An Interview with Eddie Izzard
By James Rampton
Many comedians talk about undertaking a world tour, but no one has managed to pull it off anywhere near as convincingly as Eddie Izzard. With his globetrotting show, Force Majeure, the comic is bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘world tour’. He is visiting the four corners of the globe, performing everywhere from South Africa to Serbia, from New Zealand to Nepal, from India to Indonesia, from America to Australia – and all points in between.
Eddie has spent his whole life promoting the joys of international understanding. Now he is putting his philosophy into practice with an extraordinarily wide-ranging global tour that takes in a staggering 25 different countries. And he couldn’t be more delighted about the prospect.
Chatting to me on the eve of the tour, the brilliant stand-up says that, “The word ‘excited” is overused in Hollywood, but it really does apply in this case. I’m genuinely thrilled about this tour. This is the first time this has ever been done. If I can encourage other stand-ups to do a similar thing, that would be great. Also, I hope that it might help stand-up to take off in some of these different countries. All you need is a microphone. People might watch it and say ‘Hey, that looks fun. I’m going to try that’.
“The melting pot will save the world”
You’ve produced a show that will strike a chord with people from any and every nationality.
I’m an inclusionist. It’s good to reach out to people from different backgrounds. Once you do that, everything will change forever. When that starts, you can’t go back. We came from just 10,000 homo-sapiens, and now we are seven billion. But we’re all the same. Our genetics show that the far right idea of separating different races is ridiculous. Those parties are advocating inbreeding. There is strength in the blend. So if you have a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya, maybe you could become the two times president of the United States. The melting pot will save the world, not extreme nationalist political parties.
Why has your show chimed with audiences right around the globe?
It has struck a chord. I’ve been making my stuff universal for the past 15 years. I’m doing material about cats using guns, so people everywhere can think, ‘We have cats, and they could have guns’. I’m not going down the route of talking about very parochial. British subjects like Crystal Palace or Curly Whirlies or John Major or Swanage. I don’t do that. I keep the references universal. No part of the show is specific to any particular country. I play to progressive audiences across the world who are open to comedy. I’m talking about ideas that Austrians and Australians can get. It’s designed for everyone. Comedy is a global art form now.
“I’m only laying into fascists, and they deserve it!”
People talk about national senses of humour, but I don’t believe in that. Humour is either mainstream – who’s winning The X Factor – or it’s alternative, like Monty Python or The Simpsons. I’m playing to liberal, radical centrists who are the same all over the world. Similar people will come along in Paris, Berlin or London. The way I’m doing it is supra-national. It’s above nationality. My audiences will be tolerant, open-minded people who believe in people rather than an invisible God. It’s not nasty humour. I’m only laying into fascists, and they deserve it!
You must be helped by the ubiquity of the English language?
The international climate has changed a great deal over the last 20 years. Since the Berlin Wall came down, kids all over the world have been learning English furiously. It used to be an ‘invasionary’ language, but we backed off after the Second World War. Now everyone gets English because of Hollywood and rock ‘n’ roll. People everywhere see it as a neutral language of fun, entertainment and freedom.no politicians can affect that. I’m assuming an intelligence and a certain level of English amongst my audiences.
“I like to link ideas and emotions”
It’s cheeky, but it’s the only way I can do it. I apologise for not learning every language in the world, but I can’t. Having said that, I’m going to be doing gigs in German and Spanish by next year. We’re lucky that an awful lot of people want to learn English. We’re also lucky that London is the biggest comedy hub in the world. New York has 20 comedy clubs, but even in the middle of a recession, we have 80 clubs. People come together more crazily in the UK than anywhere else. The Beatles had Hamburg. We have London.
You’re very protective about your image, aren’t you?
I’m very careful about my brand. I don’t do any ads. I’ve tried to keep it rare, like Peter Grant who managed Led Zeppelin. He never allowed the band to be overexposed.
So do you view comedy as the new rock ‘n’ roll?
I don’t know that either rock ‘n’ roll or comedy have that much power to change the political situation in countries. But they both have the power to encourage dreams. Certain stand-ups can put forward ideas and can create a certain spirituality. I’m a spiritual atheist. I don’t believe in God, I believe in the world. I like to link ideas and emotions. It is better that we fight for each other rather than with each other. This tour will bring stand-up to a load of new places. No one has ever done this before. I hope it will make a difference. I think if you have a life, you should try to make a difference with it.