[from theglobeandmail.com | thanks Anne!]
It’s not easy getting a straight answer out of Eddie Izzard. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Izzard was in town recently, in advance of an extensive Canadian comedy tour that begins on Friday at Toronto’s Massey Hall. Asked about fellow comedian Craig Ferguson, he perks ups. Says they’re old friends, that they go way back. Oh, really? How far back do you go? “Oh, just right down there, across the road,” he says from a hotel bar, motioning out the window from his corner booth. “Just past the Starbucks. That’s how far we go back.”
Somewhat incidentally, a couple of days later, I’m talking with Ferguson. When the subject of Izzard comes up, the Scottish-American talk-show host, who played Massey last week, says something identical. “Oh yeah, Eddie and I, we go way back.” Funny you should say that, because Eddie told me exactly the same thing, that the two of you go back a ways, up the street, over by the coffee shop. “Oh, no,” Ferguson corrects, “we go further back than that.” Really? How far? “Past the coffee shop, well down the street, closer to the massage parlour,” he says.
I think I have it now. But if I don’t, almost everything about Izzard is answered by Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, the new documentary about his persevering, roundabout life. It starts in South Yemen (down the street, past the goat shop), where Izzard’s father was based as an official with British Petroleum. The comedian’s life story, spliced with bits of his 2003 Sexie tour, is laid out: the boarding schools, the youthful fascination with football, a stint at Sheffield University, street performing, stand-up success in London and Europe – he answers “Oui” to “Parlez-vous français?” – and then the United States, transvestitism, 1999’s Emmy-winning HBO special Dressed to Kill (with funny bits on Hitler and Humperdinck), Hollywood acting roles (Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen and the celebrated Mr. Kite in Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe), the controversy involving reusing his old stand-up material, political aspirations and a string of marathon runs for charity.
Which brings us up to date. Izzard, a stream-of-consciousness surrealist with a savvy sense of history, brings his Stripped Too tour to Canada, the “stripped” referring to possibly more than one thing. He is stripped of his fake breasts and glittering dresses for one thing. “I’m in boy mode, as opposed to girl mode,” says the straight transvestite, blazingly blue-eyed, in jacket and jeans. “But really, it’s about the stripping away of ideas.”
Izzard does a sort of witty Monty Python version of stand-up. For example, he mashes Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens into a single author who wrote Great Expectations, about an amoeba named Pip. “Yes, Darwin and Dickens,” Izzard muses during our interview, “lived in Dictionary Lane, a couple of vowels away from each other.”
In a basic way, Izzard is like most comedians, using humour in an attempt to make sense of it all. “I look for logic in the universe,” the self-described spiritual atheist says on the subject of religion. “Take the Bible. I think the first part of it should be that the Earth is round – just to give everybody a heads up on the whole ‘Earth is round’ thing.”
There has been a lot of that lately – comedians rationally (if humorously, absurdly) reconsidering religion, from Bill Maher’s film Religulous to Lewis Black’s book Me of Little Faith. But isn’t bringing logic to faith a little like taking a gun to a knife fight? “Faith can be great,” Izzard answers. “But there needs to be common-sense logic too. You look at the Bible or the Koran, you’d think they’d take the slavery out of it. Even the popes, when they were losing some of the gospels down the back of the sofa, you’d think they say to themselves, ‘Let’s get rid of this slavery stuff.’ I mean, how to sell your daughters – somebody’s going to notice that.”
In the film Believe, a younger Izzard is shown with a map, with tiny pins and flags noting his comedic achievements. A keen student of military history, he plotted his comedic profession as if it were an army campaign. I ask him, then, what battle epitomizes his career – Operation Market Garden, the Second World War operation that inspired the star-studded movie A Bridge Too Far? “No, not Market Garden,” he answers. “There’s no bridge too far in my world.”
Apparently not. His fascination with the military inspired his recent run of more than a thousand miles through Britain for charity. “When I was younger, I wanted to be in the British Special Forces,” he says. “Running around the country was a test – could I have been in the army?”
At the end of our zigzagging interview, I attempt to pin down Izzard, a man of segues. “Who are you?” I ask in my best Barbara Walters way. Izzard pauses, just a little, before replying: “I’m a British European. I think like an American. I was born in an Arabic country. I’m a stand-up comedian and an actor. And I do a bit of running, and I plan to run for Parliament. I think that about covers it.”
Ask a simple question.
Eddie Izzard’s Stripped Too plays Toronto’s Massey Hall Friday and Saturday (and again on May 30 and 31); Winnipeg, May 10; Regina, May 12; Calgary, May 14; Edmonton, May 17; Victoria, May 20; Vancouver, May 21 and 22; Montreal, May 25; and Ottawa, May 28.