FEATURE EDDIE IZZARD
Ready, Eddie, 6’0!
He’s a successful comic who doesn’t tell jokes; he sells out West End runs but won’t do telly, and he’s a transvestite who plays straight theatre roles. Will the real EDDIE IZZARD please stand up? Craig McLean tries to keep up with the stream of consciousness.
ND THAT’S amazing. bees make honey. We’ve known this since we were kids so we take it absolutely for granted. but bees are insecty. furry- bodied. red — not red. they haven’t got red — yellow and black stripes. hairy- leggy. bzzz. big ears — big cars? they haven’t got big ears — big eyes. big ears as well ‘cos they leave them behind when they go out . . . um — [ aside, sotIo voce/ got out of that one — medium- sized wings. you know. they’re buzzy things. And they make ﬂicking honey? Which is in your morning. on your breakfasty. toasty. in-a-jar kind of thing. HOW DO THEY [)0 THAT? I
You only have to sit and watch and wait to be sucked into Izzard’s parallel universe.
16 The List 10-23 Feb 1995
mean. do earwigs make chutney? Do spiders make gravy? What’s going on . . .?’
Eddie Izzard is going on. and on and on and on. If something so dedicatedly haphazard can be called a ‘style’. this is lzzard’s. Imagine the above relayed by a pudgy 32-year-old man in black leggings. bad shirt, boxy Beatles jacket. dyed blond Simon Le Bon ﬂick (circa ‘Rio’) and gaudy make-up (circa fourteen-year-old girl’s attempt to look 24). He uses ‘um’s’ and ‘ah’s’ where other people breathe and apply punctuation. He gesticulates wildly. He rattles off improbably-sketched and incoherently- presented visions of real life gone AWOL. Quite how all of this makes Eddie Izzard one of the two funniest stand~up comedians in Britain is . . . well, ah, that’s. um. a tricky one.
The bee skit is taken from Izzard’s new video, Unrepearable. In common with his previous video. Live A! The Ambassadors, it was filmed during a marathon residency in the West End. Not in some sweaty late-night comedy cavern. In the heart of theatre-land. It’s a performance thing.
In Unrepeatable’s 77 minutes the bee skit is the closest lzzard comes to a wrapped and boxed, neatly packaged ‘joke’. Like the other funniest stand-up in Britain Phil Kay (who followed lzzard’s 1993 lead by winning last year’s Best Live Stand Up award). you have to sit and watch and wait to be sucked into lzzard’s parallel universe. Feel his manic energy coursing round the stage. Gawp as, like a tractor-beam drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch. adrenalin and inspiration drag him flying off into the tangential wilderness. Then you might get it.
And so lzzard’s comedy sounds rubbish in two-dimensional newspapers and just doesn’t work on short attention-span television. Despite the former. 52 people have interviewed him in the last three days; because of the latter he makes a virtue of the long-form video and has another marathon schlep round the country lined up — 55 dates for spring 95. Gigs in Cheltenham. Aviemore and Bristol on three consecutive dates. It’s a brutal slog, but a necessary one.
‘I don’t know what I’m gonna come up with.’ he tells interviewer number 5|. The plan is to take the Unrepeatable show out on the road. Given his feverish love of ad libs and improvisation, his material will mutate and evolve as the tour progresses. hopefully into a completely new set. ‘Urbane renewal’, as one critic put it. ‘By the time I get to the Scottish dates I could . . . where are the Scottish dates . .
the end of the first month . . . so there’s definitely gonna be different stuff, but I can’t tell what it’s gonna be . . .’
lzzard first came to the Edinburgh Festival in 1981, in a student revue from Sheffield University. He’s been every year since (bar 1984 and I994). initially as a heroically unsuccessful
street-performer. then as a slowly-ascendant stand-up. As soon as his word-of-mouth success began to spread lzzard got serious. He formed his own company to manage the tours. produce the videos, develop the odd radio and TV idea. He used to say he wouldn’t go on telly because his comedy wouldn’t work. Now, when asked about fronting a TV version of a radio show (Missed Demeanours) he’s devised for Radio 4. he says: ‘No. Otherwise it would just destroy what I’ve desperately tried to hold on to. which
is not going on telly so I can do straight roles. =
Not getting this comedy baggage.‘
Has he not succeeded in this regard, with well- received ‘straight roles’ in London’s West End in two American dramas (900 Oneonta and David Mamet’s Cryptogram)?
‘Yeah. but I need to do more major telly. lf I hear of a role like Cracker. big hour episodes and a lot of believability. then I could do it. But if you get too well known as a comedian . . . I just love doing straight acting . . .’
In his speech, as in his act. lzzard wanders and stumbles, rushing to spill his spiel. fumbling for the right word. In the lzzard lexicon, ‘thing’, ‘groovy’, and ‘bollocks’ are key phrases. The only time he becomes focused and coherent is when he talks of his Five Year Plans and the acutely aspirational contents thereof.
For most comedians career is a dirty word.
‘lt’s not for me,’ he says bluntly. ‘For the 8()sl couldn’t get shit going. So if they’d fought as long and hard as I had they might have a different opinion.’
So you’re allowed to be structured?
‘l’m allowed to be completely disciplined. If I’m doing my things in weird ways. it’s going to take all the . . . clever thinking I can do.’
Does being structured, rational and market-led in your business let you make your art all the more . . . out there?
‘lt gives me a basis where I know I can go out there and if I work my arse off I’m not gonna cause large amounts of money to go into some fat cat’s pocket. I won’t get into that classic band situation — “oh we signed it all away” — then having to renegotiate like the Stones or Little Richard getting no money for his records. That gives me confidence, knowing that my hard work gets repaid. But all I’m doing is what Chaplin was doing many many years ago — he had all the copyrights on his stuff, from Goldrush onwards.’
As evidenced by the general brilliance of I
stand-up heroes Phil Kay and Owen O’Neill. as well as TV’s latest shooting stars (Steve Coogan, Chris Morris and Armando lannucci) the fine line between real and surreal is now comedy central. Eddie lzzard, though. remains way out in from, finding rare hilarity in the common touch.
‘Hmm.’ he nods vigorously, still twitchy after 51 rounds of self-analysis with various press. ‘You start real and you twist at one point then you keep going down there and then people find that they’re watching someone on The Day Today saying “and he’s kept his head in an oven for five years. Why have you done this?” And it just sounds like a story you might have heard before. You keep hearing shit like this. My thing is with the cat drilling. Cats’ purring sounds like drilling. And they are actually drilling. behind the sofa. But ifyou look round. they pull all the gear off.
‘And it’s bullshit . . . but it could be true.’
And there, in essence, lies the magic of lzzard. U Eddie Izzard plays Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Fri 24 and Edinburgh Playhouse on Sun 26. Unrepeatable is out on Mon 13.