Who is Eddie Izzard? Renaissance man. Decorated thespian. Male lesbian. Ideologist. Above all, it is worth noting that there is a beautiful mind underneath the MAC makeup and stiletto heels that distinguish him from his contemporaries.
Comparisons to his American corollary, Robin Williams, and the small fraternity of clown princes practicing a new strain of Commedia dell’Arte will be inevitable. But it is not stand-up comedy that Izzard engages in. Rather, he ruminates on a collection of notions that tumble and pirouette into absurdity but remain tangible enough for people to relate to and, well, laugh. On end.
In a recent Hatchet interview with Izzard, it became apparent that he isn’t a comic at all, at least not in the traditional sense. The satirist he most evokes – in tone, that is – is Mark Twain. Like Twain, Izzard creates an entire universe for his audience, assuming the colloquial and physical vocabularies of roughly a jillion characters, historical and fantastical. As outlandish as some of his inventions may be (a monkey with a gun, the Neanderthal book-of-the-month club) what grounds them is a glint of unerring relevance that lets each reference weigh and hang – over the heads of some – rather than dissolve into the ether-like, run-of-the-mill jokes.
Izzard voices introspection with an extroverted accent, stimulating a more jubilant tenor of humor instead of the sarcasm that most comedians use to poke fun at headlines and induce the easy guttural snigger. He doesn’t speak badly of people, because he doesn’t “really hate at all,” he said.
“There’s already so much hate right now, which comes from not understanding and from fear of so much in the world” Izzard continued. “I take a softer approach to comedy. Mine is an overview of the universe as a whole, really. You know, it’s easy to just say ‘What’s the deal about this guy, or what’s that all about?'”
In his New York Times review of Izzard’s current show, “Sexie,” Ben Brantley wrote that the subjects addressed during the course of the evening are a “melting chain of logic,” which is almost right.
The truth is, Izzard is the link – between rationale and fantasy, between fact and fiction, between comedy and philosophy – and his audience can only hope to hook onto his deliriously cogent stream of consciousness. In conversation, he bridges the gap between men’s nipples and the discovery that the earth was spherical with dexterity and unimpeachable diction. Izzard is a Renaissance Man of his epoch, and his medium is our planet.
“I’m looking for answers in this world,” he said. “That’s the gift of being a transvestite. You’re more open. I think of (men and women) as being human templates. We’re units who are separated by how we’re raised in our society, what behavior is suggested for us. But then, separation keeps the species going.”
Everything is a learning experience, and for Izzard, the trick is recognizing it.
“Michael Moore just spoke about teen shootings. I just can’t, I don’t understand it,” he said. “We’re not learning from history. That’s the problem. We keep repeating our mistakes. During this millennium, I think we’re either going to improve the world or just end it. But I’m an optimist. I think we’re going to make it better.”
What about the machine from the future running the fifth-largest economy in the world? Does Izzard think Arnold Schwarzenegger will blow up California?
“I think he is going to be more effective than you’d think. He’s a smart man, first off, and a real American success story. He wasn’t thrust into office. I think he’s been planning on (entering politics) for a while now. I don’t believe it will be a Jesse Ventura thing, who just sort of shouted at people,” Izzard said, adding, “I don’t expect he’ll pull some rabbits out of a hat, but he may get something done.”
Izzard is a self-proclaimed history junkie, so the tantalizing question to pose is who he would like to have lived as. The Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra seems a reasonable assumption, but that would be wrong.
“The person I’d most like to be is myself, because I can make my own history. I take my own course.”
Well, that shut me right up. Izzard made it clear that going for the easy laugh is not in his constitution.
As long as Izzard keeps blazing on – earning a Tony nomination for his stage work, starring in films opposite Kirsten Dunst and John Malkovich, winning a shelf-full of Emmys – there’s no telling where the trail will lead. Wherever it may be, the paths of enlightenment and hilarity will have merged. To get there, just follow the stiletto footprints.
This article appeared in the October 30, 2003 issue of the Hatchet.