Hailed as the foremost stand up of his generation. Star of stage and screen. Tireless supporter of charity. Runner. Political campaigner. Fashion icon. Gender bender. Human. Eddie Izzard is all of these things and more.
This weekend, the master of observational humor and self-referential pantomime beings his one-man show “Believe Me” to Chrysler Hall.
We had a chance to speak to him about the show, politics, coming out, and the perspective needed just to get through another day on Planet Earth.
I understand your show “Believe Me” has a distinctly biographical tone.
Yes, it’s based on my book by the same name and the Emmy-nominated documentary. So it’s hopefully a positive message to anyone, whether they’re looking at it from a sexuality or gender identity point of view or political point of view or any other point of view. I talk about my family and how I got through the challenges, how it changed the disciplines of creativity that I’ve been doing as well. And because I’m a comedian, I make it funny.
Being from Britain, you’ve experienced this same political and social dysfunction that’s going on in America. For queer people, what is your advice for getting through it?
If you go back to the Thirties, you look at the political swings to the far right, then back and forth ever since. I find it interesting that Trump did not win the popular vote, but he won the vote of unpopular opinion. So he’s engaging in simplistic politics to appease those people.
There’s an American saying: redouble your efforts—actually it should be double your efforts. We need to double, triple, quadruple our efforts to be progressive and move forward.
I’m doing a new show next year completely in French. I translated it also in German. So that’s just an example of if I can do that, we can all achieve change. Whatever you can do, while this hell is going on, just push through in the exact opposite way. And at some point, it will swing around again.
Speaking of you translating your shows into different languages, I know you’re a big supporter of the EU. Were you shocked when Brexit happened in Britain?
Shocked isn’t the word. It was a threat that was followed through. I mean, you had Secession. I’m encyclopedic on your Civil War, and if you think about it, they were shocked about South Carolina first seceding then the others, because it had been a threat for decades upon decades.
I always thought at some point it has to be tested in this way. So it doesn’t actually matter as long as you take the long view, the macro view. And you have to look at it this way because, well, the Big Bang was 35 billion years ago, and we’ve only had 5,000 years of civilization from the ancient Egyptians of which you can only count from the Enlightenment forward as modern history. That’s not a huge chunk of time.
Go back to the Thirties and Forties, that was so dark and so backward. And we haven’t gone back to that. We’ve gotten into serious situations since, but I think overall our civilization is progressing forward. Just keep powering ahead and get stronger. Because that is the way we’re going to beat it. Things do change.
I know you’ve dipped your toes into the political discourse with a run for office. What’s that look like for you in the future?
I just narrowly lost the seat (in the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee in 2016). I came in eighth with six seats up for grabs. I received 71,000 votes – while the sixth-placed candidate won 82,000. It was huge vote, and I had no big machine behind me. It was just me going out there. So, yeah, we’re very encouraged. And I want the Party to win. I just keep my eye on the prize and keep moving forward. The 21st Century is the century where we make it better for the entire world or we say goodbye to humanity because we have ways to blow ourselves up seven ways until Sunday.
I want to talk a little about labels and how we self-identify. Do you personally feel the need to label yourself in any particular way?
I think it’s cool because labels move. That’s what throws people. They say, oh, you were a transvestite a while ago, and now your transgender. And actually, transgender is a whole group thing. In fact, if anyone had been paying attention when I came out 32 years ago, I was T\V.
If you take people of color, they have changed their definitions over the years. Many groups of people change the way they identify as society changes. Even young kids are doing it now! The fact that I can act in films with Judi Dench, perform in 45 countries in four languages, run 27 marathons in 27 days, and stand for election–being trans is not really an issue. It’s sort of in there, but it’s not, oh we won’t vote for you because you’re trans. I never thought we’d get to this positive of a place. Yes, we remain divided in many ways, but again, we have to power ahead and make this century work.
You refer often to your difficult childhood: losing your mother at a young age, then being sent off to boarding school and separated from your father and brother. And yet you’ve come out of those challenges with such an expansive world-view. Was there a single epiphany that led you to this point?
It was all the little experiences that happened along the way, such as discovering my passion for performing. But coming out as transgender in 1985, that was the real making of me. Any person in the world who comes out knows the bravery involved in that. They know the Arthurian Knights Quest we do when we come out. Your mission, Jim, should you accept it, is to come the fuck out. It’s mission made possible. As a trans person who looks somewhat boyish, I had to deal with crap on the street every minute, and I thought that was a real challenge. I thought if I only looked more girly, that would really help. But in the end, I feel fairly confident on any street anywhere because I’ve been through so much.