Eddie Izzard has built a career on simply being his authentic self in life, comedy and politics. His West End debut came in 1993 with a show called Live at the Ambassadors, then much later followed it with another stand-up show called Dressed to Kill that earned two Emmy Awards. The documentary Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story also received an Emmy nomination.
Izzard produced and starred in the FX series The Riches. Movie roles include Valkrie, Ocean's Twelve and Thirteen, Across the Universe and Mystery Men.
His book Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens covers everything from gender identity to chickens with guns.
If that's not all, in 2009, Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days, then in 2016 ran 27 marathons in 27 days in honor of Nelson Mandela's 27 years in prison. He raised $6 million in the process during the 27 marathons for the Sport Relief charity. After campaigning for various causes, he has been a Labour Party activist and when Christine Shawcroft resigned in 2018, he took her place.
He brings all of this unique history with him for two shows in Chicago as part of the Wunderbar Tour.
Windy City Times: How is this show different than last time you were in Chicago?
Eddie Izzard: An interesting fact is that I decided to develop the show in French and German before I did it in English. I normally workshop my shows. This is the last tour before I go into politics.
I am talking about everything including my theory of the universe. You are not supposed to have a theory of the universe, but I have one. I put it in my biography, but no one has asked me questions about it because they think I'm an idiot.
I talk about everything from Gandalf talking to butterflies in The Lord of the Rings to the birth of speech. I talk about ancient kings like Henry VIII and William the Conqueror. I go through a load of weird subjects in my usual way. I feel you can talk about anything in stand-up as long as you explain it well and that will make people grab hold of it.
WCT: Isn't French humor different than American humor?
EI: No, it isn't actually. French humor is exactly the same as English, German and Chinese humor. It just depends on what category you are looking for. There is not one American, French or British humor that people normally think of.
Is Andrew Dice Clay the perfect epitome of American comedy? Is it Patton Oswalt or Jerry Seinfeld? They would all be miles apart. More mainstream acts will talk about sports and politicians, while more alternative acts will talk about surreal things and break down the barriers of what should or shouldn't be comedy.
That is what you have to do is find people that like Monte Python around the world. It is not mainstream. What Larry David with Seinfeld was to do the weirder thing. The audience could either come with them or forget it. When the show moved nights he didn't care. He already had them watching and only wanted the believers.
People may not get it, but I tap into that exact audience. I have been to 45 countries and performed in four languages. What I have developed in Paris will work in Chicago, but only to the cool people! [laughs]
WCT: When did you discover you had an affinity for different languages?
EI: It is more of a desire than an affinity. We all learn one language. Whichever language that is can be tricky. It is just time and practice. It's not even work. My older brother Mark is the language expert and helps me with all of my stuff. We both have a love for languages. My dad didn't, interestingly. We both made a dive for it and had a sibling rivalry about languages.
I learned it school. There's also a political underpinning to it. I thought it was a positive way to put my money where my mouth is. I started performing my show in French since 1997. German was much harder. I can now improvise in both languages. It might not impress other people, but it impresses me.
WCT: Was there something in your autobiography that you wanted to put in, but didn't?
EI: A number of things, but a book can only be so long. Laura Zigman did most of the heavy lifting and would round the chapters out. I would go through it and proofread. Most of it was dictated by me. Now I look at it and there are loads of things I forgot to mention. There will have to be another one.
WCT: What has kept you going all these years when people didn't understand you?
EI: Being LGBT is a knight's quest. The Arthurian knight's had a quest where they would be developed as human beings. In the end it's a journey. That is how I feel being LGBT.
It is genetics that we have inside us. I don't feel it's a choice. I knew when I was four years old.
Being truthful is better than lying. We all know who is lying in this world and I think that will catch up with him. Certain right wing politicians came up with the idea of using hatred as the building blocks of the future. It's a ridiculous idea and they tried it in the '30s. We are not going back to that time!
It's about truth and starting a conversation. The gay and lesbian community has done a lot of the hard lifting. Being transgender is in a much better place than when I came out in 1985.
I did have help from certain people, but most of the stuff you have to do on your own. There are battles in your head and on the street with people who will give you a hard time.
I felt it was better to come out even though people suggested that I didn't. I knew I would get to a better place. I think that is part of my strength. I have done these shows in different languages and done charity by running over 70 marathons. My strength comes from me coming out in 1985.
I knew I had to come out and gradually get back into society. I knew I had to get trans-whatever, the language has changed over the years, into society as part of the world because we are citizens. I am running to be a member of Parliament now and that is not even an issue. It's not even talked about or brought up in the campaign, mostly in girl mode. I have boy mode and girl mode. I am kind of gender fluid. I want to express both sides of myself, which has always been there. I am a tomboy and tomgirl kind of person.
WCT: What do you prefer your pronouns to be?
EI: I am going with either "he" or "she." Either way is fine. If I am in boy mode then "he" or girl mode "she." People get confused, but thank you for asking.
WCT: You must hear from many people how you have helped them by being out.
EI: Yes. I wasn't much of an activist or didn't carry a flag. I decided to be an actor and yes, I am trans, but that doesn't make any difference. I could be an astronaut or play in a band, but am I any good at it? What you add to human existence is the most important thing. I always say, "When LGBT get boring, then we have made it!"
I have met people that come up to me and say positive things. When I ran the marathon for Nelson Mandela, one of the producers on a film that I was working on asked me to go to his daughter's school to speak. There was a child that was identifying as a girl at 10 years old. This is how the world works. We are influenced by other people.
I was inspired by the Apollo moon landing and Nelson Mandela. I never got to meet Neil Armstrong, so I'm not sure what I would have said to him, but I did meet Mandela.
WCT: Are those the types of celebrities that will starstruck you? I mean, you have worked with Dame Judi Dench!
EI: Yes. Judi used to come to my shows. She would send me a banana with "good luck" written on it. She is very off the wall with her comedy. Judi is very down to earth, but I do get starstruck. Nelson Mandela was definitely one of those people. I would have talked to Neil Armstrong about seeing him when I was seven years old and having the lowest heartbeat. He had ice water going through those veins.
WCT: You have a new movie with Judi coming out called Six Minutes to Midnight?
EI: Yes, that will be out at the end of the year. I also have one that's going around to the festivals called Boyz in the Wood. It's a weird, comedic movie similar to Shaun of the Dead. There was no budget and it was done on a wing and a prayer.
I love films. They were my first love, before anything. I broke into Pinewood Studios when I was just 15 years old!
Izzard breaks in to The Chicago Theatre, 175 North State Street, for two nights on May 30 and 31 at 8 p.m. with tickets at EddieIzzard.com .