Eddie Izzard

[from hertfordshiremercury.co.uk]

AHEAD of his appearance in St Albans, globetrotter Eddie Izzard tells JAMES BURTON that despite his acting successes on screen and stage, and his incredible marathon feat, after nearly 20 years he is still first and foremost a comedian.

FROM the Hollywood Bowl to St Albans – it’s an unlikely step, but it’s all part of Eddie Izzard’s latest globe-trotting itinerary.

Eddie Izzard
The arch-surrealist, who next month is headlining the city’s comedy extravaganza, Laughs in the Park, is halfway through a 13-week residency in Paris – and when that finishes, he’s jetting off for two gigs in Los Angeles before returning to the UK.

On the weekend of July 22-24, the 49-year-old is joining fellow funnymen Ross Noble and Tommy Tiernan on the festival’s main stage at Verulamium Park. Now in its second year, the event will be covered by the BBC for TV, radio and its website.

Since his live debut almost two decades ago, Izzard’s horizons have expanded no end. On top of releasing nine stand-up DVDs, including Emmy winner Dress To Kill, he’s branched out into a successful film and stage acting career.

And most famously, in 2009, he ran a staggering 43 marathons in 51 days for Comic Relief. Before signing up for the challenge, he had never taken part in a long-distance run.

Yet despite starting out with ambitions to tread the boards, comedy remains his first love. Famed for his rambling, off-the-wall yet shrewdly-observed monologues on everything from religion to beekeeping, Eddie’s still passionately committed to what he does best.
He said: “The acting is actually what I wanted to do in the first place – ever since I was seven I wanted to be a dramatic actor. I didn’t realise that comedy even existed as a job option.

“It was about 1993 when I got an acting agent, so I’ve been pushing that for almost 18 years, but I try to separate it from the surreal comedy, which is quite a tricky thing to do.”

While his whimsical stream-of-consciousness style may look improvised, Eddie says “only five to 10 per cent” of his shows are made up on the spot – but there’s enough space to perform certain routines differently each night.
He said: “I like to have a set ‘journey’ because I think it makes it stronger; the most I’ve ever improvised is half an hour. Sometimes I’ll go off at a tangent and just won’t remember where I was – it’s like turning off the motorway onto a B-road and not being able to carry on until you find your way.
“Way back when I was on the club circuit, I thought ‘Why not improvise the order that I do subjects in?’ and that threw me because it got to the point where I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say next, so I decided not to do that again. You need that safety net so you can go back if people aren’t looking interested, because you’re just one person up there, essentially talking to people for money. It’s an incredibly weird thing when you think about it.”
Not content with becoming one of the biggest names in his native UK, Eddie has become a massive hit on the Continent, where he regularly performs in fluent French and German. He’s even cracked the notoriously tough nut that is the American market, filming hit tour videos Dress To Kill and Circle in San Francisco and New York respectively.

Our Stateside chums are often caricatured as right-wing religious wingnuts, but Eddie – a self-professed “spiritual atheist” with distinctly left-leaning views – said he’d had no trouble winning hearts and minds.

“I don’t know if I was surprised to do well in the States, although I was certainly pleased, but Monty Python had already proven you could take that kind of humour out there,” he said.

“Most of my ideas are more progressive than the extreme right-wingers’ and I’m obviously not trying to appeal to them, but then that’s not America. I believe the America of Obama and Clinton is the ‘real’ America, the one that the American Dream always aspired to – it’s just unfortunate that there’s also been the America of George W Bush.”
His runaway success as a comedian shows no signs of slowing down – but since Eddie’s early days, when he famously performed in make-up and women’s clothing, his public image has taken on a more masculine mantle.

He explained: “When I started doing stand-up, things began building up and I thought it would be best to tell the press I was a transvestite. I’d already told my friends, but I didn’t want it to become a secret I couldn’t tell. When I first announced it no-one believed me, so I went out on stage in a dress and make-up. But the comedy is the comedy and I just happen to be a transvestite – I don’t want to be pigeonholed, so that’s what I’m doing at the moment.”
Beneath the silliness and irreverence, Eddie’s schtick belies a razor-sharp wit, boundless creativity and a vast knowledge of both highbrow and popular culture. Referencing everything from ancient Greek philosophy and Pavlov’s behavioural conditioning experiments to Star Wars villain Darth Vader, his sketches leap wildly between topics in a way that somehow makes perfect sense. But where do such wonderfully mad ideas come from?

He said: “I never used to sit down and have brainstorming sessions; in the early days, anything I could think of I’d just write down as soon as it came to mind. A lot of ideas come to me on stage. I’ll just be wandering through something and I’ll suddenly think, ‘Hey, why did this or that happen?’ or whatever, and if I like this new angle I’ll just go on and talk more and more on it.

“When I set up a new show, after about five gigs I just start mucking about and changing things over. I sort of just do it in a blitz on stage – that seems to be when I can get ideas and mould them into something. It’s kind of hard-working and lazy at the same time!”

Eddie Izzard is appearing at Laughs in the Park in St Albans on July 22, 23 and 24. Tickets start at £20. To book, see www.laughsinthepark.com or phone 0843 221 0977.

Written by Momo in: Interview |

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