"Jesus Christ. If being a transvestite is a gimmick, then I seem to have spent my entire life acting out this gimmick and I seem to know way too much about it. I'm taking it far too seriously as a gimmick. I think gimmick is putting on a pair of big ears or something. And you do it once on a Sunday."
– Eddie Izzard
Guy MacPherson: Are you in Australia now?
Eddie Izzard: Yup, I'm in Adelaide.
GM: How long are you down there for?
EI: I'm in Australia for the rest of this week. I've been here about a month.
GM: And how's it going?
EI: Great. Yes, it's my first time here but it's been selling out. So very good. Just how I like it to happen, rather than to come in and have three people there, and next time, hey, you got ten people in. It gets a bit dispiriting constantly having to build everything up from ground zero.
GM: Well, you're a worldwide phenomenon, aren't you?
EI: Well, I'm doing a world tour, but when you look at the globe, it isn't actually the world. We seem to have missed Asia out.
GM: You'll have to pick up a few Asian languages.
EI: Yeah, I think I do.
GM: You've already got the French down, I hear.
EI: Yeah, the French is pretty good, but the French people... I still haven't broken Paris.
GM: We have a French-speaking province up here.
GM: Quebec. Yeah, you can play Montreal.
EI: Oh yes. I thought you meant in Vancouver.
GM: No, no, no.
EI: I thought, wow, how'd you get that? You crazy people.
GM: From what I've read, you change your act quite a bit as you go along.
EI: I just get bored of doing stuff. And I use my own boredom threshold to change material. But I can't rewrite it.
GM: Why's that?
EI: Em, I just don't have the ability.
GM: Do you take notes? Do you have a notebook with your ideas?
EI: I used to, but I've lost it.
GM: Maybe someone somewhere is doing your act.
EI: No, it's an electronic organizer type thing, so they hopefully can't get into it. But even so, it's only little headline notes. No one knows what it means except me.
GM: Has your boredom threshold been reached and will you be changing it by the time you get to Vancouver, or does a new country rejuvenate it?
EI: It changes every day. I just get bored every day. The majority of the show is the show I did the day before, so I improvise as much as I can in every show. We started the tour on October 16 last year – in the last millennium – and the show was entirely different to what it is now.
GM: And when does it end?
EI: It ends at the end of June, in New York.
GM: Have you figured it all out yet? The whole reason of being?
GM: You got it all sussed out.
EI: Yeah. It's all a gravy factory.
GM: We're all in a gravy factory?
EI: I don't know what it is. The meaning of life is to live it, though.
GM: Is there a moral to your tales?
EI: The moral is, Never stick your dick in a toaster.
GM: Ah! You learned that the hard way?
EI: Yeah, well I think it's one of those morals that should be in every American sitcom. They get so moralistic. It's bizarre. But Canadian sitcoms aren't so moralistic, are they?
GM: We don't have sitcoms.
GM: Yeah. Because we're so bad at them. We have sketch comedy, and we have dramas, but not sitcoms.
EI: That's right, you don't, do you?
GM: We did have The King of Kensington when I was a kid in the '70s. That was a big Canadian sitcom. You've probably never heard of it.
EI: No. I've heard of Kensington.
GM: This is the Kensington in Toronto. And it starred Al Waxman.
EI: God, you know, you're like the Irish.
GM: Why's that?
EI: The Irish don't have any sitcoms. Because they're right next to Britain and they watch all the British sitcoms and they couldn't persuade their own television company to make any sitcoms. The analogy's Canada, obviously physically a much bigger country, but you're right next to America and you get all their sitcoms so the CBC just won't make 'em.
GM: I wonder if New Zealand is the same with Australia right there.
EI: Could well be. They have one soap opera only, whereas Australia has a bunch more. And the difference in size is bizarre between New Zealand and Australia.
GM: You're not going to New Zealand, are you?
EI: Yeah, we've already been to Auckland and Wellington. It sold out there, as well.
GM: It's tough being right next to this giant country that invades our pop culture. And I guess it's the same for Ireland. We take what they'll give us and then create some other things.
EI: But Canada has been taking over a lot of the comedy in Hollywood.
GM: Maybe that's why we don't have sitcoms, because a lot of our comics go down to the States and make them down there.
EI: Yeah. And you do seem to have done very well in that area. Even better than the Americans.
GM: I don't know about that. Maybe per capita.
EI: Well, Mike Myers and Jim Carrey, if you add those two together... gross box office earning points, you know, dingle dangle. That's got to piss on a lot of American comics. I'm just trying to give you a sense of national pride.
GM: I feel a lot better now, actually, talking to you.
GM: How would you describe your standup? It's different from American-style, isn't it, the British standup?
EI: Em, even though I can't use this analogy, I will use this analogy, but I'm not trying to say it's me. You take the Beatles. The Beatles listened to a lot of American music, you know, R&B and stuff, and then came back with their stuff, which Americans said, Hey, this is our stuff. No, it's not our stuff. Oh, it is our stuff. No, it isn't our stuff. Yes, it is. And I think that's what's happened in Britain. We've all seen a lot of American comedy – a lot of North American comedy, I should say, a lot of Canadian comedy that comes out of America – and we said, Hey, we know this stuff. And then we got what we like to do. And so in North America it does look similar, but someone's grown up in a different continent.
GM: You bring your own sensibilities to it.
EI: Yeah. It's going to be quite a lot personal, and a certain amount because I'm European. But it's influenced heavily by North American stuff, that sort of post-Lenny Bruce, alternative comedy. But we've got the biggest comedy scene in the world in London.
EI: Yeah. We have 85, 90 clubs.
EI: And New York has five. L.A. has five. And Vancouver's got about two! We've got 90! It's insane. A lot of these are one night a week. They're not this big sort of full thing with the bar and the whatever. Probably because of our situation of having rooms above pubs, historically have been there forever, and they're quite often empty. But we've got a lot of real estate just lying empty. So it worked well for us. But it does exist and people do go to them.
GM: With that many clubs, and that many comics, I take it, are there a lot of hacks, as I guess there would be? Because you've got to fill the rooms.
EI: There is, but there's a number of good people as well. I mean, I don't actually sit on the circuit a lot. I mean, I will drop into a comedy store and see stuff. But it's like anything: the best stuff is good and the weaker stuff you think, hey yeah, I've seen this before.
GM: When I think of British comedy, I think of sketch comedy or comedic actors, like Monty Python. Is standup relatively new? I know people like Billy Connolly have done it for years.
EI: Well, Billy was out on his own, really. Standups been around, but it's kind of a mainstream thing. But we developed alternative comedy before anyone else. We actually set up a circuit in '79 at the end of punk. So since 1979 we've had an alternative comedy scene, which things like The Young Ones came out of, some of the people from Black Adder have come of. Absolutely Fabulous came out of. So that's been going since '79. That's been a sort of a post-Lenny Bruce influenced, alternative standup thing.
GM: Is that standup, though? Black Adder and Absolutely Fabulous, isn't that sketch?
EI: I'm saying the people from it came out of that scene. But as you say, there's no standup there that I've mentioned. And our television broadcasters have more of a downer on specific standups. Like, they don't want to put standup on television, whereas in America, they'll put the standup on television because it's cheap, then they'll take the standup and say, Why don't we develop you and make you a star. Jim, what do you wanna play? That kind of thing. But they just don't do that in Britain. Well, they've been slow at that. They watch what Americans are doing and sometimes screw it up.
GM: Is your standup different from other British standup?
EI: To an extent, because I just do so many gigs. And my personality's different and people get confused about me being transvestite and think that has something to do with the comedy. So that visually gets in the way. But I think I'm probably similar to a lot more of the Irish standups. In Dublin, they couldn't get a scene going because the average Irish person wouldn't want to go and watch them because everyone is so naturally has a good wit about them. So they go down to the pubs and everyone just tells stories, and the idea of paying someone to do it is a bit of
anathema. But they all came over to London. There was suddenly a massive exodus – or mass influx – of new, young Irish standups. And so there's a lot of good Irish stuff around. I'm probably more like Irish standup because I think there's something Celtic going on with me. I have red hair and freckles. That's what I think.
GM: Ed Byrne has been touring around here. He's been to Vancouver. I don't know if you've heard of him.
EI: Yeah, absolutely. He comes out and gets it about. He's probably the other person who's been pushing it as much as I have, a fellow who's just jumped across the Atlantic and gone for it.
GM: You think they eat you up over here because of the accent?
EI: No one's ever, ever said to me, Oh, I love your accent. No one has EVER said it. I expected it at least once or twice.
GM: I love your accent.
EI: Yeah, no one has ever said that to me.
GM: No, I'm just saying that to you.
EI: I know, but even you haven't said it to me because I deny that you said it to me.
GM: Are you a fan of comedy?
EI: Oh yeah. Big student.
GM: Who or what makes you laugh?
EI: Well, my infuences were Richard Pryor and Steve Martin's standup, and Billy Connolly's standup. And Monty Python. And the Goons, as well. Did you get the Goons in Canada?
GM: Yeah, my dad was a big Goons fan.
EI: Is he Canadian or Brit?
EI: Oh. That's good.
GM: And Billy Connolly's coming here a couple days after you.
EI: Oh really? Because Billy came over to sort of get North America. Is he well known in Canada?
GM: He plays a big theatre here once every few years.
EI: Right. Getting America was one of his things and it didn't seem to quite come off. Well it did, but I got kind of confused. When you're in Britain, you can't tell how someone is doing over there.
GM: It might be different in the States. Like, we got Monty Python before Americans did. So he might have made more inroads in Canada because of the British influence.
EI: Yeah, I think it was. Because for us, getting America was the key thing. That's why I've put a lot of time into that. I wanted to play Canada and Australia as well. In fact, it's interesting, but I am better known... I'm selling out quicker in America than I am in Canada. I'm doing Vancouver, Seattle, San Fransisco, L.A., and then New York. And they're all going to sell out because of this HBO Special. But Vancouver's going to be my tough one.... I played there twice before.
GM: Where did you play?
EI: The Comedy Festival down on the island. I played there twice. People came and they went, Ha ha. They laughed. And then they went away and there was no buzz. It was really quite odd. And people viewed it and said pretty good things, but it didn't build any momentum up. I was below the profile level. Sometimes if you're below a certain level it just doesn't ignite.
GM: But I think now with your success in the United States... I mean, we get all the shows. We've seen you on Politically Incorrect and the HBO Special.
EI: Did you get the HBO Special?
GM: I think occasionally the Comedy Special will pick up shows for HBO. I have seen it, yeah.
EI: Oh, right.
GM: Do you like any of the new comics?
EI: That new show, Kids in the Hall, that's quite nice. No, I like Kids in the Hall, but it's obviously not new and up-and-coming. It's a little difficult because I could mention people and you'd say, well, who are they?
GM: Do you like playing theatres better than the clubs?
EI: I don't really play the clubs anymore. There's a certain thing you get. You get a certain attention span and you know they're coming for you. It gives you a better clout situation. It's more tactical if you can play the bigger numbers, say playing a 2000-seater. But you simply can't play a 2000-seat club. So in my North American thing, I haven't played any-- well, I've popped in and played clubs.
GM: I'm just thinking about bands, where on the way up they'll play clubs and then they'll graduate to playing the big halls. And a lot of them actually prefer playing the small clubs, but they can't anymore because they're too big for it.
EI: I don't mind playing either. I can play small clubs and I can play big theatres. I did one arena and the night before I played a 200-seater. And you approach them in the same way.
GM: How much has being a transvestite helped your career? Everybody needs a hook. And you're the transvestite comic.
EI: Well, when I first came out... It's like, how much has being a lesbian helped Ellen DeGeneres' career?
GM: It probably hurt her career.
EI: Yeah. I think that's the analogy. If you ask anyone, they'll say, why don't you say you're a transvestite. Someone erroneously reported in America that I wasn't getting anywhere until I came out as a transvestite. I was already [Parry] nominated, I was selling out theatres across London when I told them I was transvestite, so that it didn't get too big before I launched it to the press. I had to sort of tactically bring it out so I didn't lose my career. Because as you know, even now, people in Hollywood will not say they're gay or lesbian even though they are for fear of losing their career. So the idea of saying, you're not even gay or lesbian, you're transgendered, which even now is still considered way on the fringe of alternative sexuality, the poor relation to gay and lesbian people... The idea that that could be positive is obviously insane.
GM: Transgendered? Is that what you are?
EI: Well, you know, it's [mumbled] for our conversation if you want the whole in-depth thing on it. But it's just weird. People just think it's just a gimmick or this gimmick works for you... Jesus Christ. If being a transvestite is a gimmick, then I seem to have spent my entire life acting out this gimmick and I seem to know way too much about it. I'm taking it far too seriously as a gimmick. I think gimmick is putting on a pair of big ears or something. And you do it once on a Sunday.
GM: Well, there aren't many/slash/any transvestite comics.
EI: I would like there to be a bunch. Yeah. How many lesbian actresses around when Marlene Deitrich started putting herself out as probably being a lesbian and putting the trousers on. People probably said, Oh, it's a gimmick. But she was just pushing that side of her sexuality. But it's a responsibility of creative people to break the barriers, because we're in a position where we can. And if it is your sexuality, it's your responsibility to get up and be truthful about it and stop lying, basically. So if I'm not lying, and people say, oh, it's a gimmick, I find it annoying.
GM: Do you talk about it on stage?
EI: I used to talk about it endlessly, but it's not really anything to do with the comedy. So if it pertains to a subject I'm talking about, I will. Would a heterosexual guy go on and talk about it? He might say, I was with my girlfriend. So therefore he's already implied he's heterosexual. So in that way we all talk through it and about it, but you don't actually have to put a big flag up and say it.
GM: It kind of speaks for itself.
EI: Yeah. That's sort of understood. But eventually I'm trying to express a feminine side of myself. If I happen to look rather blokey, [mumbled]. Imagine if you had to launch a positive image of being transvestite around the world. How would you go about doing it? It's quite a tricky thing to do and get it to land perfectly. But just the fact that my career hasn't gone down the toilet is a big plus, I think. Any comedian, any actor, even any artist, sculptor, whatever, to say, Hey, why don't you tell them you're transvestite? That's going to be the great career move. Just how many agents are putting that one forward at the moment as a gimmick? Probably zero.
GM: Well, it's probably hard to hide being a transvestite, as opposed to being gay or lesbian.
EI: It's very visually in your face. That's a bit of a problem. But if it was the great gimmick, then everyone would be doing it now, wouldn't they? Wouldn't everyone be saying, Yes, I'm a transvestite! There's a transexual MP now in New Zealand who I just met. So that's good. People in the transgendered community need to come out. They need to come out when they're in their teenage years and get it out there so it's boring. And then people will stop saying, what about this gimmick? Because it just pisses me off.
GM: I guess everyone asks you about it. Do you tire of it?
EI: I tire of the idea that it's a gimmick because I did this thing, it scared the shit out of me. And I get insults on the street and I get people asking me for autographs at the same time.
GM: You must expect it.
EI: Well, now I do because everyone bloody asks it. Can you imagine? Just put yourself in my place when I was coming out. I didn't even think it would work. It was about 40-60 that it would work. Everyone advised me not to do it. I could ask 6 billion people in the world whether they think I should come out as being a transvestite when I fancy women, and I should just continue to pretend that I'm not a transvestite and I'm just some straight bloke, everyone would have said no. 'No, don't come out. God, you'll just blow your career.' And then to come out and no one saying anything like, Hey, that's pretty good that you came out. But no one seems to mention that it was a scary thing to do. That's fine. But the first thing is like, Is it a gimmick? And I understand journalistically that you need to ask that, but it just comes over and over again.
GM: You say sometimes you'll go on without makeup, sometimes you'll go on with.
EI: Just like a woman. Ask any woman, What do you wear and how do you choose what you wear? I just decide what I want to wear. And some women will get up in the morning and go, Aah, I couldn't be bothered with makeup. Or some women never wear makeup. It's a complete cross section.
GM: Is it always women's clothes that you wear on stage?
EI: No! It could be bloke's clothes. I don't sex clothing, really. I think it's insane that they zip up a different way, they button up a different way. Who invented that? Some real weird pervert. These are going to button up the left way because it's a woman and right way because it's a man? It's insane! There's no logic to it.
GM: How tall are you?
EI: Um, 4-foot-3.
GM: Really. You seem much taller than that.
EI: I'm 5-foot-7. And a half.
GM: We'll stop talking about that. You talk about philosophy and history. Do you have more than just a passing interest or knowledge of them?
EI: I'm fascinated by them. I don't know why. I think it's a family interest. I think it's a genetically inherited thing. But I sort of want to read all the philosophers and read all of history and know it all. Having said that, I keep not reading about philosophers' theories. But I think I'm going to wade into it and just go, Oh God, I'm getting through this really slowly. I don't think they're going to be easy reads.
GM: You've got to get one of those Philosophy for Dummies books.
EI: Yeah, I think so. Yes, that's true. I should get one of those, shouldn't I? But I find them fascinating, and I do find the great, interesting thoughts, especially if they've been around a long time, I'm interested in them. And how people have thought these things and no one's acted on them, or whatever. It's like transvestite people and transgendered people and gay and lesbians, they've been around for centuries. But only now, only since the fifties, has it started loosening up. Why does it take so long?
GM: This must be your favourite period of history because had you lived in another time, it could be tough on you.
EI: Yeah. Absolutely. But then, I could have quite liked to live in 2100, when they got those cars from Bladerunner and zoom up in the air. That could be quite fun.
GM: What other interests do you have outside show business?
EI: Nothing, really.
GM: Just that's it.
EI: Yes. Just moping around, complaining about being a gimmick. I don't read. I watch television endlessly. Films and television.
GM: You've done film.
EI: I've done seven.
GM: Any coming up?
EI: One called Shadow of the Vampire. I think it's coming out in America round about now. I love films. I live for films. I've wanted to get into films since I was a kid. I've studied them backwards and forwards.
GM: Are you more an actor than a comedian?
EI: Um, no, I like to do both. I like to be greedy. I love them both, but they're different things.
GM: Why is it that you wouldn't want to do comedies in film?
EI: It's that if you do them really well, you get known as a comedy person. If you think of Jim Carrey or Robin Williams doing a straighter role, there's a reluctance from the audience to let them do that role. You get comedy baggage. People just want to see you in the comedy role. They don't want to see you do a serious role. So I'll stay out of doing comedy roles and just try and do serious roles.
GM: Establish yourself as a dramatic actor first, then you can do comedy.
EI: If you do that and then you do a comedy, people say, Hey, you do comedy as well! Because it may be thousands of people have seen me doing comedy, but millions of people haven't. Thousands have people maybe have seen the standup, but millions of people have seen nothing. To them, I'm just a blank sheet.