Published Nov 12, 2013"I'm doing, I believe, the most extensive world tour of comedy ever," British comedian/actor Eddie Izzard says. "I'm playing about 27 countries including Kathmandu. I just played Moscow and Belgrade, Vienna and Istanbul, I'm doing all 50 states in America. So Canada's got to be on there because I'm going into politics in six years, so I've got to play everywhere first and then I won't be playing anywhere for a while."
Izzard is renowned for his surreal stand-up and theatrical flair in film (Shadow of the Vampire, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) and television roles (Hannibal, The Riches). His worldwide Force Majeure tour brings him to big and small cities across Canada throughout November and December. "I'm ambitious, I like getting the message out," he says. "Canada, you've got a big ol' country, so it's just good to get out there."
What are you up to?
I've just done a whole European tour and am coming into Canada, I think from the ninth of November for a month, going all across Canada. I'm in the Hannibal TV series as well, which films in Toronto in the fair country of Canada. It's doing rather well at the moment. I think I'm the only English speaker doing this; I'm touring France in French and doing German in January. Get to Berlin in January and you'll see me doing the show I'm touring Canada but in German.
What are your current fixations?
It's actually languages. I am going to Rosetta Stone and getting my German back up to speed. I did two years when I was 14, 15 and now I'm going to be doing the whole show in German for two months in Berlin. So that is really my big fixation. German and French first, then it'll be Spanish after that and then Russian. That's what I'm into. By the end of February, I predict I'll be good to good-ish.
Why do you live where you do?
Well you see I live on the planet. I've actually put it on my twitter — I've just put Earth. So, when we've got colonies on Mars and they say "Where do you live?" and I'll go, "Well, Earth really." That's why I live on this planet, because it's the only one we've got going.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art.
Blade Runner. I love it. I watched it as a kid endlessly. I'm happy with the original with the Harrison Ford voiceover, but I watched it about ten times for one pound each at the cinema in Sheffield when I was at university and did a whole study on it. Now I have the DVD with iTunes extras thing and I just love it. I even recite lines from it. The whole Rutger Hauer one: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion." I've recited that in the middle of a show.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
Hollywood Bowl in, I think, July 2011. I was the first stand-up to play a whole solo show there, so I liked that. It was amazing because you can get these big things and then it's not a good gig. But it was a beautiful gig, a beautiful night. I got down there early, from around noon, and it was just unbelievable. The Greeks, when they designed their amphitheatres, got it right. Hollywood Bowl is not quite a perfect amphitheatre shape but it is pretty much and it just plays beautifully. Monty Python played there in the early '80s and they're my big heroes and I played there and I just thought that was fantastic.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Well, that was one of them, but the other one was playing Paris, the Olympia Theatre, which is a 2,000 seater where Edit Piaf played, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and I played it in March and sold it out. I did it all in French, and it was really difficult to sell out. I jumped from this 140-seater to that and the French really helped me sell the seats. It was just a wonderful night; I still can't get over that I did that, as well as the Hollywood Bowl.
Lows? When I was an early stand-up, I was doing well and they said "Come on a TV show," and I said "I don't want to do television but I'll do warm-up." Because I thought warm-up was kind of like hosting or moderating and I'd done quite a lot of that and I was a street performer. But it was just an awful gig because you have to talk to an audience and I do all this surreal humour and they just hated me and I had to keeping going back on and on. That was pretty god damned awful.
I can talk to audiences. I was a street performer so I had to talk to them endlessly, but the stand-up I've developed is very surreal and needs a lot of attention span. As a warm-up person, it's really kind of odd because you're coming on between the actual show and they're there to see people they know from television and you're coming on and annoying them in between. Saying, "Ok, we've had a break in the filming. Hey, why have you got a funny haircut?" I could learn to do that but I've moved away from that and into talking about cats on Mars drilling for gold and fish with guns and ancient Greek gods. My stuff just didn't work; I'd taken it to a place where it wasn't gonna work in that medium so that is why it was such a rubbish gig.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
There are the two most hellish heckles, which happen to you in a gig. One is "Say something funny," and the other is "Boring!" That's a tough one; you have to get above that one. And I had someone heckle me with "boring!" in the encore. This was at a gig in York and I did rip them apart. "Hang on, you've sat here for an hour and 20 minutes and now you're thinking this is boring? Just this bit? Or is it the whole bit? Or you didn't have the guts to say it beforehand?" By the time I'd ripped his head off, he didn't come back and say anything else after that, because it was just so ridiculous — the idea that you'd heckle in the encore. You'd wait until that point.
What should everyone shut up about?
Well, in the world, extremists — political and religious extremists should all just shut up about their extreme views because they're so simplistic. Real life, real politics, real spirituality is quite complex. That's what we have to deal with. The towns and the cities will be the saviours of the world because people become live and let live. People in these towns and cities, they all tend to vote centre, centre-left. That is their voting pattern. So extremists should all just shut up about their views.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like my determination. I dislike that I cannot be decisive. The determination is positive but sometimes, when you have difficult decisions, I think "Maybe this, maybe this, maybe that," and I hate that. I think everyone suffers from this in some ways.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Oooh, perfect Sunday would be bacon and eggs, a lot of black and white films on the telly, a good walk, maybe a run. Maybe run a marathon. Maybe just chuck that in, through the countryside, in my own time. Sunshine. I quite like that wintry/autumn/maybe spring sunshine where it's cool and crisp but the sun is out there. I do like that.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
I think that is none. See, I believe that regret is a useless emotion so I can't see any. I should've come out as a transvestite and I did, so I took that advice for myself. I should've got into street performing, I should've become a stand-up comedian, which I did. I should've gone into dramatic acting, which I've done. I did break into Pinewood Studios when I was 15 and that was also good. In the end it paid off.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
They seem to be slightly different things, the band and the bed thing. I can't quite answer that but I have dismissed an audience, which I think is pretty interesting, twice. Audiences I was playing to, as a street performer, and they weren't good enough so I dismissed them. It's quite an amazing event to witness because they just weren't giving me anything and I was giving them everything. I was giving them my life and they were giving me nothing. So I said, "Just go, just go. You're not doing enough." Then they wouldn't go and it became fantastically interesting.
The second time I did it, I was a double act and my partner was getting the audience to bring me back on. I said, "I'm not going back on for them. They're useless." It was quite funny because you're so beholden to an audience and desperate for them to like what you're doing and then, to suddenly say, "Let's just go. I don't need your money and vague applause that you're not really giving. Just do something else." So, that was good.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think of the summer of 1971 when I was a Canadian kid for two months in a town called Campbellford, just north of Belleville in Ontario. I think of playing baseball there, running through the forest, swimming in the loch, fishing and catching rock bass, and just having a wonderful time. One endless, summery summer in Canada.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
It was Cool for Cats by Squeeze on pink vinyl. I predicted it would go to number one and it went to number two so I thought I was pretty damn close. And then I got Ian Dury's Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick. I wasn't a punk kid, but punk was happening at that time. I needed the punk bands that had a sense of melody, as opposed to the pure energy bands. I think they're in my dad's attic. I hope they're still there.
What was your most memorable day job?
I refused to do them because I had to be a performer, but when I was a teenager, working in the Bexhill on Sea, where I was growing up, at the De La Warr Pavilion. I was selling ice creams up in a kiosk at the end of the seaside promenade. So, I sold ice creams, chocolate bars, and Coca-Colas and I kind of loved it because I have a secret love of retail. I was doing accounting and financial management at university, so I have a secret love of retail. I love being the customer and the guy behind the counter and in those days, you'd have these machines for the cash till and they'd go "ching." Now days you just go "beep" but it used to be "ching" and I liked that. It could be kind of sad of me but I do like gizmos and shops.
How do you spoil yourself?
Probably going into a Mac store. I like gadgets. I used to just be desperate for gadgets and now I am choosy on my gadgets. I like train trips too. I could spoil myself by a good train trip across Europe. Europe has great trains and great countries to go on train trips on. If you get the Eurostar, people go from London to Paris and Paris to London, it's a beautiful thing; two hours and 15 minutes later you're in the other city and another country, having travelled under the sea, the English Channel or "la manche" as the French call it. That's a wonderful thing to do.
If I wasn't doing comedy I would be…
I would be an actor, which is what I am doing right at this moment. And if I wasn't doing acting or comedy, I'd be a politician, which is what I'm doing in 2020. I am running for mayor of London or a member of a parliament and I've already announced it and everyone knows it. They've just done some figures and poll research in The Standard newspaper so I'm doing it. Senator Al Franken is already doing what I'm doing, because he came from the world of comedy and became a senator. I'm a big supporter of his. And actors have done it, from Ronald Reagan to Arnold Schwarzenegger. So, if Arnold Schwarzenegger can go from bodybuilding into that and Jesse Ventura from wrestling into that and Ronald Reagan from b-movie acting to President, then comedians, who are already talking about ideas, are much more suited than actors actually.
What do you fear most?
Big spiders that jump on your face; don't like them. Maybe it's what Roosevelt talks about; fear itself. I try to push back the boundaries of fear. If you're doing gigs in French, then in English — it must be easier. So, I just keep pushing back on the edge of fear.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
"Take it off and get it on," what, take it off and have sex? Is that what that means? You could be taking off a hat and putting it back on again. I can't quite work out what this means. Well, sexy people I suppose, if you want to take things off and have sex. I think if that's what you're driving at, that's the most logical answer.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
There was a very nice thing that happened. I was playing Liverpool and I went to the Beatles exhibition because I'm a big fan of the Beatles. I came out of the exhibition and I could see the Liverpool Echo arena and someone asked me for an autograph. And I thought, "God, it's kind of weird to be asked for an autograph just outside of the Beatles exhibition." The Beatles are so huge and did such amazing things. I met Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr so that's kind of amazing. Unfortunately I never met John but yeah, I'm just big a fan of theirs and the idea that someone would ask me for an autograph outside is crazy. It made one feel very nice because it was such a huge thing they did. And they were ambitious. It was great. I think it's good, if you're positive, to be ambitious. We lost ambition in Britain at some point and I want to encourage people to be ambitious if they have a good heart. Not the horrible people; they can all go away.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Nelson Mandela. That'd be great. George Clooney; yeah, George could come along. Probably some other people too. Breakfast cereal. Breakfast cereal would probably be easiest. That'd be quite weird. Especially if George and Nelson Mandela went "Oh yeah, breakfast cereal, yeah that's great." I can't eat breakfast cereal anymore; it's too addictive. I'd probably join them on it, otherwise they'd think I was churlish. See, there's one called Ricicles. You have Frosted Flakes? We have Frosties; your Frosted Flakes are our Frosties. Then there's Ricicles, which are like Rice Krispies covered in sugar. God, that was crack cocaine for kids. What I assume crack cocaine must be because it was slightly addictive. I don't do any breakfast cereal anymore because they're all so addictive for me. I would join in with them. No, I'd do them bacon and eggs, that's what I'd do.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
My mom, she died when I was a kid but she was in amateur dramatics, she would be happy that I was doing this, so it's all cool.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
"Chevaliers de Sangreal." I think it's by Hans Zimmer. It's actually the theme for The Da Vinci Code and it's quite an epic theme so it'd be quite a good thing to go out on. I played it at the end of my French gig at the Olympia and they kept applauding so I went back out and was able to stand on-stage while this was playing and it's so huge. It just builds and builds and builds. So, it'd be a nice one to play.