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"I lost my sexual self-esteem when I hit puberty."

THE IZZARD KING

An exclusive HITS interview with Eddie Izzard by Harvey Kubernik
Two-time Emmy award-winner, and Tony Award nominee, actor/comedian and self-described "executive transvestite," Eddie Izzard recently finished his Sexie one-man world tour. His appearance at the Wiltern last fall, brought out a celebrity crowd that included Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, Barbara Sinatra, Angie Dickinson, Bob Newhart, Dick Martin, Rebecca DeMornay, Harry Dean Stanton, Elvis Costello, Stewart Copeland, and Jennifer Aniston with Brad Pitt.

Izzard recently released a version of his last show, Circle, in both DVD and CD on Anti/Epitath label, hot on the heels of his well received HBO Dressed To Kill video, which has sold nearly 100,000 copies and won a pair of Emmys.

He has also earned rave reviews for his acting talent in movies The Secret Agent, Velvet Goldmine, Shadow of the Vampire, Cat’s Meow, and will soon be seen in All The Queen’s Men, The Revengers Tragedy and Muraya-Expanded Reality.

Izzard has been blowing minds in serious stage dramas since 1994, initially in the world premiere of David Mamet’s The Cryptogram, then a stellar Sir Peter Hall production of Lenny, based on the life of Lenny Bruce, and the just-completed Peter Nichols play A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, receiving a Tony nomination as Best Leading Actor in a Play.

Izzard was born on February 7, 1962, to English parents in Aden, Yemen. In 1980, he began staging shows at Sheffield University, and then in 1981 he took his first show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 1988, he began performing stand up comedy in the London clubs and in 1993 appeared at the Ambassadors Theater in the London West End.

I talked to Eddie Izzard during a Chicago tour date.

I know you’ve always cited the performances and comedy records by Monty Python, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Steve Martin, but what other comedy albums and music impressed or influenced you and your record collection?
All the Python stuff, Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore, The Goon Show, the early records of Peter Sellers with (Sir) George Martin. I just purchased a live Lenny Bruce album done in San Francisco at the Curran Theater. Getting into stuff about his arrests. It is fascinating where he came from. He was so broad and mainstream and then he went to such a point. He practically fucked himself. They couldn’t get him. He wanted to swear…He wanted to go there. And I understand that but they were cramming him. They killed him. I got the Curran album after I played Lenny on stage. We did come up with a line when we did Lenny. "The Jesus Christ of stand up comedy." As a Jewish man, I thought that was very nice comment.

As far as rock music, or bands, see, the first record I ever really got was by Squeeze on pink vinyl, then "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" by Ian Dury. Then I bought Heaven 17, ABC and a lot of Trevor Horn stuff. I’ve always liked the Tom Jones track he did. Frankie Comes To Hollywood when they came out.

On your current tour at the intermission, you play a medley of Tom Jones’ records.
I have done two gigs with Tom Jones now, and "Delilah" was a big hit just after my mother (Ella) died when I was in boarding school in Wales. My dad had given me a radio around 1968 when we were in Yemen, and it was a very old radio, and it felt like this was a radio that was linking us to the outside world. Where we lived at the time felt like we were cut off from everything, like a desert island. So "Delilah" can take me right back there. Along with Mary Hopkins’ "Those Were the Days"

And you’ve said you’ve taken a lot of things from rock & roll.
The atmosphere is like a cross between a library and a strip show.

Circle is available in both CD and a DVD form.
I’ve always listened to comedy records. I couldn’t watch Monty Python when I was a kid. I do love DVD. It’s just great.

You got an Emmy for Dressed to Kill.
The whole Emmy thing was off the charts. It was fun. Doing it on HBO opened doors. It became slightly more accessible than maybe I wanted it to be. ‘Cause I’m also pushing at the drama field and if you get too well known as a comedian, it sorta hamstrings you.

Is reading someone else’s words as an actor much different than performing your one-man shows?
Yes, it’s very different. But I always wanted to do that first. I never wanted to be a stand-up. I first wanted to be an actor when I was 7 and I couldn’t get any good parts, so I wanted to be in Monty Python. I discovered street performing was beautiful, so I did that. But that didn’t really get me anywhere. I started doing stand-up because it was the only way through to nighttime comedy, which was the mother lode and the special place to be. And so I thought, "I have to learn this medium I can’t do." I could not do stand-up. I was walking around South London with a tape recorder in the middle of the night. I knew I could sometimes ad lib it and hit it in a pub, in the zone and people would laugh. In the end, I’ve learned to do that.

You never wanted to be in a rock band or make pop records.
I lost my sexual self-esteem when I hit puberty. If I hadn’t, I don’t know if that would have made any difference actually. I did play in a band at school for a while, but it was never to be a "Rock God." I never thought of myself that way. I wasn’t glued to Melody Maker or NME. It was always film and comedy. I wanted to be a film star. I wanted to be in westerns. And did I want to do comedy. I loved Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan.

And stand-up really happened for you.
There is a huge club scene in Britian no one really knows about in America. In New York, there are 10 comedy clubs. In London, there are 90. It’s just an amazing training ground. And then the Irish comedians couldn’t really get stuff going in Dublin, so they came to London. Just like the writers of old, they all had to leave. Like Shaw had to come over. And Beckett went to France. But we had all this training.

Because I come from street performing, I was always good at dealing with a very cold audience. I was good at hosting, the MC, the compare, as we call it. Which is not seen as being an act, even though it’s as good as being an act. It’s got this weird lower status. But then you can get lots of gigs doing that.

And then I just started to ad lib, so I could entertain the audience every week with different stuff. Some compares would do the same material each week. For six months, I was really shitty at it, but then I started to get my confidence up. I was learning how to fly. So that’s what gave me a head start.

Your act is both historical and political.
I prefer to be political. I’m really into European politics. Which doesn’t make sense to a lot of people in America, so what’s the sense of banging on about it? And politics is really boring… Comedy is good for tearing things down. It’s not a brilliant building weapon. I’m into bridge building. I’m at comedy to build things. I prefer to look at things on a longterm basis or just the history of it and see why we’ve come to this position we’re in.

Hollywood seems to have embraced you. What does the town mean to you?
It now has a face. It’s roads and streets. Fairfax Avenue, Hollywood Blvd. "That’s the Hollywood Bowl… Monty Python played there!" Get on the 101 Freeway that goes around to the left through the gap in the hills. The mystical edge has been taken off it and then you realize how many films have been made here. When I did my last movie, I drove my own car to the set. Which is really weird ‘cause in London you are always driven. It’s taken an edge off it, but made it more attainable.

Harvey Kubernik is the author of the recently published book of interviews, This Is Rebel Music, on University of New Mexico Press.

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