When he's not in drag, Eddie Izzard looks like a beefier Kiefer Sutherland. But given his druthers, he'd like George Clooney to play him in his life story.
"I mean I've met George, I've never met Kiefer, and I imagine it annoys him when people say he looks like Eddie Izzard," the comic said from his mobile phone, zipping through Edinburgh in preparation for the recent Live-8 shows.
Izzard, who normally performs his stand-up act in full makeup, platform heels and some female clothing, is coming to Montreal for a one-man (in a fashion) show on Friday at Theatre Maisonneuve. That's a far cry from the large stadium venues he's been playing these past few years after a hugely successful run in both Britain and in the States.
"This gig is very rare for me, a couple of hundred people when I'm used to Wembley Stadium," Izzard said.
Montreal audiences have had a taste of Izzard before. He performed at Just for Laughs in 1992, sold out 13 performances of a solo show in 1993 and came back once more in 1995.
"I enjoyed your old town, it's a bit like a European city, and I went on your river, the St. Lawrence I believe, to go through the rapids.
"Turns out it was just a bad driver who kept turning a lot so everyone got wet, not exactly what was on the label. I thought I would be going down the rapids with Kevin Bacon in the movie The River Wild."
Izzard is a thinking man's comic who rarely goes for the cheap laugh, but chooses to weave seemingly unrelated topics together to hilarious results.
He refutes the claim that his comedy is cerebral, although he does have a rather large hat size (71/4) to accommodate his brain.
"My comedy is street smarts. I know a lot about pop culture, history and politics. I think my show is a lot like flipping through the channels on TV, first the History Channel, then Biography, that's how you learn the most."
His facility with history is staggering, but, once again, the TV reference. He doesn't read a lot of books.
"You can learn all about the life of Napoleon in an hour on television; reading books slows things down. I wouldn't like to have lived in any period of history but the present with the freedom of expression."
Izzard's life story is almost as colourful as his stage persona. His dad worked for British Petroleum and Eddie and his brother Mark were born in Yemen, then moved to Northern Ireland. His mother died of cancer when he was 6 and he and his brother were shipped off to boarding school soon after.
Izzard aspired to a soccer career but the second school he attended didn't have a team. He tried out for various drama productions but some "crap" teacher told him he was no good, he said.
He discovered his knack for making people laugh at age 12 and, after dropping out of university, started to play the seedy clubs in London before hitting the big time in 1991.
Success in one-man shows won him two Emmys for the HBO show Dress to Kill. He has been in several movies and was last seen as a player in Ocean's Twelve, where he met George Clooney.
Izzard speaks flawless French and has worked with Just Pour Rire's Paris production company, cranking out his show en francais. "In January I took a three-week language class in Paris and graduated 'superior' so I can talk about most things, but taking in films is a different matter."
His show has many British idioms, like the expression "taking a piss" (making fun of someone), which he steadfastly refuses to excise.
"People work it out or they don't. I assume an intelligence of the audience and I won't dumb my show down."
And after making us laugh, what tickles Izzard's funny bone? The Simpsons, Monty Python, Richard Pryor and Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, he replied.
He is currently in pre-production of a drama series in Los Angeles but didn't want to elaborate in case it doesn't get picked up.
He doesn't do any formal research for the cities where he performs, choosing to let the local references come to him, casually.
And the ultimate question: after working on Ocean's Twelve with Brad Pitt, was he taken aback when Jen and Brad split?
"The newspapers had been speculating for ages so no, surprise wasn't the first thing that came to my mind," Izzard said.
Eddie Izzard performs Friday, July 22, at 10 p.m. at Theatre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts. For more information, visit www.hahaha.com or call (514) 790-HAHA.