Je Suis Un Frock Star!
Dresses, make-up, surreal ad-libs about being a toaster. Genius chucklemeister EDDIE IZZARD has never taken the conventional route. And now, just to make things even harder, he's doing his stand-up in French.
Giving good Ed: Mark BEAUMONT(words) MARTYN GOODACRE(photos) |NME |thanks Teri
"Jeur sweee Rawbin Huuuurd!" howls a man in make-up and scarlet glitterball suit, legs akimbo in groin-thrusting swashbuckler mode. "Ooooway la Mayiiid Mariyaaaan?
There is unusual. There is bizarre. And then there is a place 15 million light years beyond bizarre where dust talks back to the Hoover and James Mason is God. Three seconds ago we were comfortably settled in that place, strapped into our turbo warp-speed seats to surrealist comedy oblivion. Then, without warning, we stepped two pelicans to the left and now, ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in some seriously weird shit.
To recap: in a sweltering cupboard somewhere below Paris' Pigalle district the greatest comedic mind of the '90's is telling a joke in French with an American accent concerning the correct pronunciation of a mythical British character's name. And the French laugh like hyenas on helium. He will later attempt a French adaptation of Dick Van Dyke's Australian/cockney drawl from Mary Poppins to equal spleen-rupturing effect. Then he'll pretend to be a toaster. Or it might be a legion of Roman soldiers hiding behind the horizon. Or a talking duck. Or all three at once, for all the bugger we know.
Please do not adjust your NME. For we have long since left that cramped basement club far behind and blasted off to a place they call Eddie Izzard in French.
"It's the most amazing aural exam," the King Of The Wobbly Stiletto grins from the glow of a billion dressing table light bulbs, pre-show. "It's the tenses I get wrong. It's like I'm saying, 'I went up to this guy and he gave me...no, I gave him...no, I did give him...I AM giving him...I WILL give him...I WAS GIVING HIM... a blow job.'"
Contrary bugger, El Izzard. He comes to us freshly bruised from on-screen punch-ups with Uma Thurman while filming The Avengers. In two days' time he is due to launch a mammoth tour of London's rock venues that makes Newman & Baddiel's Wembly show look like a ten-minute set down The Falcon. He has become the most glamorous, inspirational, charismatic and downright brilliant comedian of the decade and, as such, he could probably fart his way through these three Paris dates by repeating the phrase, "So! Aah! Fridges!" for two hours and still have the audience snorting their intestines out through their noses with laughter.
But he doesn't. Oh no. Instead he performs the entire show - ad-libs, put-down, cock-ups and all - in French. And later this year, as he tours the globe in his role as a devout New European, he'll do it in German, Spanish, Outer Mongolian and even, at a push, in Geordie. The gauntlet is down, Frank Skinner. Come and have a go if you think you're multilingual enough.
I don't want to be English Comic Playing to The Ex-Pats," he explains. "The French who have come are going out with amazed looks in their eyes, like they're quite stunned. Which is good."
It seems you're intent on challenging yourself. As if it's become too easy to be Eddie Izzard.
"I always wanna make it more difficult," he agrees, eyeliner a-glint. "No-one can say I'm breezing it because it scares the shit out of me. It's that cruising thing I hate. The beginning of the death."
Welcome to the beginning of the New Life, Four years ago. Eddie Izzard was an ex-busker packing out huge West End runs by word of mouth alone. He was the anti-establishment outsider, a cult-hero, the Easy Rider of comedy, but in a dress. And he DID NOT DO TELLY. FULL STOP.
Then came the Big Gigs. The gigging with rock stars. The front covers. The paparazzi. The movie cameos. And a f--- off a lot of telly, actually. The world's press realised that here was a comedian who made every effort to look like Brian Malko's more glamorous auntie rather than a builder's arse crack and thus was A Star. Suddenly we were faced with a whole new Izzard lizard: Eddie the media whore.
He balks, but relents. "I need to utilise the media to try to get the word out because I've decided not to do these comedy show things that get packed our really easy. I don't think you can stop that happening. I don't think it's a great place to be because you wanna be interesting and outside it. But I did hit a glass ceiling in that I'd have to perform 365 days a year, in four or five thousand-seaters, and that doesn't even get you one Clive James interview where you're talking stupid for 5 minutes. I love doing chat shows, so I wanted to do them."
Have you unwittingly become part of the establishment?
"I'm not choosing to be. I instinctively feel that you wanna avoid it because everyone wants something new and twisted that's spinning things in a different way. So I'm constantly looking for something different to spin."
"As you get more successful you've got to be more careful with your material. You can't come on and say, 'So there I was, on Concorde, talking to Al Pacino..' I have this analogy that you've still got to be able to buy a bag of crisps. Then once someone said, 'Why don't you go and buy a bag of crisps then, just to prove you can do it?' So I did but they came and presented it to me, for some reason, on a plate specially arranged."
The dilemma here is that deep down Eddie Izzard LOVES attention. This is why he prefers rock gigs to comedy gigs because "rock'n'roll is sex and comedy is mind". And this is why the 'Glorious' tour - calling in at the Docklands Arena, the Forum, the Hammersmith Apollo and Brixton Academy - is the same inspired rambling bollocks, but wrapped in blazing strobe lights and orchestral techno opulence. So come on, admit it. You want to be the comedy equivalent of Kiss, don't you?
"There are so many stand-ups who wanna be rock stars. Film stars wanna be rock stars. Then there's rock stars who wanna be in films...Whatever you've got you want something else. I'm just happy to nick stylistically. I'm not against playing large. I'm into doing big outdoor gigs, but I don't want it to be like you're watching television, like rock gigs."
But, hey, before he conquers Knebworth, there's the small matter of becoming an international movie megastar. In The Avengers, Eddie plays Sean Connery's henchman and says precisely bugger all: "I just chew gum, stare at people and hit them." So did Sean take you up on your bad onstage impressions of him?
"No! I thought he'd bring them up, but he didn't say, 'Um, I believe you do a bad impreshhionshh of meah.'
"The best day was me and Shaun Ryder in a Mini, and we['ve got Uzis and we're just shooting out while going very fast through country lanes somewhere near Oxford. Shaun was talking about totaling all these cars while recording in Barbados so I was quite glad he didn't drive."
The London Planetarium lights up at midnight. Five hundred coked-out-of-their-tiny-brains guests at the aftershow for the launch of the 'Glorious' London run settle into plush reclining seats and prepare for a Journey Into The Unknown. We crane upwards as Jupiter dissolves into focus on the darkening dome above. To it's left, Saturn materialises in spectacular detail. And between the two there slowly fades into vision a 50ft. photo of Eddie Izzard's face. It gets an awe-struck ovation.
So: comedy uber-meister, film star, serious actor, failed sitcom writer and the most famous transvestite around town. What's next then? Astronaut?
"Someone's gotta be the first European on Mars. But I'd be right up there on top of the space sickness, chucking my guts up. Which in zero gravity would be really odd. It'd just float around. I assume."
And there he hangs, glittering amongst far duller stars. And preparing for the jump into warp speed.