Eddie Izzard is a multi-hyphenate who stretches beyond the usual show-business shtick.
He's a transgender comedian who ran 27 marathons in as many days in South Africa for charity. He is an actor who advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, and he is now the author of Believe Me: A Memoir Of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens. When going over his long list of accomplishments, he says he generally gets the same reaction:
“People say, ‘I didn’t know you did that,’” he quips. “That’s kind of fun.”
Izzard is probably best known to American audiences for his award-winning 1999 comedy special Dress To Kill. So the performer reveled in the opportunity writing the book gave him to familiarize fans of his stream-of-consciousness comedy with his other perhaps lesser-known pursuits. The candid chronicle recalls the tragic loss of his mother at the age of 6, his rise from street performer to Wembley Stadium headliner, and how he came to recognize his sexuality as a gift.
To say Izzard’s recent discussion with New Times was the tip of the iceberg of a long and varied career is an understatement. In anticipation of his June 18 event at the Mesa Arts Center, we discussed his book, how his canceled-too-soon FX drama The Riches led him to work with Dame Judi Dench, and why lions and gazelles look so darn good.
New Times: Your mom looms large in the book. Is there a specific moment in your life you wish your mom had been there for?
Eddie Izzard: I don’t know. All I can say is all of it. It’s far too painful. In some ways, she’s been there for all of it.
When we got the film footage [for the documentary Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story], it felt like she suddenly came back. It was a fun thing to see her moving about. I had no memory of those things. I knew we had done them, but the memory wasn’t fresh. It was great to see.
I’ve run five marathons in as many years, but you did 27 marathons in as many days in South Africa. How do you train for something like that?
I don’t really train. I’ve now gotten around to doing a marathon a week. When the Olympics came to London in 2012, I met these people who were in the 100-plus marathon club. They said, “We do one a week.” That is my training now, one marathon a week.
I’ve noticed that all wild animals are fit. We are natural animals, but domesticated. I think we should be as fit as [the wild ones] are. That is what our bodies are going for. If you don’t push your body hard enough, it starts to fall apart.
In the book, you mention that in 2009, after you ran 43 marathons in 51 days around the United Kingdom, you didn’t lose weight because of your high-carb diet. People expect a marathon runner to be fit, but after every
When I did the marathons in South Africa, I lost a lot of weight because [I was eating] high-fat, low-carb. I did the inverse thing. Have you tried that one?
I have not.
That is the way forward. Go back to eating the way we did before we developed carbs. Carbs are a human invention and we are not supposed to eat them. It’s the Paleo diet. Look at wild animals. Lions, giraffes, gazelles, they all look fucking great.
I was listening to Dress To Kill the other day and I expected it to sound dated, but a lot of it still seemed relevant. Shouldn’t something have changed in two decades?
It’s interesting. Politics at the moment are like the 1930s. That’s pretty fucking scary. Maybe we have to go through this crap for the rest of eternity. You have to simplify politics and have an interested electorate behind you. Extreme is just simpler. Trump drops in and says, “I’m going to build a wall!” We had direct hate and now we have Trump hate. It’s kind of scary.
From the perspective of someone who is a citizen of the world, what do Trump and Great Britain have wrong about nationalism? What do you see that maybe they don’t?
It’s just short-sighted. We did this in the '30s. "If you hate these people, everything will be fine." It is one-stop politics. Build the wall and everything will be fine. Leave Europe and everything will be fine. It won’t be fine.
In 1973, Britain was not a fantastic place. That is why we joined the European Union. So now we’re saying, "Let’s go back to that." Why? What is the magical thing that is going to happen? People don’t want to spend time thinking about it. That is the problem.
Patriotism and being proud of your country is great, but saying your country is better than the others doesn’t work. We’ve seen Communists doing nationalism under Chairman Mao. Extremism just doesn’t work. It’s a short-term way to get yourself elected. That is the unfortunate thing, and it doesn’t work in the long run. Look at what Angela Merkel is doing. It looks like she is going to be elected for a fourth time by being strong and stable. She is being intelligent and wise. It’s a difficult, funny thing to run a country.
In the book, you tell a story of how you attended a transvestite/transsexual support group and someone referred to sexuality as a gift. I find that so refreshing because, in America anyway, growing up we often see it as a curse. How did you come to that viewpoint?
I was chatting with him and I thought, “Are you nuts?” I say in the book I thought it sounded so wrong. Some of these ideas in life you immediately disagree with and later you realize that maybe it is a thing, like the Paleo diet. Eating like a caveman sounds ridiculous, but that’s how we used to eat.
It stayed with me. I thought it’s a good idea and I should get it out there. To have that group a half a mile down from where I was living in the U.K., it was kind of crazy.
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I’ve always loved your film performances, but I am a huge fan of The Riches. It has your stamp all over it. How did you become involved with the show and how much say did you have in your character and the scripts?
I was the executive producer and there from the beginning. [Show creator] Dmitry Lipkin had already come up with the idea but I was in the writers' room. I asked the writers where they wanted to take the character because I wasn’t phenomenally experienced in dramatic series. I tried to impart that I am this relentless person in the character Wayne. I will continue to do things until I can get them to work. That was the biggest influence I had.
It was a wonderful opportunity and I thank [FX Network President] John Landgraf for letting me go and play because now it has me going toe to toe with Dame Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul, which comes out in September. I am playing her son and she is Queen Victoria. I didn't go to drama school. I was a street performer who was doing accounting. It’s my life’s journey to get to where I am.
Eddie Izzard is scheduled to appear on Sunday, June 18, at Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street. As of this writing, limited seating is available. Visit the Changing Hands website for tickets and details.