Interview: The Rambling British Comic Eddie Izzard, Who’s at the Fox Theatre Saturday

[from riverfronttimes.com]

Rambling, improvising and eternally absurd actor/stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard certainly keeps himself busy these days, what between releasing his seventh DVD, searching for the perfect U.S. drama series to sink his teeth into and ushering a documentary film about his formative years into theaters. Not to mention offering up his own ringtones, a version of online “Tetrizz”, quirky GPS directions and an interactive EddieIzzard.com “12 Days of Christmas” (“Six Cows in a Car, Five Spartan Sheep…”) calendar. And that’s only the very tip of the Izzberg. The Emmy-winning Izzard will perform his stand-up act at the Fabulous Fox Theatre on Saturday night.

Eddie Izzard performs his one-man show on Saturday night at the Fabulous Fox Theatre.

?You’re finishing your first U.K. tour in six years, where you added dates at the O2 and Wembley arenas, and you recently completed 43 marathons in 51 days with just five weeks of training for your Eddie Iz Running charity effort for Sport Relief.
Yeah, the math is kind of bizarre; it seems strange the more time goes on. At the time, I was happy I was doing them, but since I finished, I was quite surprised I did them. I’ve been playing arenas, and arena comedy is frowned upon by certain people in the U.K., and probably in the U.S. as well. In America I’m calling it the Big Intimacy tour. Rock & roll plays large venues and no one complains about that. The only way to get good at playing arenas is by playing arenas. Barack Obama showed that you can play to 100,000 people and make it intimate by the speeches he did. He trusted the screen and spoke the way he always speaks, except there were a hundred-thousand there. You just have to enjoy the fact that it’s an arena. Getting standing ovations in Belfast and Dublin, which is very difficult to get, I’m very happy with where it is, and that’s what I want to bring to America.

After all your acting success, what brings you back to the stand-up stage?
I spent ages trying to become a stand-up. Acting was my first love. When I was seven, I wanted to act, and I could never get the roles in school, and I jumped ship into comedy. It’s really hard to do, but I can do it whenever I want. As opposed to doing a TV show: “Oh, we have to set a million things up, and we have to do pilots,” and all these kinds of things. If you’re Tom Cruise, you can set it up, but it’s a little tricky for me. It seems crazy to throw that away, so I will always do that.

I like to be on the edge of always trying to do something. Trying to break through. I always like to be on this beginning edge. That gives me somewhere to get to. I try to make myself laugh. I just try and entertain myself. If you’re in America, it’s huge, and most Americans just try to play America. But if you’re in the U.K. you have the whole world to play. Indians are English-speaking, South Africa, all over the world. Eastern Europe, they’ve been learning English in school for 20 years now. Just played Helsinki last night; it was great. So I’m just not going to give this up.

After a certain number of years, some comics can begin cannibalizing their material. Constantly covering history and religion, how do you find new things to say about the same subjects?
You do get pet subjects, like Woody Allen and relationships. You have things you like to go to. And I like to keep talking about the Virgin and “The History of Everything.” Hopefully if you’re approaching it with a good enough eye and trying to entertain yourself, it comes out in an interesting way. I keep going back to religion and I am curious. I decided for my last tour in America that I would be a non-theist, as opposed to an agnostic as I was before. I love the search for God as humans. Like, you can’t get elected in America unless you’re with God in some way, and you can’t get elected in Europe if you are with God.

What’s on the horizon after your U.S. tour?
After the U.S. tour I’m planning on getting another drama series going, but that’s very likely in L.A., and developing more films. I can still tour. There’s a political election in the next few months which will be interesting and I’ll be active in. But for America, the drama series is what I want to develop. And as soon as I know what it is, I’ll do one. There’s a story in my mind, but we’ll have to see where that gets to.

Having had a TV crew following, any plans of releasing your marathon footage in the U.S.?
Not for the moment. It’s part of a charity thing, and it’s owned by BBC, so at the moment I don’t know. It’s up to them. They’re going to play it in the U.K. in March. I have this documentary called Believe, which just came out in America, which explains the determination thing that I seem to have. I will just keep plugging away at things, so this sort of explains how I did the marathons.

Last year there was talk of a film version of The Riches. Are efforts still being made to get it off the ground?
We still want to do it, but there’s a lot of hoops to get through, especially with the credit-crunch time for raising money. It was the plan, but I can’t say that it’s definitely going to happen, but I’d like it to. Anything else you’d like to get out there? Well done, America, for electing Obama. Hope we all get out of the recession well.

Written by Momo in: Interview |

Dressing as he pleases

[from the Boston Phoenix]

When British comic Eddie Izzard first started performing across the Pond, he would tell American audiences he was “from Europe — where history comes from.” Izzard called himself a heterosexual executive transvestite, and he was happy in male or female attire. But soon after he took the stage, it would become clear that what he wore was beside the point. In what could seem like one long sentence, he would riff — hilariously — on Hitler, God, Pol Pot, attack badgers, and many more topical matters. Not the stuff of standard stand-up.

Now 47, Izzard has developed a parallel career as a serious stage, TV, and film actor, but he remains committed to comedy. And to doing it on the grandest scale possible: in arenas. His “The Big Intimacy Tour: Stripped Too” lands at the TD Garden this Tuesday. We talked by phone from London.

We first met in 2000. You were wearing modest pumps and some make-up, but mostly it was male attire.
Well, I will wear whatever I’m going to wear. It’s like women — they can put on whatever they want whenever. So I’m looking forward to the day when no one actually notices. But they certainly will for a bit.

I read that today you have to convince people you’re a transvestite.
Now, I go on television and say, “I am a transvestite,” and they say, “Well, I haven’t seen you in a dress for a while.” And I say, “No, I insist I am.” And I find that hysterical, having been so terrified about coming out years ago. I’m in boy mode on this tour. But I can see doing a tour in make-up, without make-up, with some make-up. At the moment, I’m wearing some make-up, but not more than what Keith Richards would wear — a little less than what he does with eye make-up.

You weave together history and pop culture.
Scorsese said, “If you’re an artist” — and I’m not saying I’m an artist, I’d like to be one — “the true thing you have to do is get the audience obsessed with what you’re obsessed with.” And seeing as I am obsessed by history and things I grew up with, pop culture and references to bizarre stuff, I weave them all together. I’m doing stuff I really want to hear. My trick is, I’m the first member of my audience. So it’s got to get past me. I don’t mind that mainstream people go, “What the hell is this guy on about?” I’d rather be at this end of town.

I’m guessing that some people used to think, “Why doesn’t he follow a thought to the end?”, and now they look forward to those absurdist leaps.
Well, I hope I do give a journey that has a beginning and an end. It probably doesn’t have a middle. I will go off on side roads, off the main motorway that I’m on. People know I’ll end up somewhere. I do surreal stuff — historical-political, sexual-political, religious-political. It doesn’t seem to date. I’m talking about Hitler and Romans and Stonehenge, and people don’t [groan], “Stonehenge?” I’m very bonkers with my stuff.

And Hitler never gets old. You must have had fun playing a Nazi officer in Valkyrie.
When I did the press conference with Tom Cruise, Tom Wilkinson, and Kenneth Branagh and I was asked the final question — which was from a German guy who said, “You claim Hitler was a mass-murdering fuckhead. Do you stand by your words?” — I said, “Yeah, that’s kind of an accurate, professional term for it.” People say he was a tyrant — I put it into street terms. I’m trying to put down as much weight upon the unbelievably horrific things that he did.

You’re a hard worker. Do you ever worry about losing your fire?
When I really work on stuff, it gets to a better place. I have tried to do that, like George Carlin. You don’t want to go off the boil as you get older. I’m trying to make sure I don’t do that.

I get the sense that though much of your show is planned, you’re always out there on a tightrope without a safety net.
Yes. I know it works for an audience, and it works for me, too, because I’m the only one who’s been to all my gigs. It’s also how I write. I write by relaxing and getting into a place where I don’t care if the audience is going to turn and say, “Get to a joke quicker.” They stay with me, so I try to improvise as much as I can. The most I’ve ever done in a show is 30 minutes. Most shows, it’s five to 10 minutes. The last arena tour I did was six years ago, and it was only about two or three minutes. I wasn’t that relaxed. Already on this tour, I find I’m just mucking about, even in big cavernous Manchester with 30,000 people. By the time I get to Boston, I should be cooking like crazy.

Written by Momo in: Interview |

Day of the Triffids – BBC Mini-series – review

[from BSC]

Bill Masen, a scientist who has spent his life working with the genetically engineered, carnivorous plants known as Triffids, finds himself one of the few sighted people left in the world after an intense solar event blinds much of the population. But if you think that sounds like a bad day, then imagine his horror when he finds that a loony environmental activist has released the deadly Triffids from the farms where Masen was attempting to study them.

This, then, is the set-up for the BBC’s latest adaptation of John Wyndham’s classic SF novel. Don’t ask me about how faithful an adaptation it is, because – as ashamed as I am to admit it – I’ve never encountered the Triffids before. And perhaps that’s the best way to come to an adaptation like this: treating it as a fresh and original story without any baggage to affect how the story comes across.

Certainly, this latest BBC mini-series looks the business. Aside from the dodgy effects in the opening solar flare, the dark and claustrophobic urban sets and the sprawling, desolate countryside scenes create an effectively doom-laden atmosphere, and the early crowd scenes where those suddenly struck blind start to grab out for any seeing person they can are unnervingly effective, if finally becoming a little melodramatic.

The cast are solid, ranging from merely watchable if a little flat – Dougray Scott, as the lead, is given little to do but keep telling people that the Triffids are dangerous while maintaining the kind of heroic scowl you know is going to melt when he finally admits that he’s falling in love with Joely Richardson – to absolutely excellent – Joely Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave’s bleeding obvious but still fun cameo, and, of course, Dundee’s finest, Brian Cox. My biggest worry was Eddie Izzard as the mysterious Torrens, a man who survives an air crash and uses the sudden apocalypse as an opportunity to grab at some kind of power and reinvent his life. That we are given no clue as to who he was before the crash merely adds to his creepiness. Although, at times, Izzard seems to channel the spirit of his James Mason impressions from his stand-up routine just a little too closely.

The plants themselves are wisely kept to the shadows for much of the show. A tendril here, a purple-balloon head there. A click-clacking noise and a cast member yanked out of view, the under-seige sections of the show were very well done. In part two, especially, Joely Richardson’s run through Triffid-infested London was unsettling and rather tense, even if there was a feeling that overall she was going to make it out of there.

Where the series falls flat is in its use, or overuse, of SF and apocalyptic plot staples. Vannessa Redgrave clearly has fun in a cameo as a nun who may not be as holy as she seems, but the minute she appears on screen you can guess what she’s all about. And when a couple of rifle-toting kids appear on screen, you know they’re going to go all soft and gooey before too long.

There’s also the matter of several characters behaving conveniently for the sake of the plot moving forward and the constant hammering-over-the-head with a solution from Bill Masen’s childhood that comes in rather convenient later on down the line. The script writers clearly took the idea of Chekhov’s gun and held it close to their hearts. There’s also the not-so-subtle commentary about how quickly society could break down when you take away all the creature comforts. And some incredibly obvious talk about environmental issues and how there’s no such thing as a true quick fix to any problem. Yes, we get it: we, as humans, are going to be the harbingers of our own doom if we don’t wise up (and if we don’t start to see what’s happening around us – oh, is that why the Triffids always go for the eyes, then?). We’ve seen enough apocalyptic films and TV shows to have all that figured out without the script constantly using the characters as mouthpieces to remind us.

But, despite heavy-handed thematic elements, some overused plot devices, Dougray Scott’s horrifically bored-sounding voiceover that recalls Harrison Ford’s effort in the 1981 cut of Blade Runner, and Jason Priestley’s fairly pointless on-screen presence (on the whole, his character makes very little difference to events and is soon enough gently pushed off-screen until a final deus ex machina appearance), Day of The Triffids is a fairly slick few hours of entertainment. And, as long as you don’t take it too seriously or think too much about the plot, it is one of the more effortless contemporary mini-series that the BBC has produced in quite some time.

Written by Momo in: Day of the Triffids |

Eddie Izzard in Chicago: Izzard’s Chicago stages just get bigger and bigger

[from the chicago tribune]

Back in 1998, I went to the tiny Westbeth Arts Center in downtown New York to see a hilarious little show called “Dressed to Kill.” It featured a mostly unknown English comedian called Eddie Izzard, who maintained he “fancied girls” (not boys), but whose calling card was a love of dressing up in sparkly women’s clothing.

The audience was dominated by besuited Britishers, many clearly letting off steam from their day on Wall Street. Izzard may have been a part-time transvestite, but he was both sweet and safe for international bankers. And, as I wrote at the time, there is a noble tradition of “Anglo showbiz curiosities.”

Well, Izzard is no longer a curiosity. He is a major international star with a mainstream following and a very serious acting career (he is currently attracting U.K. attention for his role in a new TV version of “The Day of the Triffids”).

On Friday Jan. 8, Izzard plays solo in Chicago. At the United Center.

Izzard’s 12-year rise can be aptly charted through his appearances in Chicago. Following that Westbeth show, he got some valuable exposure on HBO. By 2000, he had a small U.S. tour put together for a new show called “Circle,” with a key Chicago appearance at the Royal George Theatre. His audience will still dominated by Europeans, but stateside hipsters were clued in by now. The show was hilarious. And the two-week gig sold out. Already Izzard was revealing himself to be a shrewd fellow. He was (and is) essentially a stand-up comic with a partly improvised act. But he has never played bars or comedy clubs. He has always played theaters. With sets and costumes. Where people shut up and listen.

In Chicago, the venues just became bigger and bigger.

By 2003, Izzard was playing the Shubert Theatre (now the Bank of America Theatre), with Lisa Marie Presley sitting in the front row. “Izzard,” I wrote in this paper, after praising his John Cleese-like peacock-strut, Pythonesque absurdist digressions, Jackie Mason twitter, and Musical Hall love of verbiage, “maintains a popular web log.” Once again, he was an early adopter.

By 2008, Mr. Internet was at the Chicago Theatre, riding the U.S. success of his TV dramedy “The Riches” (and the popularity of the DVDs and downloads of his earlier live shows). The sparkly dresses were gone. Much of the material was about God and the European Union. “Eddie Izzard: Stripped” wasn’t intend to imply nudity but seriousness.

Still, despite that progression of larger and larger venues, the gig at the United Center is still highly unusual. Solo performers of the non-singing kind rarely play arenas. Izzard is unfazed.

“I really feel like we area raising the bar for stand-up comedians,” he said in a post-Christmas interview from his temporary residence in the Alps. “Rock ‘n’ roll acts never worry about playing stadiums. The Beatles played Shea Stadium even in the early days. I think we stand-ups have to prove we can do it. We can. As long as we don’t chuck out rubbish.”

Izzard has rarely chucked out rubbish—his material has always been intellectual and cerebral. But his longtime fans in Chicago might reasonably be concerned that their man won’t be the same in such a colossal hall. “The trick I’ve learned is to play the arenas like you are actually playing a 1,000-seater,” he says. “You have to have really good screens and really good sound. It’s like when Barack Obama spoke to 100,000 people. I’m calling this ‘The Big Intimacy Tour.'”

As Izzard points out, very few of his comedic peers want to play joints like the United Center. The likes of Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld have backed off huge venues in favor of mid-sized theaters. Only Dane Cook is, like Izzard, still trying to make ’em laugh live by the tens of thousands. Clearly, Izzard sees it as a natural progression.

So what’s next for Izzard in Chicago? Soldier Field?

He laughs at that. “I still do muck about, you know?”

Written by Momo in: Tour |


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