Since Eddie Izzard’s days performing at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in the late 1980s, catching people’s attention with his wickedly funny observations and his affinity for wearing women’s clothing, his popularity has expanded exponentially as he’s proved himself time and again to be a brilliant comedian and actor. He’s currently cracking up audiences with his one-man show Force Majeure, which he’s been touring around the world since 2013. “Twenty-seven countries now I’ve played,” Izzard told me over the phone after finishing a five-day stint at New York City’s Beacon Theatre. “I keep adjusting it, molding it, trying to make it better.” Santa Barbarans get the chance to experience Izzard’s current comedic offering when he makes a stop at the Granada Theatre Friday, June 5.
Hi, there. So you have a busy day, eh? Yeah, it’s busy. Chattin’ to everyone. Yeah …
How’s the tour going after a year and a half in? Oh yeah, great! It’s in a very good place. Twenty-seven countries now I’ve played.
Oh my gosh. Yeah, so I really know where the good stuff is. I keep adjusting it, molding it, trying to make it better. So, yeah, I’m still having fun with it now.
That’s impressive, because I suppose you could get tired of doing the same thing. Well, I guess you’re not doing the same thing, because, as you say, you’re always adjusting it a bit. Well, yeah. It is an interesting point — the balance between improvising and trying to keep the show. The director, Sarah Townsend, she directed the lead documentary that we did that got (the Emmy? nomination…?) … so by accident … She said I had this problem where I would constantly re-adapt or remix the show until it actually … had gone from a really good place to an over-laden place. So I’m trying to keep the essence of the good stuff. But also you need a certain amount of mobility to move it around; otherwise, you get stuck.
I imagine you change the show a bit for each country. No, actually not. No, I don’t at all.
Is that right? Oh yeah. Because my whole thing is to prove how similar we are. So this show that I am touring now is the same show that the kids in Moscow laughed at, the kids in Berlin in German laughed at, the kids in Paris in October will be laughing at in French — it’s the same show. I want to show connections between us rather than the differences. Rather than saying, “Oh, right, so now I get to California, I’d better do a lot of California stuff because you won’t understand what I just said.”
[I talk] about human sacrifice: I start off [the show] with that. Why did anyone say, “Hey, the crops have failed, the weather is bad, the gods must hate us so we’re gonna kill Steve.” That’s an insane idea isn’t it? And everyone, every thinking person, of whatever sex and whatever country, they just go, “Yeah, that is. That is weird. Why did we ever do that?” And you don’t have to change it at all, and that’s what I’m looking for, I’m looking for the connections rather than the separations.
That’s brilliant. Well, a lot of the show is historic, right, so it’s stuff people can relate to? There’s a certain amount of history. Yes, I mean human sacrifice is less history; it’s unsure history, I suppose, or social-religious history. But [the show] also has things about Darth Vader fighting (God … spaghetti … half an hour??) and moles digging for gold and people smoking crack pipes and maybe it’s the crack talking …
So how is this tour different from the other tours? When you get on the road, is it all the same, or is each one a different experience for you? There are certain things [that stay the same] — like if you did by Shakespeare, you still have to get up on a stage; you have to learn your lines. So the difference between them is I’m better at comedy; I’m better at taking on trickier subjects and linking them together and trying to get a better shape into it. So you’ve always got to be improving and changing and moving it forward. But I’m still touring in a tour bus and going out and playing venues and doing Q&As afterwards and talking to people, so it’s, you know, certain things. The system is still there, but you just dive in; it’s a different subject on your show.
Is this a big arena-type tour? Well, the Granada isn’t an arena but it’s a fairly big theater. Have you been doing pretty big places? These are mainly theaters, in America. Hollywood Bowl, obviously is a huge place. There were arenas in Europe. I can mix some arenas and some theaters. That’s what I do: I mix them all together.
Do you find it harder to play to an arena than a small place? It’s a different thing, but I want to play them all. Once you’ve got up to speed in an arena, then it just becomes second nature. The trick is to play it like it’s a small theater. Because the screens and the screen technicians and the sound techs are such experts at these things, that they will bring the sound and vision to people in an easy and a very sharp and brilliant way so that everyone gets the show. I can do small, minute stuff, and they still get it.
Steve Martin in the early days was playing these huge arenas, and he was sometimes doing these little visual things that just wouldn’t work, and he’d make a joke and say, “Here’s something for the people at the back.” And make a dime disappear … But now, you could do it with the screen you could do that and everyone would see it; it’s so tiny, but the screen is so big.
So how did you like being on that show The Riches? I thought that was quite a good show. Yes, that was great fun to do. I loved doing it; I loved working with those people. It was really my film acting school for me because I’d been trying to break into something like that, and then I got the chance. So yeah, it was great.
Because you were hoping to do television because you like the medium? Or you just wanted to try something new? When I was 7, that’s all I wanted to do was act. I didn’t want to be in comedy, I didn’t know that comedy was a separate thing. I didn’t know that you could do comedy. I saw one in particular, The Boy with a Cart by Christian Fry and [saw] one guy was getting a lot of reaction, and so I thought, “I want to do that.” And that was when I was 7, and I’ve been trying to get into that ever since.
So the comedy was a complete curvy route of doing that. And so, you know, I was breaking into Pinewood Studios when I was 15. It’s something I’ve been pushing to do for a long time. I got a separate acting agent in 1993, so The Riches, which was actually aired in 2007 and 2008, way after I started dramatic acting …. I’ve only done two film comedies, and even those I played them as if they were dramas, I played the characters dramatically. I don’t do sitcoms; I don’t do sketch comedy. It’s all dramas and then just surreal comedy onstage. That’s how I do it.
It seems like you’ve actually succeeded in your dream to be an actor; you’ve done so many films and been onstage. Yeah, it’s great. I’m still pushing for the breakout role. I’ve got five years before I go into politics, so I’ve just got to fight like crazy.
Oh yes, right! I was going to ask you about that. So that’s true, you want to be an MP? Member of Parliament or Mayor of London.
You’ll take either one? Yes, I can’t choose until 2019. And I can’t really tell what’s going to happen, but that’s the plan, that’s the timing. Everyone I’ve worked with knows this, and I’ve said it categorically so many times, so hopefully I can get that all going and do essentially an Al Franken.
Well, they could use you now. Yes. Well … we had an election; it didn’t go the way we wanted it to. You just fight on; we’re gonna fight on. That’s the way it is.
Have you always been involved in politics? No, I joined the [Labour] Party in 1995, and I became an activist in 2008. So, little by little I’ve been fighting my way in there.
How do you think you’ll handle the bureaucracy in politics? I don’t know. I will find out when I get in there. But I do know that you need to be able to communicate, you need to be able to analyze, and you need to be able to come up with, invent, or adjust systems and find the center of a problem through your analysis, and I think I can do those things. I have to create a lot of my own systems doing my career the way I’m doing it. No one does comedy and drama, although a few people do it, and to control it, it’s very tricky, doing comedy and drama. No one tours France in French, no one tours Germany in German. I’ve had to set up systems for those.
So you’re an old hand, really. Well, I’m an old hand in these basic units, these basic qualities, I feel that from my analysis that you need for politics. I have done them — not in politics, but I’ve done them outside of politics. But adjusting them to politics, we will see what happens. But it can be a very nasty business, people can be very nasty to one another, the vested interests all attack, and you sit there attacking people, like right wing newspapers in Britain. So you have to learn to fight.
Well, I think it’s great that you’re going to give it a go anyway because the nastiness puts some people off more than trying to be heard about things you believe in. Absolutely. That’s the truth of it. I think that the vested interests, you know, the people in the media, who control the media, these right-wingers, they want to make it as nasty as possible so good people won’t come in.
John Cleese was here recently, and he was saying he didn’t live in London for a long time because the “rags,” the newspapers, had been so cruel to him. Yeah, some nasty people out there, and they will be nasty, and they will be very kind to extreme right-wingers and nasty to people who give a damn about other people. It is an unfortunate thing. Yeah. It’d be nice if that changed.
Where did you learn your languages? You know French and German well enough to do comedy in them, that’s quite impressive. I learned French and German in school, but the level of French I [have I] got by pushing it, by going back to France many times. That helped me so that I can do the show. My German was not really good enough, so I had to learn the show like a play. And translated the whole show into a playbook, line by line by line, of the show that I had actually created, and then I just studied in German conversation to get my German into a better shape, so that’s what I do now—I learn a new language by learning the show first because the show is my own stuff. I can know what every word means, but I just can’t use those words in a different sentence. And then I have a Living Dictionary floating in my head, from which I learn language: “Oh, this phrase is in the show! I see.” So that’s — it’s quite a radical way of learning.
It sounds like a lot of work. It’s hard enough to do one show in one language, and then you’ve got to modify it for each language. It is a lot of work, but you get one life. I’m going to try and live it.
You’re definitely doing that. When you first started doing comedy wearing women’s clothing, it was controversial, and now men paint their nails, and it’s not such a big thing. Do you find people even care about that aspect anymore? We need to get — the LGBT people need to get sexuality into the boring place so that no one gets [worked up about it] …. If we look at a cat and a dog, do we go on about their sex? Do you go, “Girl, boy, girl, boy—what is that dog or cat? Is it a girl or boy?” We don’t care. Is the cat any good as a cat? Is the dog any good? Is he a nice dog? Is he a fun dog? Is he a nice personality? Oh, it’s a she. He’s a she … I mean, you could get some people say, “The cat’s a he, and the dog’s a she” and then 15 minutes later you say, “No, the dog’s a he,” and you could change it every 15 minutes, and so they think they’ve just been hearing it wrong, but you could actually change it every 15 minutes, and they would not react to the cat and dog in any different way. “Oh, it’s a she-dog, so we better put out some girly things …” And the cat and the dog are probably looking at humans in the same way, going, “Oh, nice human. He, she, man, woman?”
Who cares. It’s got long hair. Long hair, could be a hippy, don’t know ….
I liked your comment that men wearing women’s clothing is like being a man “tomboy” — women wear men’s clothes all the time, and nobody gives them a hard time. Absolutely. It’s because [wearing men’s clothes is] seen as adding power into the human character — the male clothing is seen as either casual or powerful. That’s what the ’80s women’s shoulders were all about, the hugely built-out, that was, “I’m controlling that.” Whereas women’s clothing, the essence of women’s clothing is, what people look at, “Oh, this is a softer clothing, this is a feminine side,” and then they equate femininity with soft [which] equals less strong, therefore weakness. But if you look at men and women, there are strong-character men and women and weak-character men and women throughout history, and it doesn’t really matter what they’re wearing. Take somebody whose amongst your friends or living in the circle that you bump into, and they’re a very weak character, they could wear the most powerful clothing going, and you still say, “That guy’s an idiot; they just don’t get anything done.” So the clothing doesn’t matter, but we make it matter so much. We just obsess about it, and we need to get beyond that.
It seems like clothing should be practical —if it’s hot, and you want to wear a skirt, just wear it. If it’s cold, and you want to wear trousers, wear ’em. And you know, Jesus and all those guys in Judea, they were all wearing dresses and skirts. And people say [I’m] wearing women’s clothing, when in fact, I’m just wearing ……clothing. [unintelligible] … should they be owned by women? They’re just clothing. I don’t mind … anymore … because I have girl genetics and boy genetics, and my girl genetics insist on expressing themselves whenever they wish to, and so that’s the deal. Any problems, people can just argue with the United Nations about it.
That sounds like a great way of dealing with it. Because it’s really their problem, not your problem. Yeah. Exactly.
I’m running up against the clock here. I know you have another interview … I’ll just ask you another quick question, which is: What’s something no one has ever asked you and you wish they would? Oh, no, that’s impossible to do because …
… Because there are so many? No, everyone’s asked me everything. There’s nothing left that no one’s ever asked me.
Okay. What’s the strangest thing that someone’s asked you? I don’t know. I can’t actually; I’m not good at these lists. “What’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite …?” I just don’t work that way. I just don’t remember those things.
I’m putting the onus on you, whereas I should really come up with the specifics myself. Bad interviewer. Exactly …. You could do an entire interview: What’s a question you’ve never been asked? What’s your favorite color? Your favorite socks? Your favorite dog? Your favorite cat? I’m not interested.
Fair enough. Well, that was a bad one to end on, but we’ll leave it at that anyway. It’s okay.
Well, thank you so much. I look forward to seeing you at the Granada. All right. It’ll be fun.
Eddie Izzard brings his Force Majeure tour to town Friday, June 5, 8 p.m., at the Granada Theatre, 1214 State Street. For tickets and information, call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.