THE COURTSHIP OF
Stand-up comic and actor Eddie Izzard is incredibly smart, hysterically funny,
and looks cute in a dress. In other words, he's the perfect man. [Bust
Magazine | Fall 2004 | posted on EI Live Journal]
Eddie Izzard is the kind of performer with whom people become obsessed. He is
an offbeat type of whip-smart humor that's super-geeky and filled with references
to ancient Greeks, the British empire, and God. And Star Trek. And Speed.
He's also sexy. Incredibly sexy .There's just something irresistible about a good-looking
man in fishnets and lipstick. When Eddie took the stage at New York's City Center
last October, he was resplendent in platform boots and falsies underneath a long,
glittery dress split up the side. In town to perform his latest show, Sexie,
he was only two-thirds of the way through a grueling tour schedule that would
take him to 40 cities over the course of six months.
Yet Eddie wasn't worse for the wear. Watching him deliver flawless standup for
two and a half hours straight , he can seem like nothing short of a superhero,
to whom he compares transvestites: both superheros and transvestites have to change
their outfits before they help someone, he explains, except transvestites take
longer and don't help people.
Eddie makes his audience feel smart about getting his jokes, and chides them when
they don't. "I'm from England," he says. "You know, where the history comes from?"
Once, after name-checking General Lafayette, Eddie turned to face his bewildered
audience. "You Americans don't know your own history at all, do you?" he asked,
grinning. "What's he going on about? The Spanish-American war? The French Banana
Born in Yemen, Eddie's family moved to Ireland when he was one, and then to England
a few years later. His mother died when Eddie was six, after which he was sent
to boarding school for many years. Eddie began his standup career in 1993. His
fame grew in the UK over the next few years, but it wasn't until 1998 when Dress
to Kill, a film of his live standup show, aired on HBO, that he became known
on this side of the pond. In the next five years, he continued to tour while developing
his acting career. He earned a Tony nomination for his work on Broadway in A
Day in the Death of Joe Egg and appeared in the films Shadow of the Vampire,
Velvet Goldmine, Mystery Man, and Ocean's 11. Last year, his shows
Dressed to Kill and Circle came out on DVD, and this fall will see
the release of his earlier shows, Unrepeatable, Definite Article, and Glorious.
I spoke to Eddie this summer, while he was in Rome on the set of his latest film.
So, what are you doing there in Rome?
Cool! It is fun?
Yeah, well, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. It's a small but pivotal
role. I think the whole film really pivots around my character. I'm not sure the
others would agree, though.
Who else is in it with you?
Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, and Matt Damon.
So, you're definitely the hottest one in that movie! You know, so many women
find you really hot--I do, too--and I find it very confusing, because you wear
a full face of makeup and dress in ladies' clothing.
I don't call it ladies' clothing. It's mine. I bought it. Besides, women wear
pants. Is that ladies clothing? That's men's clothing! But honestly, as a straight
transvestite, I am enormously pleased. When I first came out as a transvestite--I've
known since I was four--I thought this is really going to scupper me [British
slang for "fuck me up"], because women aren't going to swing with this. So I actually
went celibate for about three years. And, because I was not very good at flirting
at the time, I used it as an excuse. Like, "Well, I don't have to check anyone
out because no one's gonna really want to go out with a transvestite." Then I
thought, I'm missing too much fun here, this plan doesn't work.
I've heard a number of women say, "I'm not a lesbian, but this women's gorgeous
and I want to shag her brains out." I think women are just more in touch with
the idea of maybe making out with a woman. Maybe I'm sort of a bridge to that.
You know, I know guyish but I like to wear makeup to try and express my sexuality.
It's not a great ways of expressing it, really, because it's kind of external
and people go, "Well, you're all about the clothes," and I say, "Well, it's not
about the clothes," but I can't really show you the image of my brain on the outside."
You said you've known since you were four, but how old were you when you came
Twenty-three. Big gap.
You and I were both born in '62, and when I was growing up, a really cool thing
to do was to go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Is that something you did when
you were growing up, too?"
No, although I must do the Rocky Horror show. I must play Frank-N-Furter
at some point. But if you were a transvestite, there are a few things that you
wouldn't do. One was to go to the Rocky Horror show endlessly. Two was following
the New Romantics when that musical thing was out, or glam rock in the 70s. Because
someone might turn around to you sand say, "You're a transvestite." And then you
had nowhere to go. Because that was your biggest nightmare--that someone would
find you out. So I didn't. And you would never guess. You know, I'm the same story
as those women who come home and their husbands of ten years wearing their clothes.
That's my community. Or the stories you see in newspapers in Idaho where some
man was in the military or the police force and he wanted to change his sex. You
know, they're very much guys. Being a straight transvestite--in my latest self-analysis,
because I have a million theories on it, and they're always changing--I used to
think was sort of a half-boy, half-girl mentality. But now I think I'm all boy
plus extra girl.
You said earlier that it's not just about the clothing. What else in your brain
that you feel is particularly female?Well, I guess you could say that certain
gay man have a sensibility like women--maybe they're better with visual, touch,
taste, smell. As a transvestite, I don't have that; I have to struggle for a sense
of style and be able to say, "Oh, these colors don't work, oh, this thing doesn't
work." I just seem to have the part of a women which is more the girly-girl part,
the dressing-up part, the going-out-to-a-disco part.
Here in America, the comedy is almost always about sex. But your comedy is
about history and politics and religion, which is great. Was it a conscious effort
to not talk about sex very much?
Well, I was actually watching somebody's show and I realized that no one in the
world was really concentrating on history. And I did love history. It means you
can get into subjects that have an interesting weight and a social/political weight.
But I was kind of bored by political comedy. You're just talking about Bush and
Blair and right-now things. You record your show and in a year's time it will
all be so old, they'll think, "Why did you write that?" So you've got to get something
in at least a ten-year context. History's good 'cause it doesn't move about, it
just sits there going "eek." I haven't actually blocked sex, but maybe I thought
I should let people get the hang of my sexuality before I talk anything about
You made a joke in one of your shows about how Americans don't know our own
history, and I think that's very true. But do you know so much about history?
Is the British educational system so much better than the American one, or is
this an interest that came later?
Actually, I think it's the Izzard gene we have to put it down to. My dad has tons
of books on history. My brother got an A1 in history, which means he took not
only the A level, which is the one you take at 18, but he took a special one on
top of that. I do feel the future is written in the past. Maybe cause my mum died
when I was six, and my whole life changed around. Ever since then, I've kind of
wanted to be ready for a massive shift in my life. And if you soak up history,
it means you can be better at seeing what's going to happen.
You mentioned your mom dying when you were young. Madonna's mother did also...
And Orson Welles'.
I know you can't sum it up simply, but how would say that's influenced you?
You say it may be part of your interest in history, but do you think it also influenced
your drive, your ambition, or your sexuality?
Well, I don't think it actually affected my sexuality. People say, "Oh, mother
dies--transvestite," but I think no. Because I knew what I was before. I mean,
I'm open-minded enough to say, well, it could be, and if someone proves it to
me with diagrams and bits of paper and stuff then I'll believe it, but at the
moment, I don't think so. But I do think it led me towards the performing thing.
I think Madonna's got the same thing. And it doesn't have to be a death in the
family. It could be dysfunctional parents as well. If you've lost affection coming
from a certain area, you look for it in other ways. You substitute it for an audience
for an affection machine.
Well, your audience certainly has a lot of affection for you. Your standup
regularly sells out in a few hours, and there are even Eddie Izzard meet-ups across
the world. How do you feel about this obsession that some people have with you?
Well, that is fine. But I do feel that if I get into what people are thinking
about me, then I will go down some sort of weird spiral, thinking, "Hey, God,
I'm interesting, aren't I?" And I need to have my feet on the ground of ordinary-ness,
and just be able to go out and buy a packet of crisps. I mean, I'm here with Brad
Pitt and George Clooney, and they have more of a problem doing that. And it's
hard for your ego because you think, "My God, I should go out and have people
screaming at me everywhere!" but then you think, "Well, I'd like to be able to
buy a bag of crisps."
Can you do that here in the states? I'm sure you must be incredibly famous
in Britain; you've had such a lengthy career there.
I'm probably a B-plus/A-minus celebrity in Britain, and then in American I'm probably
a C-plus/B-minus. I'm still a cult figure in America. But, you know, I just keep
trying to hack my way out. Then again, maybe there's a level of celeberity I don't
really want to go above. Although, being very ambitious, I sort of do want to
go up there. It's a bit of a conflict.
You maintain an incredibly hectic schedule. Between your lengthy comedy tours,
move schedule, and the plays you're in--are you ever home?
I don't often go home; that is true. And that was quite an intense tour. But I
was at boarding school after my mother died--from age 6 to 18--and when you go
to those schools, especially when you're younger, you just have a bed and maybe
a desk. And that's it, you know, there's no personal effects. So you just live
in your head, really. It's a weird kind of training. So touring around doesn't
bother me. Also, I was born in Yemen, so I'm a world citizen from day one.
How do you maintain relationships with people when you're moving around so
I've never really had friends. Relationships--I kinda make those work. And I need
to make sure that I see family more; that's something I was bad at for a while
because I was concentrating on other things. I've always been a bit of a loner
You never seem to want to discuss your romantic relationships in other interviews
that I've read.
Well, you know, I follow a rule that if someone you're linked with says, "I do
not wish to be discussed," then that's their right and I don't have the right
to discuss them. My dad is the only one who says "It's cool." And, so, I talk
about my dad, but the other ones I don't.
I understand that he was very accepting when you came out to him.
Yeah. Apparently, recently he was asked about the details of that he said, "Well,
I wasn't best pleased." Which is very English of him to say. You know, "So, you're
happy about this?" "Well, I wasn't best pleased." I think it takes it even stronger,
really. That he wasn't going, "Hey, great, you're a transvestite!" It was more
him going, "OK. Well, let's just see how this goes."
Do you talk to him pretty frequently when you're on the road?
Yeah. I just phone him on the mobile and text him and then he doesn't know how
to text back. But he does know how to read the text, and he set up a whole computer
account for him, so that's pretty cool.
Where does he live?
Near Hastings, where the Battle of Hastings happened.
Did he ever get remarried?
Yes, he did. Seven years later. He lives with my stepmother.
I don't know how much you remember, but what was your mother like?
She was very loving. She was a nurse, you see. My dad said I would often ask for
things or push it a bit too much. I would ask for glasses of lemonade or milky
coffee in the middle of the night, and she'd get up and make them. I think I was
a little surprised as to quite why. But yeah, I really liked her. And apparently
she was a good person.
OK, I want to go back to something we were talking about before. I've noticed
that you don't always dress as a woman.
Well, in my perfect world, I'd be dressed as a woman half of the time, and as
a man half of the time. But if I'm going to audition for an acting role, I feel
like I need to bush the bloke-y side of me, because people think, "Well, it's
the transvestite guy and we can't even see him for this role." You don't even
get on the list that might be seen. And the reason I wear makeup all the time
when I'm doing standup is purely because that's the only time I can really wear
it. But I don't have to wear it for standup. I could do a whole tour and have
a beard. It doesn't matter, because in the end I'm just talking rubbish.
Well, when you're not on a bloke-y day and you're on a girly day, do you feel
that you're ever trying to pass as a woman? Or do you almost feel that yours is
kind of a third gender?I'm not sure about the third gender thing. I mean,
most people tend to read me as a guy wearing makeup. I'd kind of like it if people
said, "Oh, they think you're a girl," but that doesn't seem to happen. In a way,
I've worked out a positive side of that, because people must know that it's not
a walk in the park doing this. It was very tough for me to come out. Whereas a
guy who looks very girly could put on a dress and no one would know at all. And
they'd just get the hassles that women get.
Do you think that standing in front of a crowd of thousands of people with
nothing but yourself and your humor is more difficult or less difficult than wearing
a dress in front of just some totally anonymous person?
Standing in front of thousands with boobs is less difficult than standing in front
of one person. It's actually always easier in front of big crowds.
I just mean that being a standup comedian leaves you so vulnerable; it seems
so scary. Not to you?
Yes, but you can't think of it that way. Because riding in a car is potentially
scary--I mean, you could hit people. Do you ever get in a car and think you're
gonna crash? No. Do you ever get on a stage and think you're going to die? No.