Queens of England
This week, San Francisco was invaded. No one seemed to mind because everyone was far too amused.
Eddie Izzard -- lauded by John Cleese as the funniest man in England today -- traipsed through sold-out previews for Dress to Kill, a one-man show at the Cable Car Theater; while across town at Theater Rhinoceros "one of the stately homos of England" held court during his sold-out engagement of "An Evening With Quentin Crisp." It was a week of wry observation and clever repartee presented in a portion of California called home by Margaret Cho, Eddie Murphy, and Mork From Ork. No wonder we were dazzled.
Izzard is an "action transvestite." That is to say, he is a very manly man who fancies women and enjoys snowboarding. When he was a boy he climbed trees and considered joining the military; the fact that he applied makeup while up his tree or fantasized about the future of the 1st Battalion Transvestite Brigade is of little consequence. Izzard is wholly at ease in his silk frock, black vinyl pants, and open-toed high-heeled shoes. And so, it seems, is the rest of the world.
When the young comedian told his father of his penchant for lipstick and rouge, the old man hardly blinked twice before saying, "All right, then," and carrying on with his meal. Even Joe Boxer, who became Izzard's sponsor earlier this year, seems eager to embrace the man in mascara (hoping to cash in on that ever-expanding boxers-wearing tranny market, I suppose). But despite the enormous care that goes into assembling the Izzard image each night -- "Does my bum look fat in this?" -- it is barely an aside during his routine.
During Dress to Kill, Izzard twists through a string of seemingly mundane topics -- the weather, British school, TV junkies, anthrax, space exploration, Stonehenge, osteopaths, British imperialism, the Third Reich, Hollywood, Easter, and even Star Trek -- and transforms them, with the agility and guile of a freak-show contortionist, into subjects of measureless hilarity. He shares little about himself beyond the prerequisite awkward-adolescence and losing-my-virginity-not-quite story, but it matters not a bit; throughout, he exudes charm and style.
And Quentin Crisp would say that's all anyone can ever hope to achieve.
"It is easy to equate money with style," says the 90-year-old raconteur, seated on the Theater Rhino stage next to a vase of red roses and a glass of white wine. "In physics, money is the solid state of style."
Since 1981, when Crisp relocated from "sad, dreary" London to New York City -- "where everyone is your friend" -- Crisp has never turned down an invitation to a party or swept the floor in his small Lower East Side apartment. ("After the first four years, the dirt doesn't get any worse. It's purely a matter of nerve.") He has lived, he claims, "as a freeloader, a dilettante, a butterfly on the wheel," concerned only with the high gloss of society, not the machinery.
Like Izzard, Crisp is partial to coloring his hair, lips, and eyes, and wearing clothes with a certain noticeable femininity, but when Crisp was parading around the streets of London like an oversexed peacock there was little in the way of tolerance, much less acclaim. Still, after his autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, was turned into a critically acclaimed television movie starring John Hurt, things changed a bit; and now, his Resident Alien reissued, the wisdom of this ancient dandy is in high demand.
"Image is of key importance -- image and style," says the tiny, aging man with the grand voice of a Shakespearean actor. "I must cure you of the excessive freedoms which have made you all so miserable. You all do, say, and wear whatever you like, but you are not happy. What we need are chains and rules, and style."
Here are some helpful hints:
1) "Beauty and fashion are a waste of time. If you look like you stepped out of a fashion magazine we know nothing about you, only that you could afford to buy Vanity Fair."
2) "Get rid of domestic rituals."
3) "Never try to keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level."
4) "Your home is merely a dressing room."
5) "The neighbors' curiosity is a tribute; encourage it. Secrecy is a sin."
6) "Don't keep pets. We have enough dumb friends without them."
7) "If you choose depravity as the fluid in which to suspend your monstrous ego, remember quantity does not equal style."
8) "Living in close proximity with another person over an extended period of time will cramp your style, unless you love them. Then it will crush it immediately."
9) "If you are old-fashioned enough to have a job, make sure it involves deal-ing with people so that you can polish your style -- preaching, teaching, poli-tics, acting ...."
10) "Altruism is fragmenting and debilitating. ... Say daily, 'Other people are of no concern.' "
11) "You can overcome shyness, one step at a time. You can overcome your emotions by pretending not to have them. You just have to work at it."
12) "A sense of humor is a sense of emotional detachment."
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By Silke Tudor