Whether acclaimed stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard is joking about “pipe-smoking,” “Lord Of The Rings,” “human sacrifice,” or “God in the Canteen” (the sequel to his popular “Death Star Canteen”), the British performer, once called the “Lost Python” by Monty Python co-founder John Cleese, is determined to prove that humor transfers from country to country, no matter the language.
During his Force Majeure tour, billed as the most extensive comedy tour ever (25 countries on five continents), the 52-year-old Emmy winner has delivered performances in English, French, German, and Spanish, with a goal to speak Russian and Arabic next. What Izzard has found is what he already suspected.
“I think I proved that all humor is human; it’s the references that make it national,” says Izzard. “There’s potentially a mainstream sense of humor in every country and there’s a more alternative sense of humor in every country and that’s my audience. Monty Python already proved this. I just have to go find that audience.”
While Izzard improvises his English shows, his foreign language dates are scripted.
“In any languages I just get very precise,” said Izzard. “I learned German like a play and learned Spanish like a play. My French is 75 percent fluent… So it’s now quite a set thing, but as I get better at the spoken language (’cause I learn the language at the same time), I can improvise around the show like I do in English.”
Called “The Greatest British Stand-Up Comedian Of His Generation” by the London Sunday Times, Izzard is known for his surrealism, covering everything from Noah’s Ark to hairnets. But where he finds inspiration for material has changed slightly.
“I look for things that are quite heavy duty now, because I like to play in a kind of child-like way with the comedy,” says Izzard. “Very Monty Python influenced, so hopefully very intelligent and very silly. And so I start the show with human sacrifice, talking about, ‘Why the hell did we ever do this?’ If you go through a logical thought process of why religion started, because I don’t obviously believe in a god, but if you go through, I can see why… I see that when we got into the agricultural period of our time 10,000 years ago, we started farming because we were hunters and gatherers. When the crops failed, you could see that the gods were angry. We must please the gods. And so that’s when offering happened. Rain dances, sun dances, whatever dances, positive things, singing, all these things you might do. But human sacrifice just does not fit in. ‘Cause it’s weird. Who came up with it? I assume it must be some right wing TEA Party person… There was never any logic to human sacrifice or any animal sacrifice. If God’s supposed to have made all these things, why the hell would he want them cut up into little bits? So that’s what I use my comedy to do now, is to go in and take apart things that have been sitting there in history or in society and just say, ‘Why is that?’ It doesn’t make any bloody sense. Is there another way to look at it?”
Izzard is hoping his ability to think differently will also help his future plan to run for mayor of London in 2020. When I ask the longtime supporter of the UK’s Labour Party what makes politics so attractive, he quickly corrects me.
“It’s not attractive,” says Izzard. “What I’m doing now is very attractive. I went from doing two months of very fun, silly, stand-up comedy and talking in German with friends I was meeting in Berlin… I went from that to doing film [Boy Choir], a drama with Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates and Josh Lucas, and that was great and I’m thinking this is the career that I’ve been trying to fight for for decades. And I’m doing Hannibal Lecter episodes and that’s going to be a great reaction. So to give this all up to go into politics is going to annoy the hell out of me. But I don’t like extremists. We’ve been there before. We went there with Hitler. If not like Hitler, it’s tending towards that kind of extremism. It’s basically either hatred of other people or dislike or mistrust. And they encourage that thinking. And we will not have a world anymore if these people win. We have to fight tooth and nail.”
Izzard believes his ability to find the center of an argument is one of his strengths and he should stand up and be counted.
“We’ve got to get up and be activists. And get out and get elected and bring our skills to the table,” says Izzard. “…You need caring, thinking people out there.”
In preparation, Izzard wears what he considers a “badge of honor,” his “political nails.” They’re painted shiny red with a British flag on one and a European flag on another to show he’s proud to be a “British-European transvestite.”
“10 fingers that say three things at once,” says Izzard. “It’s very third millennium.”
While transitioning into politics won’t be easy, nothing Izzard does is. The trick for him is fear management.
“You have to push yourself to do the thing outside your comfort zone,” says Izzard. “I pushed myself into drama because drama is always what I wanted to do when I was seven and I was doing comedy and I said, ‘I’m going to push into that.’ Initially I didn’t do it very well, but I kept pushing back so now I’m doing Hannibal Lecter and Valkyrie and the work is getting better. So you’ve got to keep pushing. You’ve got to follow through. So just feel the fear and do it anyway… I mean, as soon as I walked out the door wearing makeup when I came out when I was 23, that was my advanced fear management course and I suppose anything I’ve done since then is because I had the balls to do that.”
Besides touring in multiple languages and his political plans, Izzard recently ran the equivalent of 43 marathons in 51 days. As far as aspirations go, Izzard sets the bar high for himself. I asked what advice he’d give others for finding the best inside themselves.
“Have a positive heart,” said Izzard. “It’s good to get yourself somewhere and if you get yourself somewhere decent, see if there’s someone you can give a hand up to… Be ambitious but give a damn about the world. My motto is if you shoot for the stars, you can reach the moon.”
Eddie Izzard performs in New Jersey for the first time at NJPAC on May 7, and at the Beacon Theater in NYC on May 13, 14, 15, 17, and 18. For more information, go to eddieizzard.com.