The Izzard of Odd
The Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand)
Comedian Eddie Izzard is never going to be everyone's cup of tea. That's fine
EDDIE Izzard has "practical reasons" for not becoming too popular. Being
super popular--as in Bill Cosby popular or Jerry Seinfeld popular- -would
mean having to perform for people he doesn't like, "closed- minded, bigoted
Nazis of the world. They're a bad audience".
A cross-dresser who fancies women, but also their frocks, a star who looks
like one of Oasis' Gallagher brothers gone horribly wrong, a comedian whose
world heaves with talking pigs, walking fish, the bionic Queen Mum, surly
fruit and James Mason as Moses, he's never been much of a hit with
closed-minded bigoted Nazis anyway.
"I like to get with an audience that's kind of switched on and aware and open
minded, takes in world events, and likes surreal stuff," Izzard says.
"I suppose the cross-dressing filters people out, even if the comedy doesn't.
It's unlikely someone's going to say, `Hey, I'm a Nazi,
but let's go and see that transvestite guy. He may have some completely broad
comedy that will fit into my right-wing way of thinking'."
As he speaks from somewhere in Australia, you can almost smell Izzard' s
anti-redneck pheromones blowing in off the Tasman. He's right that he sends
out stay-away signals to the wrong sort of people, but it' s not because he
has an axe to grind, it's because they simply wouldn't get the joke.
He's hardly a household name in this part of the world, but not because New
Zealanders wouldn't warm to his rambling humour. In fact, we're likely to be
one of his more enthusiastic audiences, but more of that later ...
Izzard is a stand-up comic--a very popular one, at least in Britain, where he
plays to packed houses, sells truckloads of videos, has bit parts in movies
(the regrettable Avengers remake and as an oily band manager in Velvet
Goldmine), and appears to spend much of his time worrying about getting fat.
He's been voted Britain's top stand-up twice, receiving perhaps the ultimate
comedic compliment from John Cleese who said Izzard was the funniest man in
the land. He's the sort of guy hip people want to know, which is why British
Prime Minister Tony Blair invited him around for a Cool Britannia" knees-up
at No 10 Downing St in the hope that some of the coolness would rub (it
Izzard's now on a world tour--a rare thing in stand-up circles--and will be
in the Capital this weekend for the International Laugh Festival, which
started last Wednesday. En route, Izzard swung by Canada and the United
States, performing to chocka-block houses in New York, Boston, Chicago, San
Francisco and Philadelphia. Unusually for the land of zero-irony, the
Americans quite liked him.
He offers the following description of himself as an introduction: "I'm a
cross between Marilyn Monroe and the cast of Zulu. Yes, I think that would
IZZARD, according to the press biography he wrote himself, was born on
February 7, 1962, at a time when Pluto was ascending. People born at that
time, he notes, tend to put on weight easily.
At the time his mum and dad were in Yemen, where his father worked in the
office at a BP oil refinery and his mother was a midwife at the BP hospital.
Early family home movies showed the young Eddie running around in a strange
Yemeni lunar landscape, going nowhere in particular.
Izzard is his real name. "The Izzards originally came from France. Apparently
there's a whole bunch of people called Izzard in the Pyrenees and there's a
mountain goat called an Izzard; so my ancestors were either goats or
The family then moved to Ireland where Izzard learned to throw mud bombs and
developed a child hernia. Then it was off to Swansea, Wales, where, after his
mother's death, he went to boarding school where he did the reverse Oliver
twist - "In Oliver Twist, Oliver asks for `some more. At this school I spent
a lot of time with a full bowl asking if I could have a lot less. The school
had a very cleverly worked out system where good food was turned into sick."
While at school Izzard saw a play in the school gym called The Boy And His
Cart or The Boy And His Horse (he can't remember which) and decided he would
be an actor. In a mere 23 years he was performing his own show in London's
Stand-up comedy somehow beckoned, and his routines were honed in Covent
Garden Piazza before tiny crowds and stray animals.
Izzard's focus is spur-of-the-moment twists and turns: "It's complete crap
that all seems to come together at the end. A bit like Gone With The Wind,"
he says. Described as a human seach engine, he hoovers up material from TV,
newspapers, magazines and stuff people tell him on the street.
He rarely laughs at his own jokes - "Only when they are excellent. When they
are really, really classy. When I could be excused for laughing at them," and
says ad-libbing is like walking a tightrope - "It's easiest when you're up
there and have no fear and are just wandering through your own head. It's
when you think about what you are doing that you freeze up and risk falling."
It's hardly camp comedy. Izzard (crossing himself again) says: "I' m a mix of
Monty Python, Steve Martin and Richard Pryor. So if you like that comedy,
that's where I fit."
He clearly likes broadminded people, and thinks New Zealanders are great
because we've got a transsexual MP, Georgina Beyer, and that two of our
most-loved comediennes are lesbian sisters, Jools and Linda Topp.
"Logically, that means people have accepted someone whose lifestyle doesn't
seem to make sense, because they speak in sense," says Izzard. "I think
that's what's happened to me. So well done to New Zealand for getting that
"If you are upfront and honest, people take you for what you are. If your
policies are good, or your comedy's good, or banking, or whatever it is you
do . . . My sexuality isn't my plank. It's like I can speak German, or play
the piano, or whatever. It's part of who I am, but not my focus."
Izzard admits his comedy's not everyone's cup of tea. People - even those who
aren't Nazis - walk out even now, when tickets are harder to come by than
Willy Wonka's golden ones.
He says that's great. They should. "I'm happy people say I'm terrible, that
I'm talking crap, that pigs can't have guns. They stomp out and tell their
friends, who are probably reactionary and right wing, and they don't come
either. So it's self-policing. I guess it comes back to that fascist filter
"Anyway, if everyone liked me and came to my gigs, it'd be too full, and the
toilets would get backed up, and it'd be hell to find a park."