English Comic Eddie Izzard Returns
By Greg Dixon | August 2, 2003 | NZ Herald

Eddie Izzard calls it emptying his brain on to the stage. But then the transvestite British wit has a reputation for a stand-up comedy style that is more brains than other parts of the anatomy.

With his new one-man show, Sexie, which opens its five-city New Zealand tour in Auckland on Wednesday, that means emptying his skull of things such as horse-whispering, guide dogs and the year he spent at home watching Australian daytime soaps.

"I did nothing but watch telly all day. Then I came out as a transvestite at the end of the year."

The world's major religions also feature - he is presently learning about the prophet Mohammed . Unsurprisingly, he says getting comedy out of that is quite tricky.

He is climbing back on the comedy horse after nearly four years concentrating on acting in a string of films - some good (as Charlie Chaplin in the murder mystery The Cat's Meow), some middling (Brit thriller The Criminal) and some awful (World War II drag comedy All The Queen's Men) films.

There has been theatre, too, including his Broadway debut.

Recently he hung out with our Tem Morrison while making a French cowboy film- Izzard calls it "a Bagetti Western" - entitled The Adventures Of Mike S Blueberry.

Morrison was an Indian. Izzard played a German cowboy and fulfilled boyhood fantasies by spending five months on a horse.

But he was always going back to his award-winning stand-up, a job he's had since 1988.

"People use stand-up as some sort of stepping stone, as some sort of non-artistic creative endeavour, as a way through to the easy, lush lands of films or television. But for me, it's forever."

He decided to spend three or four years concentrating on acting to kickstart a film career, then do this stand-up tour before devoting another three years to film.

But 15 films into the acting gig, he still has to fight to get work, particularly in drama.

He says being a transvestite does get in the way of things - though some people still accuse him of putting on a dress to make the comedy work better.

"I always think if it's so [expletive] easy, then why don't you do it? Any agent would still advise their client, if they're transvestite, not to come out because it's a bit too hard."

He has wanted to act since he was 7. He's now 41. So if you see - and I do - a real relish in Izzard's on-screen performances, it's because he is making up for lost time, he says.

"There's a good 20 years of not having the opportunity to act. And if you're held back that long you really do relish it."

But in the first six or so films he wasn't doing much acting at all, he believes.

It is only since 2001's The Cat's Meow that he has felt he knows what he's doing in terms of his new career.

"I'm usually crap at anything straight off the mark, I have to work at it and work at it until I get good." But, even so, he has missed stand-up, he says.

"I've walked around and talked a lot [expletive] more over the last few years than I did when I was doing stand-up. I think one of the reasons that comedians become sullen bastards is because they develop comedy as a social tool then they end up using it professionally.

"They stop using it in their social lives, so they become miserable because they've lost the ability to be comic.

"It's a very pure creative medium. You can't fake it like [expletive] boy bands and girl bands, which are such a blight on the creative area.

"In stand-up you can't say that this guy's got a good haircut, we'll put him in a good suit, he looks pretty, we'll give them some material and send them out there and everyone will believe this shit."

Izzard didn't want to be a stand-up initially. He wanted to do sketch comedy like Monty Python. Either is incredibly tough to do well. What makes people want to do it, does he think?

"Desperation for love, I think. Any performer must have something of that going on. And some overweening ego problems."

He works hard at it still, despite a fistful of awards, including two Emmys.

Many stand-up comics simply recite their material like a prayer. But he's found that if he treats his whole set like new material - and Sexie is a new show - he escapes that trap.

"I found I would be much more joyous about a new bit of material and really giving it lot of energy and power, enjoy it.

"I realised that if you could keep that all the time, this molten stage where it hasn't congealed into a certain form of humour, if you could keep in that 'where can I go with this, how can improvise?' stage, you keep it alive."

Doing this makes it less like a job and more like entertaining himself - which is what he tries to do.

"I try to make myself laugh. But the energy involved is a bit like a small war. You're going around the world and it's all driven by yourself. I'm the director and writer so there's a lot of pressure with this."

His influences still include Python, as well as the likes of Richard Pryor, Billy Connolly and Harry Enfield. But where he finds humour is in the juxtaposition of ideas.

"The cradle of comedy is taking people down a line then twisting them. I've never fully analysed how comedy works perfectly and I don't think you should or you could go nutso."

Or spill your brains on to the stage.

* Eddie Izzard, Aotea Centre, Wed Aug 6, Thu Aug 7, Fri Aug 8; Opera House, Wellington, Tue Aug 12, Wed Aug 13

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