Eddie Izzard finds his way

[from the Mercurynews.com]

When Eddie Izzard was at a career crossroads in his early 20s, the then-upstart British comedian found immediate inspiration from something less associated with one-liners than with graphical user interfaces: Apple Computer.

Apple inspired the college dropout to consider launching his own computer company, even though he lacked a clear understanding of the business. There was also the bit about his inability to raise capital.

“I couldn’t work out how to do it,” Izzard, now 49, says by phone as he sits in a cafe in Paris’ Place Pigalle section, where he is performing his “Stripped” stand-up show in French. “I chose the other thing.”

The “other thing” will be in full effect — appropriately enough, in Izzard’s beloved Silicon Valley — when he performs “Stripped” at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on Saturday. One of his two U.S. appearances this summer, the Shoreline concert reflects the comedian’s affinity with the Bay Area, which stretches back to his West Coast debut in his “Dressed to Kill” show in San Francisco in 1998.

Since his 1991 breakout performance at a London benefit coproduced by future “House” star Hugh Laurie, Izzard has built a reputation as a fiercely original comedian. His ability to riff on everything from Steve McQueen to Gregorian chants to Greek mythology, to raft down assorted streams of consciousness, led to his being called the human search engine of comedy.

But the hilarity of Izzard’s observations is in the details. He re-imagines God, as voiced by James Mason, or Darth Vader grumbling in the cafeteria line of the Death Star.

All that normally would be enough to cement a comedian’s reputation, but Izzard has never made it easy for himself.

From his time as an aspiring sketch performer to his jump to stand-up to his move into serious acting, Izzard has almost stretched himself to absurd lengths rather than follow the obvious or easy path. When he took up running two years ago, he completed the equivalent of 43 marathons in 51 days. When he wanted to connect with an audience in Paris, he began performing his routine in French.

Though he immediately proved his marathon mettle, Izzard’s first foray into performing in French in the ’90s, though charmingly earnest, initially fizzled. He has since mastered the language and completed a self-financed 71-show run of “Stripped” — which, yes, included the bit about giraffes performing charades. His next goals as a performance polyglot: doing his shows in German and Russian. He ultimately would like to perform in Arabic in his birthplace of Aden, Yemen.

“I think I have a determination gene,” Izzard says. “It has something to with the death of my mother (when he was 6). And I quite consciously wanted to act since the age of 7. I’m putting together military tactics, determination, hopefully a good heart, and trying to set a positive image, so it’s all swirling into one thing.”

Izzard is regarded as one of the finest comedians of his generation, but he has yet to match that success as an actor. He’s landed plenty of plum jobs, such as the role of Sir Miles Axelrod in Pixar’s “Cars 2.” Izzard also has shown up in Hollywood hits (“Oceans Twelve,” “Oceans Thirteen”), starred in his own acclaimed TV series (“The Riches”), appeared in fanboy faves (the “Day of the Triffids” miniseries) and scored a Tony Award nomination (“A Day in the Death of Joe Egg”). Yet the breakout role has eluded him.

“The clock is ticking and I think I try too hard sometimes, which doesn’t always work,” he says. “My stand-up is based on having fun onstage, and when it works, it really works well.”

Izzard’s self-determined performance window closes in 2020 when he plans to enter politics. With the experience of campaigning for former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and fundraising for the Democratic Party in the U.S., Izzard is eyeing a run for the mayor of London, or perhaps a seat in the European or British parliaments.

“I’ve lived a life,” he says. “I’ve been talking about politics for 10 years, trying to establish myself as someone who’s paying attention and can maybe articulate on some things. But there are things I need to do for this career before I put it into deep hibernation. I want to get my drama at the right level. I feel like I’m getting close.”

What’s remarkable about his rise and ability to sustain his career is that it all could have ended abruptly in the early ’90s when he came out as a transvestite. Though perceived by some as a publicity stunt, if not career suicide, his fondness for performing in mandarin smocks and high heels is now nearly a nonissue.

“I think that it has become that,” he says. “In interviews, it is mentioned less, but the people who are fascinated by it go on and on and on. I say, ‘Hold on! I don’t want to be a professional transvestite. I just am a transvestite. It shouldn’t be the thing.’ ”

With a career that seems to keep building momentum, Izzard has just completed the filming of the British TV movie version of “Treasure Island,” in which he plays Long John Silver; has signed on to play a dwarf in “Snow White and the Huntsman”; and is now developing a political drama for FX network — all from a guy who at 24 considered himself a failure, unlike Orson Welles at that age, because he hadn’t yet directed his “Citizen Kane.”

“I’m kind of happy with the career,” he says. “It’s kind of bonkers, but it works for me.”

Eddie Izzard
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Shoreline
Mountain View
Tickets: $20-$81,

Written by Momo in: Interview,Tour |

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