Eddie Izzard: In his own words

Highlights from his iTunes interview

Last week, Eddie Izzard was interviewed in the London Apple store by Simon Amstell, for later release on iTunes. Here are some of the highlights as Izzard speaks about his career, his transvestitism and his activism:

On his reputation for being rubbish when he first started stand-up

Everyone said I was really shit as a stand-up. I was fairly shit as a stand-up There were 18 months between my first and second gig. My first gig was at the Banana Cabaret; and the first gag was: ‘St Paul’s Letter To The Corinthians, Chapter 12, Verses 1 To 17: Dear Corinthians…’ which got a laugh, but the next five minutes was silence.

I probably was not that good. I was pretty good with an audience but I couldn’t write. I’d been through street performing and sketches. I do fuck up a lot before I get good.

On coming out as a transvestite

I spent six years trying to tell my dad – they said it would do him in. I did it after watching Crystal Palace. We ended up in Croydon and I said, “let’s get sausage, egg and chips”. We were in the back room of this café and I said to myself: “you’ve got to tell him before the sausage, egg and chips comes”. He was very groovy about it.

That was the Saturday and on the Monday I did a new material night at the Meccano club in Islington, and Chris Evans was in the audience. He happened to be sat in the audience when I did my first transvestite gig.

My line was ‘If you’re doing stand-up and you’re an ethnic minority, you can rail against the white folk. If you’re white and middle-class, you’ve got nothing. So thank God I’m a transvestite.’

On being atheist

I’ve always been off God because he was a bastard. I’m a spiritual atheist. I like sitting here, sitting laughing: men, women, all colours… I believe in people.

I don’t believe in a God upstairs. I’ve never seen him organise anything. He’s a very haphazard God. “Aah,” they say, “but God moves in mysterious ways.” That’s a cop-out. That’s spin.

[Eddie’s views led him to an uncomfortable run-in with an audience member at his recent West End run, who heckled him with: “But He allowed you to happen.” ]

I said, ‘No, He took my Mum at 41 and let Hitler live to be fiftysomething. He kinda murdered her.’ I took that show to absolute silence for a bout two minutes, which is an age in stage time.

I get righteous anger. There isn’t a bloke upstairs. We have community. Thatcher said there was no such thing. She was such a bitch. She should be shot out of a cannon.

When someone takes your mother at six, you get fucked off. Therapy? I never quite got there.

On the whole ‘Eddie Izzard doesn’t do TV’ thing

I was desperate to be on TV before I was 25. At 24-and-a-half I thought, ‘this isn’t happening’ so started working on the street and on my stand-up. There was an early stand-up show on TV that I got a part on and I was crap, so I thought, ‘I won’t go on telly’. But it turned into this religious, moral thing. I sort of went with it. I love TV. I educated myself on television. I just thought I’d resist a bit. It became a thing… it wasn’t meant to be a thing.

It makes telly people annoyed. They go, ‘Don’t you know who I am? I’m king of telly!’ But I hit a glass ceiling, so I started doing chat shows. I realised I could talk about the transvestite thing and that would give me a serious base.

On what he will, and won’t, talk about on stage

I don’t go round slagging off the people who run the companies I want to work for. I’m a hustler. I sold crayons at school, saying that there was going to be a nuclear winter and you’d need crayons to write, “Help!” I’m strategically practical. You don’t go round saying, ‘You’re all arseholes’ then asking for work.

People in my family and who I’ve had relationships will say, ‘I don’t want to be in your thing.’ And they will get judged if I talk about them. People are unduly fascinated by me being a transvestite. I met a woman once who was the daughter of a bishop. I had one coffee with her and it was: ‘Bishop’s Daughter And The Transvestite’.

It’s pushed me into talking about the whole history of the world, which people had left fallow – no one was really talking about it

On his favourite material

The bit I really like is in Circle when God sends Jesus down to the dinosaurs and they rip his head off. Logically, he would keep sending sons down. And drinking the blood and eating the body, that’s must be pagan; it’s so so vampiristic, so cannibalistic. Drinking someone’s blood is consuming their power.

Oh, and Death Star Canteen. Some American kid has done a Lego version of that routine that’s had six million hits on YouTube. It’s based on Darth Vader going to Leicester Forest East service station on the M1 in 1982.

On splitting his time between America and Europe

If you do work in Los Angeles and it’s good, it will go round the world. But London is the toughest audition in the world. I do a three-and-a-half-month tour of the US just to get ready for London. This is where, creatively, I was born.

On what he wants to do next

I’ve said I want to stand for something political in Europe or be active in that. I want to do a gig in German and in Russian. But politicians work so hard, and you have to be so immersed in that, that the career would drip away. So it would be either stop my career and stand, or be an activist, like Bono is.

I want to try to keep my stand-up match-fit and I want to do some really good drama. I want to fuck around with the medium [of stand-up]. I started a gig half an hour early in New York, started talking to people as they came in with their coats on. I want to write my own films, develop my own films and keep working on European politics.

And here’s the Lego version of Death Star Canteen:

Published: 3 Feb 2009

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