Izzard breaks records with 'rock and roll' tour

There was a time when the only environment considered suitable for a stand-up comedy routine was the smoky back room of an unfashionable public house.

But, later this autumn, Eddie Izzard will embark on the most ambitious comedy tour Britain has seen: playing to 200,000 people at the biggest indoor auditoriums the country has to offer.

Comedy might be just one of dozens of forms of entertainment that have trotted out claims to be "the new rock 'n' roll" but Izzard is doing everything in his power to make such a claim appear plausible.

He brings his Sexie world tour to the United Kingdom in November for a 20-show tour of conference centres and arenas, costing £1m to put on.

Izzard has already sold out his four-night residency at Wembley Arena, more than three months in advance. No comedian has sold so many tickets at the venue, more used to hosting touring rock supergroups and pop megastars.

The Manchester Evening News Arena is an even bigger proposition, but the 13,800-capacity venue has already sold out Izzard's two shows. Mick Perrin, Izzard's international tour manager, said: "This is the first-ever solo comedy arena tour. Other than the fact there's no band on stage we are treating it very much as a rock and roll tour."

He admitted many venues had been reticent about the idea of putting a single performer on stage. "They said, 'Do you want to use just a quarter of the arena'," he said. "They couldn't grasp that we could put just one man on stage and play in front of 13,000 people." Izzard is determined to ensure he does not face any more accusations of using unoriginal material. During previous shows in Britain he was pursued by a camera crew from the BBC Watchdog programme after a complaint from a viewer that he had recycled material in a video.

Mr Perrin said: "It ended up with Eddie getting a letter from the Office of Fair Trading saying, 'Don't do this again or you will end up in court'. They didn't understand. He turns over more material than any comedian."

But Izzard has been so hurt by the accusations that he started his routine for the Sexie tour from scratch, improvising to an audience from a piece of paper with three lines of ideas.

He appears on a stage shrouded in camouflage netting and lit up with fairy lights. Izzard's first show in Britain will be in a much more intimate 400-seater venue in his home town of Eastbourne, where he is filming a DVD before the arena tour.

The comedian is now completing a mammoth 10-week tour of North America, during which the largest venue is the 2,500-seat New York City Centre Theatre, where he will perform for a week.

Izzard's previous biggest performance in Britain was the 10,500-ticket "We Know Where You Live" show for Amnesty International at Wembley. Rob Newman and David Baddiel were the first comedy act to perform at Wembley, when they staged their "Live and In Pieces" show in December 1993.

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