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Eddie Izzard - comedian / actor, Dressed To Kill / Velvet Goldmine / Mystery Men
Summer 2000 - On the phone (from Australia) with Philip Anderson

There have been some timeless comedians over the years who have captured the audiences hearts with all sorts of antics from props to controversial materials to just outright profanity. The most classic of these have been the comedians who are able to tap into current events, or justifiable historical events. Other memorable comedians have been those of outlandish getup. Britain's own Eddie Izzard is a bit of both. No one today is quite as provocatively garbed as he (or she, as some people may wonder), with his cross-dressing transvestitism (which does not equal gay, as he reminds the audience, it just doubles a wardrobe for him) and his amazing wile and wit at things in the world around him. His wonder and amazement at the world and his descriptions of these things to us is what brings the laughter. Eddie has a keen sense of vision around him. From the references of the Church of England's pasty attitudes ("Would you like cake or death?" "Cake, please.") to observing how squirrels suddenly stop eating their nuts and glance about for no reason ("Did I leave the stove on? No, of course not. I'm a squirrel."), Eddie Izzard gathers the most irreverent information about his subjects and weaves them into a wild and sordid tale, all things inclusive coming to reason by the end of his show.

Aside from being a comedian, Eddie Izzard is also an actor, having starred in such films as "Velvet Goldmine" (a club owner) and "Mystery Men" (not the greatest film, but a funny role as a gang member). His hopes are to not do comedy forever but rather to get involved with serious film roles. This would be too bad for those of us who are so accustomed to his very quick way around humorous pieces.

Eddie Izzard also happens to be one of those celebrities whom everyone thinks is "their own secret" and that nobody else knows of him. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is immensely popular already in the states and the numbers are climbing regularly. We recently had an opportunity to speak with him about who he is and his current happenings. He was in Australia, taking a break from his leg of the tour over there, when we spoke.

K2K: Currently you're in Australia as part of the tour?
EI: Yeah. The World Australia leg, Southern Hemisphere leg.

K2K: I have to say that, although I had been reading about you for the last two or three years, I didn't really realize how funny you were until I saw the "Dressed To Kill" HBO special. I had been searching it out since to watch it over again.
EI: Yeah, well, I'll be doing new material this time around or otherwise you'd kill me.

K2K: Having been to Britain myself and understanding the humor as well as having some history knowledge, I was amused that Americans were laughing at stuff that was so obviously poking fun at their lack of knowledge.
EI: It must seem that most of the audiences do realize when I'm poking fun, British or Americans, that each group would get it. Well, not the mainstream audiences, but talking to more alternative, switched-on, aware audiences who have a sense of irony about themselves.

K2K: Talking about Lafayette (HBO special), you stated that Americans don't even know their own history. That is so true though.
EI: I can't tell the difference between Americans and Europeans because I can find a bunch of Europeans who don't know their own history either.

K2K: Ah well, our history books are so messed up that I doubt people even know anymore that we fought the British.
EI: I know. And twice, as well. The second one caught me out. "What? 1812? Whatever."

K2K: So, as some have wondered, 'Eddie Izzard' - stage name or real name?
EI: Real name.

K2K: Is that shortened from anything?
EI: Nope. It's just that the two 'Zed's ('Z's) were one 'S' we believe. French Protestant name. It was (he pronounces in 'correct' French) "Iz-ah" and it's the name of a mountain goat. We assume they were weavers, or herders or something, down in the Pyrenees.

K2K: How long have you been a comedian in the professional performance market?
EI: Well, I started trying to do comedy at the Edinburgh Festival, which is sketch comedy, in 1981. In Scotland. The big one. I wasn't really earning a living off of that but money, I was getting paid for tickets at that point. I wasn't, sort of, earning cash until about 1986 or 87 really. That was street performing. Then in 1988 I started doing standup. So, I've been doing standup since 1988.

K2K: What did you do before that?
EI: I was a waiter for about two weeks or three weeks, but then I decided that I didn't want to be a waiter. I didn't want to do anything unless I was performing. Other people who were waiting were saying, "Oh yeah, actors. You'd never do that. Don't try that, that's never going to work." I thought, 'Hey, what positivity.'

K2K: Had you ever had any other stage ambitions other than comedy, like music?
EI: No, I wanted to be an actor when I was seven. That was the key thing. I wasn't getting any roles, so I slided to comedy - a Python-like performer. So I decided to do that and try acting as well.

K2K: So now you're getting a lot more parts.
EI: Yeah, it's getting a little better. I haven't really proved myself in the dramatic acting area. I don't feel that I've done a definitive work yet.

K2K: How did you like working on the "Mystery Men"?
EI: "Mystery Men" was great fun to do. It was kind of confusing. Everyone seemed to be rewriting the script at the same time.

K2K: Did you like the film yourself?
EI: I don't think I've seen it myself. I've been given the DVD but it's a '1' DVD and we have a '2'.

K2K: Your role is a funny one. A hood?
EI: Yeah, I just have big hair and argue with Geoffrey Rush a lot and the gang. Initially I was just agreeing with Geoffrey Rush and so I added this sort of thing, "Surely I'm kind of like an Iago to your Othello." I tried to promote my character.

K2K: How was "Velvet Goldmine"?
EI: It was good fun to do. I was all right and seemed to get positive feedback on that. I think, in the end, the character didn't have enough twists and turns, so it's not that flashy a role. It's kind of fun but...

K2K: Are you getting a lot of film scripts right now? Anything in the works?
EI: No. It's edging up but I still haven't really delivered so that it's (suavely) "Hey. He did that one so well, let's give him this."

K2K: You've got quite a huge cult following now though, don't you?
EI: Only in standup comedy. Not in my film work. It doesn't quite transfer because I refuse to do comedy. Except "Mystery Men" was a comedy though but different. I don't want to comedies. My whole thing is about not doing comedies.

K2K: You're gearing up to be a more serious actor then?
EI: Yeah, I would say. Between Oliver Reed and Kevin Spacey.

K2K: So, in view of your wanting to be serious and getting these types of roles, how about the transvestite look? Was that, as you had said before, from childhood or perhaps a subconscious thing that came out?
EI: It's got nothing to do with the comedy. In the end it gets in the way because people are curious about it and want to talk about it. There's not a huge amount of people who are "out" in the transvestite area. It's not drag queen. The idea that it could have been a gimmick when I first came out was a bizarre thing. People went on and on about it. If you come out as being gay or lesbian in Hollywood, couldn't you lose everything? You lose your career. How did it work for Ellen DeGeneres? A number of people have asked me if it's a gimmick and I think, objectively, as a journalist you need to ask that. With the Ellen DeGeneres thing, "So, this lesbian thing. Is this a gimmick?" No one's asked that. It's interesting. I suppose it's because I don't look very girly. That's why being a transvestite is confusing. I think the majority of transvestites are male lesbians as opposed to... (off in thought).

K2K: I remember a guy watching the show who was convinced that you were in fact homosexual and we had to correct him constantly...
EI: I had someone say, "You gay cunt" at me and I would say, "No, that's 'You transvestite cunt'. Get your terminology right when your placing your insults."

K2K: Would you be bringing your look into the serious roles?
EI: Well, I would but it would have to be a part that is accurate. No one knows how to write about being TV unless it's someone who is TV.

K2K: Do you get a lot of fan mail from drag queens or "fashionably conscious" types?
EI: No because it's not drag queen. Other transvestites. It's not drag queen because that's a gay man thing. I'm more 'Emma Peel: Action Transvestite'.

K2K: Who do attract more? Male or female fans?
EI: Straight men don't go for it. Anyway, I can interact with straight men through the comedy and just through them respecting me by giving me my space. Gay males don't go for it because I don't do the campy thing. Straight women seem to go for it and lesbian women seem to go for it in that sort of 'attraction' thing, which I didn't expect when I first came out. On the comedy point of view, it's just people who like comedy and that can be any sexuality.

K2K: Although I think that you are truly hilarious as a comedian, I think that you would have a good career ahead of you in straight roles as well.
EI: I feel I should be able to be a good actor. I maybe have done some good pieces of acting but it hasn't really gone quite up to speed. I'm sort of holding back a bit because I don't want to do it wrong. That way I'm not actually committing enough as much as actually letting go. I think in "Lenny Bruce", when I played that in London West End, that I sort of pushed it out very far, so I'm beginning to say "Oh fuck it, just go for it." Because in standup that's what I do, I just go for it. Whereas in not wanting to seem like a comedian doing straight acting, I sort of hold back a little in the delivery and the commitment to dramatic acting. Also, I work it in a different way. In standup I just do it over and over again and sort of work with everything until it's up to speed, whereas in film you really need to work it beforehand. Get it up to speed and then deliver as soon as the camera starts rolling.

K2K: There are a lot of us who look forward to seeing what else you'll be doing in film. I've enjoyed everything that I've seen.
EI: Oh, thank you. I have yet to be impressed by myself.

K2K: How hard was it to break into comedy?
EI: Initially, I couldn't get anything going in the '80s. I was doing sketch comedy hoping that some producer would say, "Hey, you should do this television show." and it wasn't happening. Three years of that and then a year of being confused and not knowing what to do. Then going into standup, no, street performing in '85. I got that going until I made a bit of money off the street but still nobody came "Hey, you should do this." I had to learn to do standup. That took me a year and a half of doing workshops and trying things out. It was quite hard.

K2K: How much has your act changed since you started? How much change in yourself and your delivery?
EI: I haven't actively sought to... I suppose I have changed the delivery. First it was purely surreal then it became surreal and observational and then I moved into surreal, observational, political and historical material. I widened the material angle and have changed the delivery.

K2K: Are you comfortable on stage?
EI: Yeah, very comfortable. I've been comfortable for some time, since I've been street performing. I was comfortable when I was doing sketch stuff, when it was working. I got comfortable playing myself onstage.

K2K: Have you ever found that people don't get it?
EI: Yeah. Often when people will walk out, and hopefully they do. I don't mind if they don't get it.

K2K: How many different languages do you speak?
EI: My French is my best but I intend to do German, Spanish and Italian.

K2K: What is the story about your first show in France and you didn't speak much French?
EI: We filmed it for a documentary. I did speak French, it just wasn't as good as I've got it now. Under pressure it just collapsed. I forgot words that I even knew.

K2K: How did it go over? Was it a tough crowd.
EI: Badly. No, they were relaxed. I was just crap. If you could imagine someone who can't speak a language and forgot words they did speak. What funny thing came out of the stammering and stuttering of somebody having a bad time?

K2K: Who have your idols been?
EI: My big influences have been Steve Martin standup, Richard Pryor standup, Billy Connolly and Monty Python.

K2K: For the off-the-cuff humor that you do, did you ever wonder if it would be dangerous for you to try?
EI: The danger is the attraction and I get bored of saying the same thing over again. I just try to entertain myself. The more you improvise, the more you can improvise and the more relaxed you are.

K2K: How do you prepare for new material?
EI: I don't. It just comes up onstage.

K2K: Do you read a lot of newspapers?
EI: No, I watch telly.

K2K: Have you ever performed for the Royal Family?
EI: No. I did do a gig for a thing called the Princes' Trust which is what Prince Charles set up which he came along to. I don't want to perform for such rich people. I like charity and I like what he's done to set that up.

K2K: What kind of groupies do you get?
EI: Sort of fan-like young groupies which is quite fun. Not what I thought it would be, but good groupies.

K2K: When you're not on the road, what is a typical day in your life?
EI: I don't really have a very relaxed typical day. I'd rather do less and be away from everything. This is pretty good, being in Australia out in a vineyard.

K2K: Do you like doing the touring thing?
EI: Yeah, but this is a day off. We came here to watch the stars last night.

K2K: Do you like San Francisco?
EI: Yes I do. I'd like to see it without the fog.

And with that, Eddie had to get onto the next interview.
For more information, and fun downloads, you can visit Eddie at: www.izzard.com

Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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