As a child of the early ’90s, I found my dream comedian in Eddie Izzard. Late-night marathons of British comedies on PBS and Comedy Central burned themselves into my brain and forged new comedic synapses. I think I watched Izzard’s comedy special “Dress to Kill” about a billion times before I went on stage for the first time. I did my first open mic, a gong show at The Comedy Store in Leicester Square in London, specifically in the hopes I would see him somewhere. I did not. (I was gonged off immediately.)
Izzard’s own brand of historical, nonlinear whimsy is heavily influenced by the absurd comedy of Monty Python, which he combines with political undertones. “Most celebrities want to be political, but they aren’t because you get active hatred in your face online in social media,” says Izzard. “But you just have to deflect it because people are wrong.”
Izzard, who performs at Kiva Auditorium (401 Second Street NW) on Thursday, May 28, aspired to perform at a young age. “At age 7, I saw a play. My mother died a year earlier, I remember that,” recalls Izzard. “I saw a boy getting a lot of applause, and I thought ‘I want that,’ so I tried to get in plays, but they thought I was crap.” It took him years to determine what kind of performer he wanted to be, and it wasn’t until university that he decided on comedy. “I didn’t know I could do this professionally,” he says. “I got into street performing first, and it taught me a lot—but it almost broke me. I started stand-up in 1988, and it all took off from there.”
As an out transvestite for the past 30 years, Izzard has witnessed a gradual shift in how people talk about gender. Izzard often describes his transvestitism as being a “male lesbian” and a male who prefers to wear traditionally female clothing. “You’re an activist for your own space,” he says, “and what I’ve noticed is LGBT people have to come out, and they have to be brilliant. We need to be great at articulating our sexuality and what we feel, but we need to be more than that too.” It’s this public openness that Izzard sees as the biggest source of change. “Time magazine gave Laverne Cox the cover. I think it’s things like that that start to make these issues more important. I’m running for Mayor of London or MP in 2020. And I’ve done some campaigning all in girl mode, and no one is batting an eyelid,” says Izzard. “People have gotten more used to it and are relaxing because we are being relaxed about it.”
In the past few years, Izzard has been public about his political goals. “I am definitely going into politics and pulling an Al Franken,” says Izzard. “It’s a difficult transition. The cameras are in your face, and the questions are getting harder and harder. You can’t have stock answers. You have to put your humanity into it.” The focus on humanity helps Izzard intertwine his two sides: comedy and politics. “My politics are about having a fairer country, fairer Europe, fairer world. If someone says, ‘No, I’ve worked hard for what I have and everyone else can just die’—well stuff them, they’re wrong,” he says. “The world should be fair, and if someone disagrees, they can piss off.” This has been a common theme in Izzard’s comedy.
Izzard creates his shows from a process he calls “verbal sculpting.” “I developed this show by doing two shows nightly for about six nights a week in San Francisco, LA and New York for three months,” says Izzard. “I would just go out with notes I’d written down, work on it and stretch it out. Really, it’s all an analysis of humans, and I take that into my politics. It’s all connected.”
Izzard is profoundly aware of the condition of the world, and he combats the hardships he sees through comedy and through a need to create change politically. “The only way of going forward is that the entire world needs to work together. If we don’t, we won’t get out of this century. A billion people are struggling to feed their families, and we have to get that right.” And so he uses his shows to talk about the reality of the world.
“We need to give people a good foundation. It’s fairer than the right-wing economist’s trickle-down theory,” says Izzard. “They muck up in their metaphor because they still don’t call it a ‘flow down.’ They call it a trickle, and that doesn’t carve a river. That’s just drips.”
Izzard’s social awareness seeps into his shows, which are often embedded with important lessons about our not-so-pretty history as a human species. “I start my show talking about human sacrifice,” says Izzard. “The Vikings did it, and that was only about a thousand years ago. For centuries, people were saying ‘The crops are failing, we’re starving, God must be mad at us, let’s kill Steve.’”