Comedy Archaelogy: Digging with Eddie Izzard


What would you have said?  I picked up the telephone one November morning to be asked, first, did I have a sense of humour, and second, would I be prepared to appear on television with Eddie Izzard??  Now, as it happens, I’m a big fan of Izzard, and I can hardly be accused of being media-shy.    But a professor of archaeology appearing with a cross-dressing alternative comedian? I had seen him perform live, so I knew that he was as intrigued by the past - especially the classical past - as he was by bowls of fruit, Mr Dog, Pavlov’s cat and other favourites. Eddie wanted to include a sketch on archaeology in a Channel Four theme night devoted entirely to his work.  He was determined to have real archaeologists participate in his send-up of archaeology on TV ( la TimeTeam).

My professional caution gave way to curiosity, and a week later I was arriving at a film location, together with Amanda Clarke and four students:  Mark Anderson, Ben Cassidy, Milly Freudenburg and Gerry Thacker.   The site was a farm not far from Heathrow, its drive lined with film trucks, caterers’ vans, a hospitality coach, and, of course, the star’s trailer.   In a nearby field we could see three film crews and dozens of people, all meandering about in different directions, talking on mobile ‘phones.   Eventually, the field was divided into two, and on one side we started a small excavation.

As I write this, we still haven’t seen the finished product.  We filmed two scenes with Eddie, in which I had to respond spontaneously to his quips and questions.  Who could have anticipated that he would make comments guaranteed to rile me?  His introduction claimed that only Roman archaeology was interesting, whereas the ‘Dark Ages’ were really boring because no one could see, and the middle ages were pretty dull because they were full of monks. To top this off, he hoped only that our excavation would reveal a great big sword.   Suffice to say,  I’m  a medieval archaeologist predominantly interested in gender, and monasticism.  Is it my fault that I ranted about nuns?   Amanda put this episode down to Eddie’s surreal humour being contagious.   But surely they’ll edit the nuns out...won’t they??

From DEPARTMENT OF ARCHAEOLOGY University of Reading