Eddie Izzard

Eddie Izzard

Date of birth: 07-02-1962
Born in Yemen, Eddie Izzard moved to Northern Ireland when he was about two, then to south Wales in 1967. His mother died of cancer in March 1968, when he was six, and he has frequently cited her early death as a reason for going into stand-up.

He began as a street performer in the Eighties, having been being kicked off his accountancy course at Sheffield University, and then moved into the stand-up circuit. His first appearance at The Comedy Store was in 1987.

He was nominated for the Perrier in 1991, the same year he won a Time Out Comedy Award, and in 1993, he was named top stand-up at the British Comedy Award for Live At The Ambassadors – which was also nominated for an Oliver theatre award. He scooped the same British Comedy Award three years later for his second show, Definite Article.

He followed that up with the shows Glorious and Dress To Kill, which was to prove his breakthrough in America. First performed in 1997, it aired on HBO two years later, winning him two Emmy Awards for performance and writing. In 2000, he cemented his reputation in the US by touring the country with the show Circle.

In 2001, he hosted the Amnesy Benefit We Know Where You Live! at Wembley Arena, and in 2003 embarked on a world tour of a new show, Sexie. His latest show, Stripped, began with a 34-city American tour in 2008, before transferring to the West End for a five-week run, ahead of its tour of the UK in late 2009.

Early in his career, Izzard took a famously offhand approach to television, turning down most appearances. Although in 1997, he wrote the sitcom Cows for Channel 4, about a family of bovines, played by humans in prostethics. But the surreal show was critically panned.

Alongside his comedy, Izzard has developed a straight acting career, that has spanned TV, film and stage.

In 1994, Izzard made his West End drama debut as the lead in David Mamet's The Cryptogram, which was followed by starring roles in David Beaird's black comedy 900 Oneonta and Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. Izzard portrayed Lenny Bruce in the 1999 revival of Julian Barry's biographical play Lenny, and two years later he starred in another West End revival, A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg – a role he reprised on Broadway in 2003, earning him a Tony Award nomination.

He made his film debut in 1996, when he appeared in both the Damien Hirst short film Hanging Around and a movie adaptation of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent. Other early notable movie appearances include Velvet Goldmine, The Avengers, Mystery Men, All The Queen's Men, and The Cat's Meow, n which he played Charlie Chaplin. In 2003 he starred on TV as testosterone-fuelled Ralph in the three-part Channel 4 drama 40.

His stock as an actor rose further with an appearance in the blockbuster squel Ocean's Twelve in 2004; and in 2006, he landed his biggest American break, co-starring with Minnie Driver in the FX drama series the Riches, about a family of con artists trying to go straight after assuming the identity of a suburban couple, which ran until 2008.

Further major roles include Ocean's Thirteen in 2007, and his starring role opposite Tom Cruise in the 2008 wartime action film Valkyrie.

Izzard is also passionate about issues including history, European integration and the environment. In 2003 he fronted the Discovery Channel documentary series Mongrel Nation. aboutEnglish identity, has long spoken about becoming more active in European politics, and appeared in a 2005 party political broadcast for the Labour Party, to which he has donated more than £10,000.

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Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure Reloaded

Review by Steve Bennett

Travel broadens the mind, so they say, but Eddie Izzard’s centuries-spanning breadth of subject matter was already impressive, even before speeding his Force Majeure tour through 28 countries.

Now landing back in Britain for a West End run, the Reloaded version has picked up a few extra elements following its multilingual tour. A segment describing Martin Luther struggling to nail his treatise to the cathedral door now has some German-language surrealism, while the French have given him a double-pun about dolphins and a new favourite swear word, as he revels in the versatile potency of ‘putain’.

There have been other nips and tucks, too; although the flip-side of such a long tour is that some of his trademark digressions can seem a little over-practised, indulgent even. But still, applying his sharp, tangential mind to the epic scope of historic material yields rewarding, playful images galore.

His sprawling, sprightly skip through British and European history envisages Charles I with a dog on his head, Bad King John not reading the small print of the Magna Carta and invading Romans trying to give aqueducts the hard sell. Much of this is positively Pythonesque – his recreation of the murder of Julius Caesar especially –  and that’s a compliment, as this avowed long-term fan of the Flying Circus troupe pays homage, while creating some new classic material.

There’s something of an agenda here, with side-swipes at right-wingers and the absurdity of religion from human sacrifice, via Greek and Roman multi-theism to modern-day God’s attitude to disasters, ‘laissez fire to say the least’. Linguistics is another theme he’s passionate about, enjoying both the simplicity and quirks of the English language – as if that wasn’t apparent from his every vivid description – and now seeing it as a sort of ‘open source software’ we’ve handed over to the world.

Izzard says he wants to learn from humanity’s mistakes, but the politics is generally an aside. He might be angling for a London mayorship or Commons seat in the future, but emulating an ancient Roman chicken clucking out his expertise in military strategy is not a traditional election pitch. Like any good politico, though, he flatters his audience as fellow broad-minded liberals and autodidacts – and there aren’t many arena-capable comics who drop terms like that into their routines.

If history repeats itself, so too can a comedian, and here he reprises the Death Star canteen, itself ‘reloaded’ as showdown between God and Vader.

While much is made of Izzard’s florid, surreal language, we shouldn’t underestimate the physicality he brings to his flight-of-fantasy sketches. That reaches a peak in his reinterpretation of dressage; so while he’s certainly not the only comedian to have been inspired by the inherent oddness of the sport (especially given this would have been written around the time of the 2012 Olympics), his miming is what wrings out the laughs. It’s a section that outstays its welcome, though, and not the only one as Izzard over-plays his hand of deliberately over-extending routines.

The second half, in which this appears, is generally a different kettle of fish from the historical first section. After some diversion about what it takes to be a ghost, Izzard takes a rare turn into the autobiographical, describing with sarcasm the reaction to him coming out as a transvestite, and describing his furtive shoplifting raids on the make-up aisles of his local supermarket to indulge his urgings.

He talks, too, about his obsession with the SAS – his self-proclaimed ‘action transvestite’ tag clearly has deep roots – and even reveals his stepmother was a wartime Morse Code operator for the service. It’s an endearing side to Izzard not seen in his stand-up before… though doesn’t Special Forces Stepmom sound like the next straight-to-streaming Adam Sandler flick?

After an amusing fantasy about moles striking gold, Izzard delves into a long Lord Of The Rings parody, for which you probably have to be something of a Tolkein fan to appreciate (I’m not). This epic, complex callback forms his finale, but it seems over-engineered, even a little self-satisfied; without the driving purpose of his better stuff. It doesn’t really feel like a climax to on which to leave, but that he does, a slight anticlimax after two hours - plus interval – of off-the-wall invention.

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Published: 22 Jan 2016

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