"I just ran 43 marathons. You're not supposed to be able to do that at 47. I do think that we put our own restrictions on ourselves. So I've decided to be 100 years old and be the peak of everything. I think as soon as you start thinking you're slowing down, you start slowing down."
– Eddie Izzard
Guy MacPherson: I spoke to you about ten years ago. You were in Australia at the time.
Eddie Izzard: Always good to be somewhere else. It looks like I'm busy, doesn't it?
GM: Where are you now?
GM: And where do you live?
EI: I live on planet Earth.
GM: Oh, me, too!
EI: Well, I've decided, you know, because I was born in Yemen... I mean, the truth is I'm backwards and forwards between bases in London and Los Angeles. But if I'm touring Canada, then I'm in Canada; if I'm doing press I'm in Toronto; if I'm playing South Africa, then I'm there; if I'm filming in Berlin, then I'm there, and so...
GM: You live in the moment.
EI: Yeah, I live on this planet. You know, once we've got colonies on Mars people will say, "Which do you prefer?" I'll say, "Well, Earth. This is the one I live on."
GM: Yeah, I'm a big fan of Earth, too. When I spoke to you last, you hadn't yet played Asia. Have you now?
EI: Um, I don't think I have, really. Now, Asia would include Arabic countries, wouldn't it? India is open so India is probably going to be my first Asian place. I have now played South Africa. So the African continent is going. And Asia, yeah, I have yet to do. I'd eventually like to learn Arabic from the country where I was born and do gigs in Arabic. That would be great.
GM: How many languages do you speak?
EI: A bit of German and French. My French is conversational; it's not quite fluent but it's pretty good. I can talk about politics and economics and helicopters and stuff, but get words wrong. And my German is more like getting tickets for things and cars to airports and taxis and beers. And I mean to learn Russian as well. It's good to have things to do so I know which way I'm going.
GM: You and I are the same age. You don't find your brain slowing down a bit? Isn't it harder to learn new things?
EI: No, I don't, actually. That's an interesting point. Is the brain supposed to slow down? I thought the body was supposed to slow down.
GM: I think we're supposed to be at our peak mentally for learning things in our early 20s and from then on it takes longer.
EI: I just ran 43 marathons. You're not supposed to be able to do that at 47. I do think that we put our own restrictions on ourselves. So I've decided to be, let's say, 100 years old and be the peak of everything. I think as soon as you start thinking you're slowing down, you start slowing down. I think there's a psychological thing to it, people who feel they're old... There are little kids at school who are already old and fuddy-duddy. I just think you've got to be on an adventure. I saw a guy who's 80 doing the Hawaiian Iron Man. And that's the way to live. One life, live it. Keep planning things. When you're 90 you should think now I've got to do this and that and the other. If you keep forging your way upwards, then I think everything will stay alert.
GM: I think I recently heard of a man who was 92 or 94 who just got his PhD in something.
EI: Excellent. That's the way to do it. They say Alzheimer's comes and you've got to do crossword puzzles and keep your brain active because otherwise it starts going. And I think there is something psychological, psychosomatic about it. If you keep having plans and things to do then you will keep active. In the siege of Leningrad, I heard you had to go out and do things every day in the freezing cold. If you didn't go out and do things, if you got into bed and tried to deal with it – the cold and the freezing and the hunger – you'd die. People died. People who stopped doing things died. People kept going out and kept going to the libraries, the orchestra kept playing. They had to do that to keep the sparks going.
GM: You've performed in French, haven't you?
GM: How do you prepare for a show in a language you're not totally fluent in? It's obviously a different kind of preparation.
EI: The thing is, I initially tried translating the whole show. So I got someone to translate the whole show and I got this book back, this massive tome of stuff, and I thought, "I'm not gonna learn that. I'm just not gonna do it." So I thought that's no good. I worked out the best way was to take whatever language you have, you need to get your language to a certain level – at least conversational – and then you just go through the show and pick out the key words that you need. There'll be some certain key nouns and verbs that you'll need to get translated. I'm talking about 'cavemen' or talking about the weather and 'thunderstorms' because you just don't use some of those words. Get the key words out there and then string your own abilities in that language through those. If you just do it for one gig it's not going to work. You really need to sit down and do weeks and weeks. Last time I did a lot, which actually was ten years ago, which is really annoying I haven't taken it further – I have been planning to – I got good in two weeks. I really accelerated my ability in French. So I need to sit down for two months, a minimum of two months, and I think I could make a dent in Paris.
GM: Your Wikipedia page now describes you as an English stand-up comedian, actor and long-distance runner. So that's now how you're defined. It's funny; you started as a street performer so now you're just getting back to your roots.
EI: Yeah, I'm just not performing. I'm running around it. But it was a great adventure.
"I remember when I was a kid running and it was just a nightmare. But when you're running on an adventure, a big sort of Lord of the Rings without any hawks, you really get at one with the landscape, with the road, with the towns, with some people asking you what you're doing or waving to people that know what you're doing, I never got bored."
– Eddie Izzard
GM: When you're out there running and you have all that time to yourself, do you come up with material? What's going through your head?
EI: No, it's interesting, people say this and then people say it's boring. I remember when I was a kid running and it was just a nightmare. But when you're running on an adventure, a big sort of Lord of the Rings without any hawks, you really get at one with the landscape, with the road, with the towns, with some people asking you what you're doing or waving to people that know what you're doing, I never got bored. And in fact, I really liked it when I was on my own. If you meet someone, that's great because they come running with you and you can talk with them and the miles do zip by. It takes your mind off things. But if not, if you got a good vista to look out at, if you got to a place where you'd look down over the countryside, I like that because of the thousands or millions of years the countryside's been developing. I ran past the place where the Battle of Naseby happened, which was this English civil war battle site. I was imagining Cromwell and roundheads clip-clopping up that street with the cavalry and cavaliers coming down the other way. I like history. I'm interested and fascinated and stuff so it all fed my imagination. It was like running through a documentary about the country that is mine, the United Kingdom.
GM: Was it filmed for documentary?
EI: It was. And it's raised 1.85 million pounds.
GM: So the documentary is out?
EI: Sorry, that documentary isn't. The Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, the documentary before that which sort of explains my determined idiot kind of ways, that one is out and is available in Canada and America. That explains my determination.
GM: Did those thoughts of the battle make its way into your act?
EI: No. No, not really. I didn't run to get material.
GM: No, but I'm just wondering about the way your mind works. You're out there for so long and you might think of a funny thing or two and do a note-to-self kind of thing.
EI: You know it could at some point but no, there's nothing particularly about the run that has got into my material. I like talking about the world and how it fits together. I think at some point it will come up as a diagonal. It will feed into the thing as a diagonal, the fact of how I discovered how people were and what they were like and how they behaved and how people are all the same in a good way. That I think will come out of it. But I haven't noticed anything in particular that's jumped into the material.
GM: Were you reflective, looking at your life or was it more just looking at what was around you?
EI: No. More looking at the things around me. Sometimes looking back. I ran to two houses where I used to live so there was some reflection in that, going back to places where my mum had lived and died. It's like journeying through your past. It just felt like running through a film in a way. I was sort of cloaking myself in a film. I do like documentaries. There's one that plays in Britain called Coast where they go around the coast and you get these huge helicopter shots of waves and things and cliffs. And I love watching those.
GM: As I said, we're the same age. I take my son for a walk for 90 minutes and my hips hurt. I can't imagine doing that many marathons, let alone one.
EI: I think the thing on the pain of exercising is that you need to go through a barrier. Like, the first two weeks were pretty hellish and after that it got easier and easier. So I think if you go for an occasional thing, your body will go, 'Oh, this is an occasional thing! I can't do this!' But in fact your body is atrophying slowly and I think you actually have to do more going for walks and walks and walks and then the body won't complain so much because you'll get used to it. Or you'll get used to that little pain threshold or whatever it is. I think unless you want the last thirty years of your life to really just be sitting in a chair, you really have to think of being fit at 90.
GM: I hear you're training for a triathlon.
EI: No. I mean, I probably will do an Iron Man at some point but I'm just going to do more running and swimming. Running and swimming are the particular things that interest me.
GM: So you have been active since then. You didn't just shut down and not do a thing.
EI: No. I'll likely just run a marathon. I find that an interesting facility I now have where I can just go, 'Oh, I'll just run a marathon now.' And it's kind of against the rules because you should be training and eating something or other or whatever it is, but I've done a few of those and they're a little bit tough but I've done them so I quite like it. I just go, 'Oh, I'm going to go run a marathon.'
GM: Just for fun.
EI: Yeah. Well, to keep it... It's a long way, 26.2 miles, 42 kilometres. But you can look back. Like in Belfast, it was one time I could look back as I went up the final hill coming out of the western side of Belfast in Northern Ireland, and I could look back and I could see where I came from. I thought, 'Wow, that's miles!' Of course it's miles but you never really see it. You can see the 26 miles and I just thought that is staggering. But it's great. You feel like an athlete. You feel a different relationship with the land.
GM: Maybe I should get out and be more active. You're inspiring me.
EI: I think you should.
"Extremists are people I hate, but that's about it. But there's a good 90 percent of the world's population I think I could get on with, have a good chat with. Or 95 percent probably."
– Eddie Izzard
GM: I interviewed Brian Regan a few weeks ago. You know him?
EI: I don't know if I do know Brian Regan.
GM: He's an American comic who does theatres throughout North America. Hasn't done Britain. Anyway, he was saying that when he reads more than three articles on him where they describe him a certain way, he purposely starts losing that and going into something else because he doesn't want to be the guy that always does... whatever it is they say about him. In a lot of the articles about you, they talk about your verbal trademarks and your train of thought. Does it ever become self-conscious since now you know that's what people expect from you?
EI: There are certain things I like. It is an interesting point. Like, if they say, 'He ad libs a lot,' that's fine because I like that. They used to say, 'Oh, your material's quite soft or gentle' and I didn't like those adjectives. And I knew what they meant. And people were trying to say it positively and the fact that I don't say, 'Oh, this person on the television, what are they doing? What fucking haircut have they got? Why are they going out with so-and-so?' Some people do all that kind of stand-up and I can't. That's just not my cup of tea. So I won't go on personality attacks. But I realize I should constantly choose heavier and heavier subjects to go into. I don't hate... I mean, I hate Nazis. Extremists are people I hate, but that's about it. But there's a good 90 percent of the world's population I think I could get on with, have a good chat with. Or 95 percent probably. So I've decided I don't think God exists. I was an agnostic. I think a lot of people are agnostics but they don't go to atheist just in case God does turn up and go, 'It was me all the time and now you can't come.' So I've decided, no, I'm fed up with this. I don't think there's anyone there. So I thought let's talk about it, let's look at it. I'm very interested in analyzing the truth about these wise men and wise women – more wise men unfortunately – down the ages who have been, like a Mohammed, like a Jesus, whose real name was Yeshua. These people, what did they do? They came along and said, 'Hey, let's adjust this religion that exists at the moment and let's update it.' And they were modernizers and they looked for better ways of doing things. And I find that fascinating. And the fact that we worship so many gods. And if there was one god, why the hell haven't they said, 'Can you stop worshipping all these different gods?' Even now, we've still got tons of gods. I think the Hindu faith has 200,000 gods. Just a truckload of gods. And if there's one real one, it should come down and just sort it all out. I'm happy for there to be a god but I've just decided there isn't. So that's like a heavier subject to go into. And that's what I should do. I should talk about that, about human politics, about where the world has come from. That's what I do. So I do adjust slightly from what people say. But hopefully just to try to up my game and make it better.
GM: I haven't heard this new chunk of yours about religion, but knowing your act from before I can imagine it's okay for those who do believe in God because you're probably coming at it from a personal perspective and logical perspective, you're not shoving anything down anyone's throat, going 'You idiots!'
EI: I'm sure some religious people will walk off and back off a bit, but the way I say it is I'm a spiritual atheist; I don't believe in God but I do believe in us. I believe in human beings. On a spiritual basis, I think we do get a connection. Is it a mystical connection? I'm not sure. God moves in mysterious ways and all that. I don't agree with that. I think that's a line that comes out to show that, you know, shit happens and why would a God allow an earthquake to happen to Haiti, who've had such a hell of a time. That must be random. I think random is out there and religions do not allow random to exist. They think it's all part of some sort of pattern. And that's what I disagree with. But I think a lot of religious people care about people. They're trying to help, they're trying to do some good charity work. Charity is built into all the major good religions. And that's a great thing. But if you radically, fundamentally what I consider misread these religions, then you start killing people because they're not agreeing in the faith and they're not worshipping the faith. They're infidels. And that has been done in the name of Judaism, in the name of Christianity, in the name of Islam. All of these misreadings. But a lot of people who stood up against Hitler were religious. Unfortunately not the pope.
GM: This is part of the show you'll be bringing to Vancouver?
EI: Yeah. It's God and Darwin and the Romans and Greeks, ancient Egyptians, and Moses and giraffes and tigers and everything in between.
GM: I know you're a big history buff. Do you have a favourite historical period or one where you go, 'I'd like to have lived then'?
EI: No, I don't, actually. I'd like to have lived now. I think if I go back, like if you took the Tudor period, you'd want to be a king or something because everything else seems pretty shit. There's no particular... I'd like to have had a chat with a few people.
EI: Well, Richard the Lionheart. I don't think he's that interesting, actually, but he's a big hit in Britain, even if people didn't know it. Maybe just the name. He was a Beckham at his height of scoring goals and that kind of thing. He spoke very little English, he was hardly in Britain at all, and he sucked all the money out of the country to go and fight wars. He loved that. And we didn't care because he was bringing back 2-1 victories and stuff. So that was the gig with him. But I still find him curious just because I'm a military historian, I suppose.
GM: Do you have a favourite philosopher? I know that's an interest, too.
EI: Well, I am remiss in all the philosophers. I keep getting these audio books and things, Philosophy 101, you know, catch up on all of them, and I don't. I know their names because I learned the Python song but I don't know what they all really believed and when I get into it; sometimes it gets really turgid. So, again, I'd be happy to chat with them but if they got really long and boring I'd be like, 'I'm not listening to this.' And those people who talked about whether a thing is or is not, all that sort of how many angels can you get on the head of a pin, that stuff I hate. Practical philosophy is what I like. Do unto others as you'd have others do unto you. That's the one line I found that's in the Bible, it's the Golden Rule, and it's all you need. I've worked it out. I say this in the show: That's all you need for anyone to live a life. If we all did it, end of story, we'd all be fine.
GM: That even pre-dates the Bible. I think Plato and Socrates talked about it.
EI: Yeah, it could well be. It's just so bloody simple. I think generally most people do try and do that but you get pissed off and accidents happen or someone gets a grudge. And when it gets worse and worse... Like, if you take the Balkans war where somebody killed someone, and 'You killed someone so now I'm gonna go kill someone else' and it all escalates and escalates. Those killings escalate. But the do unto others as you would have others do unto you, the peaceful part of that is just great. It really works. And you don't need to go into a building, you don't need to make sacrificial offerings. Just treat people all right.
GM: You said you could get along with 90 or 95 percent of the population. And I know you do engage with hecklers. Does that become a problem for you because fans just want to have their chance to have you talk to them during a performance?
EI: Not really. As the rooms get bigger, you get less and less hecklers. Like in Madison Square Gardens I was standing up in front of 14,000 people and trying to heckle you in an aircraft hangar, they're never going to make it. I've got this massive PA system and they haven't. So I don't really get much heckling. If they did, I would beat them because I've had too much experience with hecklers. So hecklers don't really bother me.
GM: Even if they are trying to be supportive by shouting out, 'We love you, Eddie!'
EI: If they do, I just say, 'Well, I love me, too.'
GM: And it's usually just at a pause before a punchline. People can't stand a pause so they feel they have to fill it.
EI: They tend not to do that with me because I think that I've just done too many gigs. But I do know what you mean. But I don't tend to get that much. And if I did I'd say, 'For God's sake, just...' In Canada, unfortunately, I'm not yet playing arenas.
GM: I think you could.
EI: You see, I've only played Vancouver and Toronto and Montreal so I need to pick it up in all the other cities and get this all going. Next time I'll be back with a world tour.
GM: I know you don't do much stand-up on TV because you don't want to waste it. Are cellphone cameras the bane of your existence? People posting clips of you on-line?
EI: No, it doesn't really bother me. If the quality gets really good then that would be a bother, but no, I'm not that bothered. I don't want them to do it but I'm not going to chase my tail over it.
GM: To develop a new show, you can't just go on the road, can you? Do you go into smaller rooms?
EI: I tend to go into a theatre. I did the Union Square Theater in New York for a month. I just played 11 o'clock shows for four weeks and turned the material over that way.
GM: Do you go out of your way to stay on top of pop culture or do you just not care anymore?
EI: I think you do have to make an effort to do that. There's certain things that I didn't want to be in touch with before, like Dancing with the Stars, or who's doing that, I would keep vaguely in touch with that. But yeah, you can get totally disconnected and I don't want to do that so I do have to make more of an effort. But you try and make it stuff that you want to do: who's up and coming, who's doing interesting stuff. And the great thing about running is that youngsters are really into it so I'm interacting in a whole younger group.