By Rita Bratovich
Eddie Izzard believes there is a universal sense of humour and the same joke is funny in any language. He should know; on his last tour he visited 45 countries and presented his show in French, German, Spanish, and English – and every audience laughed. Izzard says it comes down to the subject matter.
“If you’re talking about human sacrifice, if you’re talking about men and women, haircuts, sexuality, posters, colours, art, design; 95% of the things in the world you can talk about – religion, philosophy – they all cross over,” he explains. “There’s a mainstream sense of humour in every country and there’s an alternative sense of humour in every country, you just need to hook up with a more alternative sense of humour.”
Izzard definitely appeals to an alternative audience. His humour is for the thinking person and can range from obtuse and subtle to silly and direct, with lots of variations in between. As an intelligent, well-read, endlessly curious explorer of the human psyche, Izzard imbues his comedy with insightful observations and cultural references. His shows can be as edifying as they are entertaining.
Wunderbar is the name of his latest show which will tour extensively in the United States, include several European countries, play in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and has just kicked off its Australia/New Zealand leg. The show title speaks to the awe and fascination Izzard continuously has with the world with a slightly wry exclamation that everything is “wonderful.” It came into being in a floating theatre on the Seine in Paris when Izzard started improvising bits in French. Improvisation is an important element, not only in Izzard’s performance but also the development of his material, though he admits that finding a point at which to stop finessing can be a challenge.
“It’s a tricky balance…I’m always trying to distil the comedy to get a better, more perfect version of the piece. I used to actually improvise and improvise and improvise, so you’d get the piece working and then you’d keep improvising and you’d stop it working,” he says.
Deciding when a piece is working is very much up to Izzard himself and he rarely seeks advice or critique other than from people close to him.
“I don’t read critic reviews I’m afraid, and I don’t read audience feedback. My brother tells me things and other people tell me things,” he says. “Sometimes I will keep a joke in because I like it, even if no one else is liking it. But I don’t care, that’s just a gift to myself.”
Izzard himself is constantly in flux, forever doing shows and appearances, committing to a year-long tour itinerary for Wunderbar, and still managing to regularly appear in a film or three – including the indie Aussie film The Flip Side, released last year. Where does he get his energy? He eats well, has given up alcohol and he runs – a lot! In 2016 he completed an incredible 27 marathons in 27 days raising money for Sport Relief in South Africa.
“If you train every day you can actually go longer and further,” says Izzard, ascribing the stamina he has on stage to his running routine.
If he doesn’t get physically exhausted, you would imagine a lengthy touring schedule would exhaust him emotionally or mentally, but Izzard says he never gets homesick or tired of travelling.
“This planet is my home,” he says. “I love being in Britain, I love being in America, I love being in Australia. Forty-five countries I’ve played, I was happy to be in all of them. If you’re brave and curious then you enjoy seeing new places and meeting new people.”
Izzard came out in 1985 as a transvestite. He has since updated his terminology and now refers to himself as transgender having discovered that the word is used as an umbrella for 12 subgroups of which cross-dressers is one. His outward appearance alternates between traditionally masculine and classically feminine, though he considers his sexuality fluid.
“I’m more in girl mode than boy mode these days,” he says, but for pragmatic reasons, would prefer to hold on to his male identity. “In film roles […] I wanna play those boy roles because that’s what I’m gonna get at this stage in my life. So I’m buggered if I’m going to spend 30, 40 years trying to get to this place and then cut all the roles out for myself!”
He describes it as having two cakes and eating them.
“I kind of like using Ms Eddie Izzard now, I think that says it all.”
For the last nine years, Izzard has spoken about entering politics and has dipped his toe once or twice, as well as being a fervent mouthpiece and campaigner. As with everything he does, he intends to commit fully once he has completed his scheduled projects.
“I will go into politics and I will fight as hard as I can in politics.”
Izzard believes you can’t be effective from the sidelines or even through activism. “If you’re trying to make something political happen, I do believe you have to be in politics. After 2020 I will be ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Feb 21−23. State Theatre, 49 Market St, Sydney. $89.90-$99.90+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.statetheatre.com.au