In his preface to Quentin Crisp's brilliant memoir The Naked Civil Servant Michael Holroyd points out: "To the English, Mr. Crisp has appeared as one of the more flamboyant inventions of Evelyn Waugh; but his world is closer to that of Samuel Beckett." Therein lies the source of Crisp's paradoxical appeal: behind the campier-than-camp appearance and the impeccable manners ("All outsiders are polite to insiders because at best they secretly revere them or at worst fear that they may one day need them"), the British humorist has a fascinating bleak streak, a biting, daintily nihilistic wit all the more provocative for being delivered in Crisp's insinuatingly sweet style. At 83 the quintessential queer (he shocked a prim public by wearing makeup and hair color to flaunt his homosexuality in the repressive 1930s), Crisp has made a career of sparring with his public since his reemergence in the 1970s as a pre-gay-liberation pioneer and professional cult celebrity. His one-man evenings of caustic comic commentary rely heavily on question-and-answer sessions with the audience, and the combination of Crisp's sharp sense of humor and his genuine eccentricity makes those sessions a rare form of entertainment. Having recently played Elizabeth I in the forthcoming film version of Virginia Woolf's Orlando (costarring Tilda Swinton and rock singer Jimmy Somerville), Crisp will turn his attention to the virgin queen's contemporary counterparts in this election-year appearance: his stated subject is "the royal family and the American political system." But you can expect the evening to veer far from its initial premise. Halsted Theatre Centre, 2700 N. Halsted, 348-0110. Opens Wednesday, October 21, 8 PM. Through October 25: Thursday and Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 6 and 9:30 PM; Sunday, 7:30 PM. $20-$25.