Eddie Izzard: Mr. Dress Down

[from eyeweekly.com]

Touch a conversational nerve and suddenly the other Eddie Izzard is talking. Not the befuddled, off-the-cuff comic prone to getting lost in the maze of his own material, but the ardent Labour Party activist who rails (quietly, but rails nonetheless) against the evils of “Thatcher’s children” and the anti-EU forces back home in the UK — “xenophobes, racists and Nazis,” he says firmly, partway through listing the Iron Lady’s misdeeds and shadowy friends.

“Look at what she did with her slash-and-burn policies in the early ’80s,” he says, “and what they did in Chile with Pinochet — the mass murderer Pinochet.”

Then, seemingly catching himself, he stops and adds with an easy laugh, “I linked that together quite nicely didn’t I? With the ‘mass murderer’ bit?”

A few minutes later, another nerve touched, and I’m listening to Eddie Izzard the athlete, who got into long-distance running (and now, swimming) after a 2009 fund-raising stunt that saw the largely untrained stand-up run 43 marathons in 51 days.

“We are designed to run,” he says emphatically, citing “five million years of development” as he slips into another speech. “Do antelope run? Yes. Do tigers run? Yes. Do squirrels run? Yes.”

And so on, through rats, dogs, cats and an aside about the Kalahari bushmen.

“We are not designed for this,” he says, pointing to our table and chairs in the bar of the Four Seasons. “We are not designed for cake. We are not designed for lattes. We are not designed for PlayStations, televisions, cars,” and so on.

Point taken but… antelope? Kalahari bushmen? Maybe this stream-of-consciousness performer is never entirely off duty, after all. Which would make sense — Izzard’s muted and all-over-the-map delivery has become his trademark. (Well, that and the dresses. But more on those in a minute.) His routines morph from show to show more than those of a word-for-word guy like Chris Rock because, he notes, words lose their meaning when delivered strictly from memory.

“Religion is my big example,” he says. “People get these prayers but don’t listen to the words when they say them.” He rattles off the first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer as an example. “In church they should say, ‘I want you to improvise the Lord’s Prayer and make the words up.’ Then you’d actually get something that has real meaning.”

Izzard and I are speaking during a press stop in advance of his current tour, his biggest ever in Canada: nine cities with five shows in Toronto — the first three and last two are separated by a month because he’s needed back home for the British election.

When he first started speaking on behalf of Labour, “they used to put me on the soft couch,” he says. He was treated like a comedian, thrown slow-pitch questions and expected to perform. Now he calls the prime minister “Gordon” and spars with the best of them like a British Jon Stewart in a dress.

Or rather, sometimes in a dress. But not this time, not this tour, and not this interview, for which he wore a dapper charcoal suit. Izzard’s trademark cross-dressing is on hold in part because folks on this side of the Atlantic sometimes mistook him as just a drag act. And he’d rather not end up as the Boy George of comedy.

“People consistently got the wrong end of the stick,” he says. “So now I’m trying to unpick that. Then I can go back to girl mode when I want to.”

Written by Momo in: Interview |

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