Activist and actor Eddie Izzard on comedy, politics and the end of the world

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ABOVE: Photo by Amanda Searle, via EddieIzzard.com.

Activist, actor and author Eddie Izzard’s 30-year career has been as proactive and fabulous as the comedian himself.

That’s evident in “Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens,” published in 2017 to critical acclaim. Izzard’s intelligent humor dishes on historical and sexual politics, mad ancient kings and chickens with guns, all while reflecting on the childhood loss of his mother, his time in boarding school and his sexuality. It also details his time in comedy, film, politics and philanthropy.

It was the buzzworthy book that launched Izzard’s worldwide tour of the same name, which heads to Ruth Eckerd Hall Oct. 14.  The “Believe Me Tour” features the iconic stand-up comedy synonymous with his unique brand as he shares personal photos, discusses his experiences and reads from the memoir.

Watermark caught up with Izzard ahead of his Clearwater stop to dish on labels, bringing his personal story to fans and the end of the world.

WATERMARK: You’ve described yourself as a “transgender guy,” a “transvestite” and a “wannabe lesbian” in the past. How do you currently describe yourself?

EDDIE IZZARD: It’s sort of confusing. When I came out in 1985, 33 years ago, people said “those are different things, completely different,” and I thought, “no, I don’t think they are.” I worked out that there must have been twelve groups and transgender was the overall group. I decided there must have been straight, bi and gay transvestites and transsexuals of both sexes; all those definitions have changed from that, twirled into whatever we have now.

When I also came out I got a lot of slack, actually, people attacking me saying, “You’re obviously gay and you’re not telling people that you’re gay.” I would say, “Well, I’d be very happy to be gay but for some reason I’m not. It’d be actually easier, more logical, but if you talk to my genetics they don’t seem to listen to you. I seem to fancy women, so I’m a wannabe lesbian.”

Now that more people are out it actually makes more sense. Wannabe lesbian, yes; transgender person, yes. I seem to be nonbinary, because I’ve got this – I’m not sure how people define it these days, because we keep moving our definitions – but there’s how you self-identify, who you fancy and what you look like in a classical boy-girl, man-woman look. And there’s any point from all the way on one side to all the way over to the other side, and every variation in-between.

How do you approach that in the entertainment industry?

In film roles, I’m going up for male roles … because that’s still a part of me. I’d go up for trans roles if the trans role was right. I tend to look more like a man who’s wearing a dress and heels and makeup, as opposed to someone easily thinking, “That person must be a woman; maybe it’s a trans person.”

I’m very pleased that in the last few years we’ve gotten to a better place. When I came out I tried to be a subtle activist; a covert activist. I wasn’t marching in the street … but I would say, “I’m going to do whatever I want to do.” The big mission actually was to admit being transgender and admit that into society. I’m very boring, I’m naturally very boring. I am, actually, really boring – every layer of interesting has been added on top. I just decided to keep putting layers on.

That may be why so many in the LGBTQ community are drawn to your work. It’s clear you’ve lived authentically throughout your career.

Oh, yay. I’m glad. No one’s ever said that to me [Laughs]. I wasn’t playing by any rules, not that there are any rules out there. I have always felt I’ve been going on my own sweet way and I’ll work this out. In the end, it’s a part of my biography tour which I will be doing in my Florida gigs.

I talk about how I tried to see a doctor when I was at university, and twice I went and made the appointment with a psychiatrist to tell me, of course, probably how I had gender dysphoria and I was confused; all that kind of stuff. It didn’t come through, and maybe that was just the LGBTQ gods helping me [Laughs].

I did think that. If you’re talking to people who are really in a bad way on their gender issues, they’re probably going to have a much more muddled view of what sexuality is, and that’s dysphoria; confusion. I thought, no, not confusion: it’s a gift. Someone has extra genetics that you’ve been given; extra strings and codes. You just have to learn to live with that gift. LGBTQ people, we’ve just got this gift.

The “Believe Me Tour” follows your memoir. What led you to get so personal with fans?

I was trying in my shows, in normal standup shows and in interviews, to be quite open. This deal came along, and I really was considering not doing it … and this deal came along that said, do you want to do this, we’ll do it in America and we’ll do it in Britain? And I actually thought, “Well this could help, let’s go for it; let’s do it, it will encourage me to write.”

What was your process like?

I’m a very reluctant writer; a very lazy writer. I had to work with [ghost writer] Laura Zigman, who did a lot of the heavy lifting on this and got it into shape, although I did dictate all the chapters. It was an opportunity and a deal that came of the blue. I thought at the end of my life I would do a summation of, “This is where we got to, kids.” Instead, halfway through I’m saying, “This is what we’re up to now, kids.”

I’m just getting the French version translated, and then I’m going to do the audiobook in French and the audiobook in German. It’s a lot of work, but I’m very excited about it. Not that I’m hugely well known in parts of Germany, but I’m actively pushing away in a very anti-Brex-hate, anti-Trump way; against the negativity that says “let’s use hatred.”

I’m saying, “no, let’s move forward, let’s build bridges. Let’s hang across the seas, this is the 21st century.” This is the one where we’re going to make it work for the world or we’re going to wipe ourselves off the planet. It’s all or nothing in this century, I really believe that.

LGBTQ and all progressive people have got to – in this great American expression, “redouble our efforts.” The rest of us have got to push forward so we’re ready to keep moving humanity forward.

With your entertainment background and your political activism, which do you find easier?

Entertainment is way, way easier. Politics is zero sum, so that’s a problem. Creativity is not zero sum; in a zero sum game, if your party is pulling forward, or you yourself are pulling forward, these views of people who are diametrically opposed are saying, “Well that’s exactly wrong, we hate you and a lot of other people hate you.” You’ve got to deal with all that, people actively pushing back on what you think is a perfectly logical idea.

People think that if they rubbish you, they shout loud enough and put loud enough hatred on you then you’ll stop fighting. That way they can have a clear way to have a right-wing, crazy, 1930s return.

Politics, especially American politics, I think are worse because of the money involved with it. All of this bullshit money that just swings around from billionaires just twisting the truth, and the new lies that Trump has come up with. Daily lies. Hitler said: “If you lie big enough, everyone will believe you.” Trump has said, “Actually, if you lie often enough, everyone might believe you.” I’m saying, “No, no to both of those.”

What differences have you experienced between touring in the U.S. and overseas?

There’s not a huge difference. One thing that’s really positive is that the only people that come to see my work, my life story, are progressive people. No extreme right-wingers say, “I like to hate people, I’ve got to go see this.” They just don’t come.

I have a theory I could play anywhere. I’m sort of an international minor celebrity. I think I’m sort of known to a common group of people, and if I have to learn a language, I can just learn that language and go and play it. I’m going to find out with Spanish as I go through Central and South America. I’ll probably be playing quite small places, but I’m going to tour it in Spanish and it’s going to be beautiful.

We just have to keep fighting and enjoy life, and keep fighting in a positive way. Forces are trying to drag everything backward; the rest of us just have to keep redoubling our efforts. Redoubling our efforts to move forward.

What message do you have for fans about your tour?

I talk about sexuality in it, but my comedy isn’t sexuality-driven, which is an interesting thing. It’s “Monty Python” driven, that’s where my sense of humor comes from. I think my life is quite interesting, and if you are LGBTQ, or people are reading about this that aren’t that but are open-minded people… it’s kind of interesting. I did have to push very hard in life. If someone else could maybe hear some of it and think, “if this idiot did those things, I can go and do these things,” I would like that.

Eddie Izzard’s “Believe Me Tour” dazzles audiences at Ruth Eckerd Hall Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 727-791-7400 or visit RuthEckerdHall.com.

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