|His chance to play
the straight man: Eddie
(Independent ) ANGELA LAMBERT; 06-14-1994
I usually wear flat shoes and casual clothes, but for this interview
with Eddie Izzard I turned up in high heels, looking distinctly 'feminine'
in a long narrow skirt, silk shirt, jewellery, the lot. I had heard
that Izzard, who is openly transvestite,often wears high heels, mini-
skirts, make-up and nail varnish - and I don't care to be upstaged
by a man. Imagine my surprise when he opened the door of his flat
wearing a crumpled (man's) white shirt, (man's) jeans and flat (men'
s) shoes, with no signof the famous transvestism apart from a full
set of long but unvarnished fingernails. Serves me right.
He is shortish, with untidily dyed blonde hair and a rumpled face
that looks as if he had had a string of late nights. He likes wearing
clothes that cross sexual boundaries, though he won't call them 'women'
s clothes' because if they belong to him andhe wears them they're
his clothes, and he's a man. He enjoys the way they look and feel,
but he also enjoys confounding people's preconceptions. He certainly
I have never interviewed a stand- up comic before. I had expected
him to be fast-talking, extrovert, weaving through a stream of polished
anecdotes. I was worried in case I didn't find him funny. He didn'
t even try to be. Instead he was serious,thoughtful, modest.
The small flat in which he lives alone was cluttered, its bathroom
festooned with (male) shirts - or at any rate, shirts with buttons
on the right - and underwear drying on rails above the bath. No make-
up to be seen. While he made Nescafe I checkedout the living room.
It was filled with books, chiefly biographies of actors and politicians;
Shakespeare, Shaw and other classics; also videos, mainly of other
comics but also classic films; and CDs.
A black ghetto-blaster was playing loudly. The CD lying on the floor
beside it was called Modern Life is Rubbish. He clicked it off before
settling down on the opposite sofa.
As though he had read my mind, he says: 'I'm not attached to possessions.
I've lived in this rented, one-bedroom flat for two years now, and
I'm really not bothered about the house thing. It's only when I go
to other people's places that I feel itmight be nice to have a more,
mmm, restful home environment. My mind is in these things,' he says,
with a wave at the shelves of books and videos.
Izzard's career takes a great leap into the unknown this week. He
is cast opposite Lindsay Duncan in David Mamet's new play The Cryptogram,
about a child buffeted by the grown-up relationships around him,
which starts previewing today. The play ispractically a two- hander,
so Izzard is on stage most of the time. His character, Del, is a
man in his thirties. ('He happens to be gay, but not very.') For someone
who has spent the last eight years making a name for himself as a
highly original funnyman and has achieved cult status as a stand-up
comic - without recourse to television exposure - a straight acting
role may be a risk.
Not so, he says. That was always the plan, and it explains why he
has stayed away from television up till now: so that people didn't
automatically start to laugh when they saw his face. The part cropped
up rather suddenly, that's all, though in a mostflattering way.
Earlier this year, he and the actor Alan Rickman met at a benefit
at the Palladium. Izzard told Rickman how much he admired his work,
and Rickman reciprocated. Shortly afterwards, Rickman turned down
the part of Del but suggested to the producer that heapproach Izzard.
'I got the call on Friday, did a read-through the script on Saturday
and on Tuesday evening I was offered the part. For three days everything
spun round.' What he finds so flattering is that Rickman should have
recommended him for the part. It is, hesays, the praise of his peers
that matters to him most of all. He can take or leave the money and
could even do without the applause; but the respect of his peers is
'At school I was quite sure I was a talentless bastard, but at 15
I got my first part in a school play and learnt the art of upstaging.
Puberty and acne came along and I thought, I can't play the lead in
plays, but I can do it in comedy. That was a wayof hiding for me.'
His childhood was not entirely happy. He was born in Yemen in 1962.
His father was working there as an accountant with BP at the time;
his mother was a nurse at the refinery. She died of cancer when he
'A lot of people say: that's it - that's the basis of your transvestite
thing. But I had definitely been wanting to wear dresses since I was
four, two years before she died. She was a very loving mother. I was
a pushy kid, but if I cried in the middleof the night she never once
said, 'This is ridiculous.' She would always get up and bring me a
glass of lemonade. There was a big affection drop-off when she died.'
Eddie's parents had decided before her death that their sons would
be best at boarding school, so he was packed off to Wales at the age
of six. 'It was like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer.
Occasionally I still collapse in floods of tears atthe thought of
it.' He sits very still, his voice drops. 'There was about five years
of crying before I learnt that crying was the weak link in the totally
unemotional public school system that churns out people who are numb
and never really live theirlives. I feel pleased that I escaped from
that mind-boggling system.'
He went on to read maths and financial accounting at Sheffield University,
but he left after a year.
'For five years I made my living as a street performer. Actually,
I didn't make my living to begin with. It took me a year to get up
'I lost all my confidence, but I kept going because there was nothing
else I could do, or wanted to do.
'After doing a lot of street work I gradually realised that I could
build up and use the audience's energy in a most amazing way. You
manipulate their expectations. I used to do it with a penguin.'
A what? 'A penguin; actually a penguin tea-cosy. I would put it down
on the ground, very, very gently and carefully, and stare at it with
tremendous concentration. An audience would gather and they'd stare
at it, too. I always wanted to see if I couldwalk away, melt into
the crowd and disappear, leaving them all still staring at the penguin.
Anyway, that's how you manipulate their expectations. It's a matter
Eddie Izzard 'came out' as a transvestite when he was 23, although
he didn't begin to wear frocks and skirts and blood-red nails on stage
until a couple of years ago.
'I had my mid-life crisis in my twenties. You can hide from the rest
of the world or you can say, this is me, and if you have a problem
with it, that's your problem.'
It seems to him unfair that women can wear whatever they like, even
the most masculine, three-piece suit look, but men do not have the
'TV (he means, as always, transvestism) just hasn't linked into society.
TV people are still in a Fifties ghetto. Most TVs are repressed, and
this is what women don't like about them - that when they do break
out they have this teenage girl syndrome,all dressed up and way over
'Even though I'm TV I happen to fancy women. I'd be quite happy to
be gay, it might even make more sense, but I'm not. As to having children
- yeah, I'd like children. I'd be the ultimate one- parent family.'
It isn't likely to happen just yet. He has what he describes as a
'loose' relationship with someone that has been going on for quite
some time now (he protects her identity very carefully), but marriage
per se doesn't interest him, except as an excusefor a good party.
Whatever he may say, Eddie Izzard would have made a good accountant.
He's a great planner. His career was planned in minute detail, with
very little left to chance.
True, the part of Del in the Mamet play could be called a stroke of
luck, but he had already planned to move into straight roles about
'You need to have a strategy, otherwise the river hurls you into a
series of rapids. Now I've got the bit between my teeth, and I just
want to do all these things, make things, create things. I really
love making things.
'I want what I do to earn money so I can make more things. I always
felt I had a facility for making money, but instead of doing it the
easy way - by being an accountant or financial consultant - I thought,
let's do it the hard way with the creativething.
'I was going to build up gradually from the shallow end, but along
came this Mamet play and that's the deep end, off the top board.'
'The Cryptogram', starring Eddie Izzard and Lindsay Duncan, is previewing
at the Ambassadors Theatre, London WC2, and opens on 29 June.
©1994 Newspaper Publishing P.L.C.
ANGELA LAMBERT, Interview: His chance to play the straight man: Eddie. , Independent, 06-14-1994.