Eddie Izzard on running for office, life in post-God Europe and why he's not wearing a dress these days
A conversation with comic Eddie Izzard can feel a bit like being shot out of a cannon. Topics pass by at blinding speed — from his intention to run for office in the European Union to his steadfast belief that the word "sociopath" is a misnomer. ("It sounds like you'd come 'round and have a cup of tea with people all the time — like you're really social.")
I talked with the star of FX's The Riches just before his new stand-up tour, "Stripped," comes to Miami and Tampa. Calling from a stop in Dallas, he was enthusiastic about everything -- from the joys of using Wikipedia to his recent designation as the English actor brandishing the second-worst American accent on U.S. television.
With a growing film and TV career, why still do stand-up comedy?
you probably notice a number of people use standup as a vehicle to get to something -- I don't know -- easier, ordifferent. But I think even though film and TV can be difficult, with long hours, there's something about sitting on a set, and people bringing you tea or coffee, which seems slightly easier than going to some stage and holding it down for two hours. It's a ground attack kind of thing — the way I first came to America. I want to do it forever.
What's your show like right now?
"With the help of Wikipedia, I am trying to talk about everything that ever happened -- ever. Before, I used to do no research -- I let research come to me. I watched a program on the History Channel, or something. In conversation you might say, 'How do they make jam? Do they stamp on grapes or fruits or something? I have no f---ing idea - and you'd leave it at that. Now, you can look it up and get some pretty good facts."
We're in the middle of a landmark presidential election. Has anything emerged so far that's surprised you about America?
"We can't understand America going on about the God thing. In Europe, we say we've had two world wars and a lot of us died and he didn't seem to be watching. So we've kind of gone past God; we're a post-God continent. Itt's not a siritual-less continent. But I would say that Europe, as a continent, we wouldn't vote God in."
That seems tough.
"We want God to be accountable. Because he never brings you an extra banana every day. He does typhoons, pestilence, plagues, famine, but you never wake up and discover an extra banana lying around for everyone in the world. Where's that big good God's supposed to do?If he were the president we'd be demanding it . . . If God has written the Bible, surely he would have mentioned somewhere that the world is round. Right?"
How did you go from being a comedian hailed as the "world's funniest transvestite," to landing in films opposite George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise?
"There really seem to be no rules. i had this big, curvy route to get into drama -- all the way through stand up. I've always thought, if I keep working at it, molding and pushing and keep experimenting, then it can get better. I couldn't do stand up comedy when I first started. I'm great at not being good, then I just keep coming at things until I get better."
You were a standup comic who couldn't do standup comedy?
"It was a year and half between my first two gigs. I couldn't seem to write it. I couldn't get that voice. Then I went into street performing and I found that voice, which was my own voice. I thought America tended to have these peoplewho played themselves, whereas Britain tended to have people who played characters. I thought i better find out what I sound like myself, so i developed that voice from street performing going into standup."
Was acknowledging your life as a transvestite onstage a part of finding your voice?
"Well, when I started, I thought I'd be honest about the transvestite thing, otherwise it's this big secret you don't tell the media. I started talking about it onstage and people thought I was joking, so I thought, "I'll wear a dress and some makeup and they'll know." And they went, 'Alright, you really are serious, you are a transvestite, but you look a mess now. So I had to get that sorted out; get a good look. And then coming to America, I wanted to do it all in one lump. i didn't want to come in boy mode and come back a year later in girlie mode. So i just arrived in makeup. So in America, people said, 'Oh that's what you do -- that's important to the act.' No, it has nothing to do with the act. So now I'm not wearing any makeup. I didn't want to come out of a box where you couldn't wear a dress as a bloke and go into a box where you always had to wear a dress.
You know, readers of the British media magazine Radio Times named you the second-worst faux-American accent on TV.
"Just about every Brit doing a good accent is on that list . . . I'm happy with my accent. I've had it checked by experts on the show who micromanage these things. So I think the British people are actually wrong on this one."
I just wonder if British people are the best judge of whether an actor is successfully copping an American accent. Shouldn't they ask Americans?
"What it is, they've grown up knowing me for about 10 years on chat shows and stand up, talking like this. If you suddenly jump to an American accent, it just sounds wrong. Daniel Day Lewis -- I doubt we've ever heard Dan speak like himself. he always comes on with a different sound coming out of his mouth, so we're quite happy to (accept that)."
I hear you're thinking of running for office someday?
"I'm going to stand for European politics in about 10 years. Not yet, but in a few years. I've always planned to do this. But it may be better to be outsside the loop.
My job right now is to go around the world and prove that humor is human, and it's the same the world over . . . just like politics. Look, the biggest surprise to British and European people is that Americans are exactly the same as us. We look different because we watch different TV shows or speak with an accent and the sports are different. But monkeys are only 1 percent different than us, so how big are these differences really?"