So... yeah! Well... er... Showtime! De-de, de-de, de... actually, it's quite a crap beginning, just walking on and going like this, erm, I haven't got beginnings worked out - I think 'cos it's West End, you really... people expect a huge beginning - something like a musical, you know, 400 people will be on in the first number, even if the cast is only 30, 400 people come on singing 'It's Hollywood...' They always go in three directions at once...
- Eddie Izzard, Unrepeatable
A man who 'talks b******s' as stand-up really shouldn't work in the bloody coliseum of comedy - but one of the UK's most successful stand-up comics not only does just that, but his surrealism and tangential takes on such topics as the beginning of the world to what cats actually do when humans think they are purring, are his trademark.
But firstly, a bit about the man himself.
Due to his father's job taking his family to far-flung places, Eddie was born in Yemen, on 7 February 1962. A short stay later, the family Izzard then moved to Bangor, Northern Ireland and then South Wales.
It was here that tragedy struck. His mother had been suffering from bowel cancer, and his father, in a protective gesture, sent the six-year-old Eddie and his older brother to boarding school. It was there that they heard the news that she had passed away - a loss that has remained with him to the present day.
A year later, the family, still shattered by the loss, moved closer to other relatives, to a place called Bexhill-on-Sea. Moved, but this time by a school revue when he was 12, it was then that he decided that he wanted to be some sort of performer.
Initially, the performing was less of a main course and more of a side salad, as he decided to follow his father into accounting, by initially reading Accounting and Maths at Sheffield University. However, the performing on the side became the far more attractive option, even more so after being kicked out of his course.
He quite fancied doing stand-up, but being unknown and rather new on the scene, he had to fill up time and earn money via some other format. So he honed his trade in the art of street performing by performing in the rather crowded streets of Covent Garden, London. It was there that he developed the quick pace of speech and ability to improvise out of the tightest heckle, and in addition, the ability to get out of handcuffs whilst riding a six-foot unicycle.
In 1981, he had written enough material to take a stand-up set to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The Festive Season
Edinburgh was where he polished the comic brass, and the main features of his act became far more apparent - his own life, his mother's death, social issues, his transvestism, and many, many tangents. He was even nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award for Comedy.
Word of mouth began spreading the news about this hot new comic as quickly as foot-and-mouth, and it was little wonder that the TV executives were offering him all kinds of attractive packages. Despite the temptation of TV glory, he had the foresight to declare that he would never appear on TV until he was ready - thus saving himself from graveyard-shift obscurity as so many young comics would do in the 1990s.
Many thought that the shunning of TV in favour of live performances would dent his popularity, but instead, it added to his mystique. People became more and more curious about the man in killer heels who could make you crumple with hilarity after musing about the virtues of jam.
The Live One
His first long-season booking was in 1993 at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, where a rather masculine-looking Izzard (albeit with a slick of red nail polish) brought his brand of surreal comedy to the fore. After the success of Live at The Ambassadors, the idea of a radio quiz based on improvising around a single word was turned into One Word Improv, which after a tour of the UK and Europe, ran for 13 weeks in London.
Following on from the success of this was Unrepeatable (1994), where he moves from the subliminal eroticism of current adverts, to how cats land gymnastically, to Star Trek. The year after saw Definite Article - a decadent set, and a far more lavish wardrobe. Here, he leaps from supermarket queue strategy, to sheep shearing, to Pavlov's dogs. 1997 was Glorious, another custom built set, new wardrobe and vertiginous heels - this time, going from the beginning of the world, to speed archaeology and toasters. Then came Dress To Kill - which was what he broke the US market with; another expensive set, another shiny wardrobe, but going from WWII, to why the English always play the bad guys in films, to trying to print something out.
1997 wasn't just Glorious by title, it was glorious for the TV people. Eddie was indeed ready, and took over the schedules of Channel 4 for one whole evening. Lust for Glorious was the title of the takeover, and M. Izzard held court in a evening of tangents - one being a clip of him carrying out 'speed archaeology', which seems awfully prophetic considering the advent of archaeology programs such as Time Team3 and various other similar program clones.
Unlike many other comedians who hang their comedy on their sexuality, he is seen as a comic who just happens to be a transvestite, rather than using it as the main source of comic inspiration. Despite this, his sexuality continues to intrigue many people, and as a result, many questions and interviews are directed around this topic. So to clear up some confusion about the matter - here's what Eddie had to say on the subject in his live shows:
I got caught nicking stuff when I was 15 - I got caught nicking make-up... yeah... I thought, I could have saved up and bought this actually, but I thought - no I won't, I'll be clever, and I thought, I won't buy it because someone could say, 'Hey: awkward question time - why are you, a boy, buying make-up? You must be a transvestite - whergh-erg-ergh! Sexuality check!' And I'd say 'Yeah - and you must be Sherlock f*****g Holmes to work that one out...'
So I thought - no, I'll avoid the awkward questions, and nick it, and no one will know except for the police and the judiciary system...
- from Definite Article
...I was going to be in the army when I was a kid - and when I say that, people go 'whergh-erg-ergh' - no I was, I was going to be in the army when I was a kid, 'cos if you're a transvestite, you're actually a male tomboy - that's where the sexuality is. It's not drag queen, no - gay men have got that covered, and this is male tomboy; and people do get that mixed up and put transvestite in there - no, no, no - little bit of a crowbar: separation, thank you! And gay men, I think, would agree.
It's male lesbian - that's where it is, y'know. It's true, 'cos most transvestites fancy girls, fancy women, y'know - so that's where it is.
So... running, jumping, climbing trees, putting on make-up when you're up there - that's where it is...
- from Dress to Kill
When I was seven I wanted to be an actor. When I realised film existed, that's what I wanted to do. I couldn't get any acting roles at school, but I got some laughs at a classroom revue when I was 12, so I ended up going that route.
- from Time Out magazine
Since his success in stand-up, he has cast his performing net into more dramatic waters - treading both stage and big screen. Here's a list of the projects he's been immersing himself into:
- Lenny (1999)
- A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (2001-02)4
- A Revengers Tragedy (2002)
- The Cat's Meow (2001)
- All the Queen's Men (2001)
- The Criminal (2000)
- Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
- Circus (2000)
- Mystery Men (1999)
- The Avengers (1998)
- Velvet Goldmine (1998)
- The Secret Agent (1996)
I love Europe because someone's got to love it. Otherwise we'll just carry on saying, 'The Germans have no sense of humour and all the French, all 60 million of them, got on one tractor and insulted me... It's hard to be positive about it, of course it's easier to knock it down, to say, 'Oh no, let's not do Europe because of cabbages... the Queen... World War II...' I see this unification as pay-off for 50 million people dying in the Second World War.
- from Time Out magazine
Self-proclaimed Europhile, Eddie has been one of those pushing for going wholeheartedly into the European currency. He's also performed a live show in France, entirely in French, which proved to be a little difficult, as transvestite in French sounds remarkably similar to the English word, travesty, which in French, is 'catastrophe'...
...so I felt I was going around France saying, 'Bonjour monsieur! Je suis un catastrophe...'
- from Parkinson5
Not only that, several of the more surreal gags fell flat on their face, for instance, the God=James Mason and Noah=Sean Connery gag (see below under 'The Humour - Common Themes) fell down like a lead balloon because when the James Bond films were dubbed into French, the voiceover artist dubbing Sean didn't have his characteristic voice.
Despite translational difficulties, at the time of writing, he's planning a rather large tour in 2003, which will include Germany, Italy and Spain; of course, all done in the local language. Whether the humour will translate as well as the language is yet to be seen.
The Humour - Common Themes
Influenced by Monty Python, a dash of Steve Martin and a spanking of early Benny Hill, Eddie's stage show makes most conventional flights of fancy seem more like tedious long-haul coach journeys. It has to be said that he combines most of his humour with very visual gags, so the following quotes may seem a little out of context. In addition, a force of habit from his early days as a comic is that he speaks very, very quickly; a method of heckle avoidance by not letting the heckler have enough time to shout at you in the gaps between your lines - so the quotes may also be very long. Having said that, here are most of his common themes:
If you're a woman and you fall over in heels, then it's embarrassing. But if you're a man and you fall over, then you have to kill yourself - end of your life - a bit difficult there...
James Mason, Sean Connery and Mrs Badcrumble
One of the recurring themes throughout his live acts is his impersonation of various people as various other people. For instance, what better casting than James Mason as God and Sean Connery as Noah?
|James Mason:||You! Noah, stop what you're doing and build me an Ark!|
|Sean Connery:||I'm working on a speedboat at the moment - speedboat's much faster, you can shoot across the water much faster (mimes speedboat)... It'll be great photos for the Bible...|
|JM:||Noah, I appreciate your sense of publicity, but er... I want an Ark with a big room for poo - that's gonna be important...|
|SC:||Speedboat! Let's go for a speedboat - and we can get all the animals with long ears and they can sit along the side and let their ears go (mimes ears blowing along in the wind...), 'cos they like that...|
|JM:||No, you build me an Ark - put a big motor in an Ark if you want compromise.|
Mrs Badcrumble was Eddie's clarinet teacher. Admittedly, he only started to play the clarinet to improve his chances with his female friends, and hence only really wanted to learn 'sexy tunes'...
I'd really like to learn sexy tunes, Mrs Badcrumble, and you think a tune from this book, 'A Tune a Day', you think that's gonna have some really raunchy, sexy tunes in there?
(As Mrs Badcrumble) It certainly will - it's a very sexy tune book, and this song in particular - 'Snug as a Bug in a Rug' - it's a very sexy tune! I made love to that song during the 1418 war I'll have you know...
(As himself) Well, I'll give it a whirl... (plays, or rather, sings, a boring dirge) Erm, Mrs Badcrumble? At what point did you actually orgasm during this song? 'Cos it doesn't really kick in for me... at any particular point. I think this song could be best described as someone's just removed the melody, and left it at that.
The Izzard family name is in fact, French. It originates from the name of a Pyrenean goat, and in French is in fact pronounced 'izz-arr'. Combine his ancestry with his willingness to learn languages, and you have some comic stuff in French - like this bit...
Language labs were at school when I was a kid - that was useful... kind of a big word for a tape recorder and a table - but there you go... It had this tape going round, and you'd put your headphones on and the tape'd go, 'Où est le plume de ma tante - où est le plume de ma tante?', You'd go, 'Le plume de ma tante est près le chez de ma tante. As well you know...' And the tape'd go - 'Oui! Le plume de ma tante, est près de la chez de ma tante!' And you'd go - how does this tape know what the hell I'm talking about?
Tape'd continue - 'Où est le plume de ma oncle?' You'd go - 'Le plume de ma oncle est bingy bongy dingy dangy.'
Tape'd go - 'Non - oh non! Le plume de ma oncle ne pas bingy bongy dingy dangy! Qu'est-ce que vous avais dit? Vous êtes un putain!'
Eddie: Je ne suis pas un putain! Je n'avais pas sex pour l'argent! Tape: Huh! Pas toujours... Oh pardon - je n'avais pas mes lunettes aujourd'hui... et j'ai mal à la spindle.
If you don't understand French by the way - this is all f*****g funny...
And for those who don't understand French - this is the English translation. As always, something is always lost in the translation. Here, it is the humour:
'Where is my auntie's pen - where is my auntie's pen?', You'd go, 'My auntie's pen is near my auntie's house. As well you know...' And the tape'd go - 'Yes! My auntie's pen is near my auntie's house...' And you'd go - how does this tape know what the hell I'm talking about?
Tape'd continue - 'Where is my uncle's pen?' You'd go - 'My uncle's pen is bingy bongy dingy dangy.'
Tape'd go, 'No - oh no! My uncle's pen is not bingy bongy dingy dangy! What did you have to say? You whore!'
Eddie: I'm not a whore! I don't have sex for money! Tape: Huh! Not all the time! Oh - pardon me, I haven't got my glasses on today... and there's something wrong with the spindle.
With their feline mystique and ineffable demeanour, cats feature prominently in all his live shows. For instance, this passage:
You have no control over your cat! You can't say to your cat 'Cat! Heel! Stay - wait! Lie down - roll over!' 'Cos the cat would just be sitting there going, 'Interesting words... have you finished?'
Jam seems to be involved in everything, but it's almost impossible to include a quote without it sounding incredibly out of context, or at least, much more out of context than the quotes on this page - so it's probably best to either see him do this live, or borrow a video of one of his live shows.
It is a well known fact that women outlive men by a good few years, to the extent that most 80 and 90 year-olds are in fact female, and most men are safely over the other side of the river by 75... this fact has not escaped the Izzard treatment:
My grandmother, she had the life-force - she had that extra power-pack, you know in 'Escape From Colditz - The Boardgame' and you could get those extra bits of rope... well, she had a lot of life-force packs, y'know, she had a load of them... She just kept going - she had three strokes, and she was paralysed down the left side, but she was going - on the zimmer y'know, racing on the zimmer in the old folks home.
And the Grim Reaper must have been there, 'Come, old lady, it is your time. Come, follow me... to the Land of the Dead we must go, across the River Styx on the boat; across the River of Death - two please, yes, one and one OAP... do you have change? Look - are you coming?' My gran's still at home, 'No - I'm staying here, I've got stuff to do! Not sure what, but I've got stuff... I've got to sit around and talk weird for a couple of years...' Which was sort of unfortunate in a way because she was an energetic woman; she got that 'grancoat' - you know at a certain age you get that grancoat, and the cake on top of the head...
The Royal Family
It's not really clear whether he is for or against the monarchy - after all, he regards the young Queen Elizabeth II sexy in a 'hard to believe but quite true' sort of way... but it might be right to consider him a supporter of modernising the monarchy. Having said that - here's a bit on the preoccupation of keeping the Royal line, royal...
Queen Victoria became Empress of India - never even f*****g went there... She was one of our more frumpy Queens... there're all frumpy, aren't they? Because it's a bad idea when cousins marry! Bottom of the gene pool, y'know, just scraping the barrel there - 'Haven't got enough for you Royals there...' First rule of genetics - spread the genes apart, y'know... But the Royals are just obsessed with it; 'Are you a Royal family - are you a Royal member? Well you can marry me, because we're of the same gene pool, and our IQs will just go down the toilet.'
That's why there's no crazy Royals - they're all sort of (adopts a plummy RP voice) 'Hello, what do you do? You're a plumber? What on earth is that?'
One other theme that features almost, if not more frequently as the topic of cats, is that of major historical or mythical events. Despite his claims that he is 'thinly read - I've read f**k all...', he does have an accurate knowledge of history. From the Trojan War to the Second World War, historical events are made hysterical, like this take on the age of Empire:
So... yeah - we had empires; in Europe we had empires, 'cos everyone had... France and Britain and Turkey - the Ottoman Empire, full of furniture for some reason... And the Austro-Hungarian Empire: famous for f**k all! Yes, all they did was slowly collapse like a flan in a cupboard...
And the German Empire; very organised, always build an empire: ein, zwei, ein, zwei, build-an-empire - very Prussian... then they'd celebrate with a world war! Then lose the whole f*****g empire... In the Thirties; Hitler - Czechoslovakia, Poland, France - Second World War, Russian Front - not a good idea... Hitler never played 'Risk' when he was a kid... 'Cos y'know - playing 'Risk', you could never hold on to Asia; that Asian-Eastern European area - you could never hold it, could you? Seven extra men at the beginning of every go, but you couldn't f*****g hold it... Australasia - that was the one! Australasia... all the purples; get everyone on Papua New Guinea and just build up and build up and build up...
The Last Word
So there it is - Eddie Izzard, comic, actor, continental lover and well heeled in the literal sense. Let's leave the entry on a nicely surreal note...
- Eddie Izzard's official site - gives a resume of his work and news of what he's up to.
- Cake or Death? - a nice fansite, with pictures of his enviable shoes...
- Bloke in a Dress - another nice fansite, with an extensive picture gallery.
- 'We Know Where You Live' - was a revival of the 'Secret Policemen's Ball', for Amnesty International's 40th birthday. Eddie was the compere for the night of music, merriment and comedy... click on the link to find out more...