexpected

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The Independent Culture
SOMEONE RECENTLY wrote in to the BBC's consumer-affairs programme, Watchdog, to complain that they had heard some of the material at an Eddie Izzard gig before. Consequently, the merchandising stalls in the foyer at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge were selling T-shirts bearing the legend: "The Same Old Shit Tour". Izzard informed us that the tour was now being sponsored by Watchdog.

Izzard is a bizarre choice of comedian to accuse of recycling material, because his strongest suit has always been his originality. Over the years, the venues may have got bigger, the sets flashier, the costumes glitzier, but the one constant in his act has been an imagination as vivid as the crimson lipstick he sported last Monday night. Famous for never writing anything down, he just lights the blue touchpaper in his brain and off he goes.

The reason we like Izzard is because he is not like us. His mind just does not function in the same way at all. Who else would make the mental leap from "the Queen Mother is 99" to "she's an ice-cream, you can stick a Flake in her and sell her through a window"? In another, equally daft routine, he acted out how the Brits had to improvise with ice-cream vans and lob cones towards the Germans at Dunkirk when their military equipment had been destroyed.

With Izzard, there is always an exciting frisson of anticipation as audiences wait to hear what weird titbit his magpie mind will pick up next. At one point, he discussed the merits of inviting a girl back for a coffee as a prelude to sex. "Doesn't always work, the coffee thing," he mused. "If you're at a function with the president of Burundi..."

Not that his surrealism always comes off. A particularly nonsensical section about microwaving his TV-dinner virginity - don't ask - was greeted with baffled silence. Even then, however, Izzard managed to turn it to his advantage and raise a laugh by adding: "I just like listening to audiences go `Eh?'."

He has obviously learnt from the fancy West End plays he's been starring in; he likes to put on a show with a capital S. He came on stage from the top of a 15ft-high purple rose and to the accompaniment of a rocket- launch countdown and a multi-coloured light-show that may have been borrowed from Genesis circa 1975.

To add to the sense of occasion, he was done up like a starlet on Oscar night - in an eye-catching, all-black combination of a tailored, fur-trimmed jacket teamed with a long pleated skirt and high-heeled leather boots.

But, fortunately, these accoutrements did not distract us from the material - which, despite what viewers of Watchdog may claim, remains gloriously unpredictable.

Eddie Izzard is at Brixton Academy, London SW9 (0171-771 2000) 12-16 Dec, tickets remain for nurses/unemployed