Jan
06
2010

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 |

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