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Eddie Izzard
Eddie Izzard
Photo by Amanda Searle

Eddie Izzard Gets Political: "We Make It Work for Everyone, or... Goodbye Humanity"

Eddie Izzard's diverse career undoubtedly justifies writing a memoir. His work has run the gamut from standup to politics to marathon running and beyond, and his autobiography, Believe Me, is tasked with detailing it all. Of course, Izzard wouldn't be one of the globe's best-loved comedians if he couldn't address a wide range of experiences. His standup often incorporates cultural commentary, historical facts, and absurd non sequiturs — sometimes all within the same breath.

Izzard has always had an affinity for history, or at least the interesting parts. "Writing essays on history bored the pants off me," he admits. "I liked learning bits of history and the tangents that related to each and how things led into each other. I'm interested in the study of humanity."

Asked how he stores all of those tidbits, Izzard posits, "I have a huge mental map, maybe from being atypically dyslexic. I don't know if it's because I keep using it or if it's always been there." Indeed, he can't refrain from making insightful remarks, even in the course of conversation. "Why do we get democracy with the Greeks, and for 500 years with the Romans, and then it just went away until the Enlightenment?" he asks, as though pondering such things midafternoon is standard practice.

Izzard's knowledge of the past informs his outlook on the future. "I think this is the key century where we make it work for everyone, or... goodbye humanity," he remarks offhand. His fame has brought him into the political sphere — for the Labour Party, a decidedly proletarian cause. "I always thought if I didn't go into creativity, I'd go into politics, although that sounds weird," he muses. "I want to bring the energy that I've brought to other facets of my life into politics."

If that energy can transform government the way it has transformed comedy, there might be hope for the world yet. Izzard's humanistic ambitions began early. "Comedy itself is not a builder," he says, "but I started a street performers' union when I was 24." Asked if there's an underlying message to his work, he denies it. "No overt message. One life, live it positively, live it well. I want everyone to have as decent a life as they can," he says.

"Hatred is always a central plank for the simplistic politician," Izzard expresses remorsefully. "It's just such an easy, and unfortunately effective, tool." He's experienced plenty of hatred firsthand: a transgender pioneer, he's been dressing in traditionally feminine clothes on and off the stage since his early days. "When I came out as transgender in '85, that wasn't on the list of things you do. Career-wise, I was told that was a bad move," he reflects. "I call it boy-mode and girl-mode as opposed to man- and woman-mode because that sounds very heavy. I think about it almost like a superhero thing."

Eddie Izzard Gets Political: "We Make It Work for Everyone, or... Goodbye Humanity"EXPAND
Photo by Andy Hollingworth

Now, in the midst of a cultural shift toward self-determination of gender, Izzard says he's pleased to see progress. "Language is very important. 'Self-identifying' was a very handy phrase, or 'gender-fluid' or 'nonbinary,' phrases for things I'd been giving my own articulation to for years." As for his own pronouns: "Depending on what mode I'm in, I'll prefer male or female pronouns, but it's complicated for people and best not to get pent up about," he says. He's optimistic about evolving views of gender and sexuality. "People like Trump try to roll things back, but I think we just keep going forward. It's way more positive now than I ever thought it could be," he notes. "Whether people want to or not, these discussions will be engaged in."

Deciding what to wear has always been a tricky business, though. "I struggle with fashion," Izzard cedes. "Girls appropriated boots and jackets and things from boys, and I've kind of re-appropriated from them because they work on me." He does recall having an affinity for one designer in particular. "Jean-Paul Gaultier always had the girl-boy thing mixed together really well." Buying women's clothes used to be more of an ordeal. "I'd have to get up a lot of guts to go into changing rooms — in the old days, women's changing rooms were communal," he recalls. "Nowadays they're all cubicles, and also my gender is much more up and out there." Even so, Izzard would prefer you don't call him a fashion icon. "Fashion is not my strong suit," he maintains. "My strong suit is military strategy."

In recent years, Izzard has also taken to marathon running. In 2009, he completed 43 marathons in 51 days. "I'm not fast, but I go on and on. I call myself an endurian," he muses. "We should be moving as much as we did when we were kids," he observes, noting the slide into sedentary life many adults experience. Is there a secret warmup that inspires such seemingly endless energy? "I try not to stretch at all. Tigers do their stretching when they're creeping through the underbrush before jumping on a gazelle, so I should be doing creepy stuff like that," he observes deviously. "Wild animals never pull a muscle, you know."

His memoir offers only choice selections from his boundlessly varied experience. "Anyone who does a biography of your life, be it book or film, you have to take slices of it," Izzard notes. "For Churchill, for instance, it was always 1940; that was the focal year," he quips. "I wanted to be in the Special Forces as a kid, so I think I've done Civilian Special Forces. I've done a few things which are hopefully interesting to positive people. [I'm] telling anyone with a brain: 'You can live your life this way; there isn't a standard way to do it.'" He considers his own act, which now includes performing in four languages: "That's not on any advice list for what you do next as a performer." He hopes readers can use his own example as inspiration to be themselves even when it's difficult. "It's about how I dealt with my fear level becoming a ten on the scale every time I went out in a dress," he recalls, "how to control that, or at least not have panic attacks."

As for his still-emerging passions and pursuits to be appended to the list, Izzard is pushing out in new directions, as is typical for him. Performance came first, and he has an extensive filmography, but lately his sights have shifted to being behind the scenes. He's co-writing a new period piece, Six Minutes to Midnight. "I broke into Pinewood Studios, in Buckinghamshire, when I was 15 because I wanted to make movies," he recounts joyfully. "Forty years later, I'm making my first film."

That might not be the usual way things are done, but for Izzard, it's only natural.

Eddie Izzard. 8 p.m. Friday, October 12, at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $35 to $75 via arshtcenter.org.

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