Eddie Izzard is widely regarded as one of the top stand-up comedians of his generation, with a surreal, stream-of-consciousness style that’s a hit in Britain, America and pretty much everywhere else in the world.
Izzard started doing comedy during his only year at the University of Sheffield in north-central England. He spent a decade in relative obscurity until a performance at a 1991 AIDS benefit lifted his profile. He went on to win a British Comedy Award for “Top Stand Up Comedian” for his 1993 show Live at the Ambassadors. His U.S. breakthrough came from his show Dress to Kill, which was shown on HBO in 1999 and for which he won two Emmy Awards. He recently became the first solo stand-up comedian to perform at the famed Hollywood Bowl.
Izzard has also acted in many movies (including Velvet Goldmine, Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen and Across the Universe), starred in in the television show The Riches with Minnie Driver, and provided his voice to the animated films Igor and Cars 2.
Other notable things about Izzard are that he ran 43 marathons in 51 days for charity, he appeared briefly onstage with his heroes on Monty Python Live at Aspen (and has been referred to by John Cleese as “the lost Python”), he was a huge supporter of the London Olympics and he is a heterosexual cross-dresser.
Izzard spoke to me by phone in advance of his sold-out show at Campbell Hall at UCSB on Saturday night. For more of his thoughts on politics, Monty Python, the London Olympics and more, the full interview is available by clicking here.
Jeff Moehlis: Any thoughts on the U.S. presidential election?
Eddie Izzard: Yeah, I’m very happy. If you go back to my tweets, you can see a BBC survey from populations around the world, and it seems that everyone wanted President Obama to get in. Which is a little unusual, assuming there’s equal amounts of right-wing and left-wing people around the world. Everybody wanted Obama. I wanted Obama. I’m a Democrat, so I’m very pleased. I was worried going in.
And all that money that was spent. I mean, all that money by the right. All that (Karl) Rove money. All that from Citizens United, all that where-the-hell-does-that-come-from unknown money. It didn’t do anything. It even went backwards. The Democrats got more seats in the House, even though they didn’t get the House back. Didn’t lose the Senate. And President Obama got back in. I think it’s beautiful.
I just saw President Obama talking today about the “fiscal cliff.” Is the Tea Party going to obstruct again? Are they going to try to do that? He’s being much more forceful this time. Last time he seemed to come in and say, “Hey, hands across the aisle. Could we work together?” And they just sat there and said “No.” And it wasn’t the moderate Republicans. It was the Tea Party crazies. I mean, the Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland is what they seem to be based on. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. That’s what these people seem to be.
JM: Do you still have any political aspirations?
EI: Yeah, I’m running in eight years time. In May 2020, I will stand for election.
JM: When do you start campaigning for that? It seems a long time from now.
EI: Well, I have already told everyone that I’d like to run for mayor of London, or member of Parliament. If the gates are open, I will go to the Labour Party and ask to try get the nomination, but I will have to compete for the nomination. There could well be other people doing it. It would be good for me if I had to win the nomination against other people. So I’m campaigning as of now. This is all the campaign.
JM: The show that’s going to be here in Santa Barbara is part of the university’s Arts & Lectures series, so there will be a number of college students there. Could you tell me a little bit about your own college experience?
EI: My dad insisted I do it. I wanted to do acting. I wanted to be an actor. And then I sort of morphed that into wanting to be a comedy actor, like a member of Monty Python, in my teenage years. When I was 7 I wanted to act. So if my dad hadn’t been so keen on it I might’ve just missed university altogether.
I went there, and after one year I just wasn’t working. I was doing loads of shows and I just dropped out because I’d failed my exams. That sort of made the decision for me, by failing my exams. But I stayed around, because I could just sort of be there. I was on unemployment, but I was doing unpaid work at the student’s union. I was just doing shows and not earning any money. So that was my course, really. I sort taught myself how to be an entrepreneur, and not make anything for a long time. Any money, that is.
JM: Do you find that certain jokes or certain topics work better in America than in Britain?
EI: No, what I do is I write universal humor. I block out ideas that will only work in Britain. And so any idea that I come up with has to work in America, or Iceland, or France in French, or Moscow, or Berlin, or Kathmandu. So dinosaurs, supermarkets, haircuts, baked potatoes, cars, God. People know that. All of the progressive audiences can clue into that. Mainstream audiences would go, “Who is Alexander the Great, and velociraptor, what is that?” But I assume that they’re watching History Channel, Discovery Channel, that they’re clued into stuff. So I assume the intelligence of my audience.
And it’s not a massive intelligence. It’s not like they have to be some sort of super-brain. You’ve just got to be street-smart, wise, open-minded, interesting, inquisitive. I’m assuming that you’re a smart person.
I think the audience likes that, they give it back. Because when they get it, when I say that Darwin wrote his most famous book Great Expectations in the mid-1800s, people laugh because they know it’s not Darwin, it’s Dickens. And they’re clever enough to know that it’s Dickens and not Darwin. But both start with “D,” and actually published those two books two years apart, you know, Great Expectations and Origin of Species. Certain people aren’t going to like my stuff. Right-wingers aren’t going to like my stuff. Nazis aren’t going to like it. And people who don’t know anything aren’t going to like it.
JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about your life or career?
EI: No, not really. I speak French. I want to learn other languages. I’m very proud to have been the first stand-up to do a solo show at the Hollywood Bowl. That’s a beautiful thing. The Madison Square Garden show is now out on DVD, and coming to play Santa Barbara’s just going to be a lot of fun. I did a gig last night in French, in London, and it was just so much bloody fun. I can’t quite explain it. So nothing to set straight. It’s all out there.
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.