Eddie Izzard is not content to be a world-famous comedian and proud cross-dresser known for his surreal and intelligent humor. Along with acting (NBC’s Hannibal, the upcoming film Boychoir, with Dustin Hoffman) and learning four languages for his ongoing comedy tour, Force Majeure, he is also getting ready for his next role: politician. A devoted campaigner for Britain’s Labour Party, he plans to begin the next stage of his career in 2020, running (perhaps) for mayor of London. What would Al Franken say?
On his international tour, Izzard nimbly tackles everything from fascists (“There are three rules to fascism: “Make shit up, scream it loudly, then kill people”) to what-if scenarios only he could devise (the battle between Darth Vader and God over a plate of spaghetti carbonara in the Star Wars cantina).
Newsweek caught up with him via phone as his tour bus rolled along an Indiana highway, where he discussed his political aspirations, why feral is beautiful and offered a surprising answer to the question Izzard himself made famous: “Cake or death?”
How can you create a monologue that audiences will find funny from Moscow to Cleveland?
Humor is human. References are national. I talk about gods, do they exist? I don’t believe they do! Squirrels with guns. The ancient Greek idea of a healthy body leading to a healthy mind. Wisdom: Why have you never heard of an extremist having wisdom? No one in the Nazi Party could ever say, “Ah, now that was a wise Nazi.” There’s no such thing. No Tea Party member can be wise. The extremist [National] Front party in France—they don’t have wisdom. None of them do.
You began to do some performances in French during your Dress to Kill tour in 1998. How many languages do you perform in now?
I also did two months in German—auf Deutsch—at the beginning of this year. I grabbed a week in Madrid and did 50 minutes of the show in Spanish, and I’m now able to do my show in four languages. And I’m just about to fly to Normandy to do three gigs in three languages in three hours. The Normandy performance is an homage to everyone who fought for democracy during World War II and since World War II. I also want to give a salute to Russia, with 25 minutes to the Russian side. So Russian is next after Spanish on my list of languages to learn.
Mispronouncing a word can change the entire meaning of a joke. Have you ever had any problems?
Yes I have. I tried to ad-lib in French, and my French is good. I wanted to say, “I have a focus.” I believe when in doubt, go for the English word with a French accent. Because of what happened after the Norman Conquests and the Battle of Hastings, there are 150,000 French words in the English language, so it’s a possibility you could get it right! So I said: “J’ai un focus,” pronounced with a French-sounding fo-kew, of course. But faux means false, and cul means ass. So I was telling everyone I had a false ass.
You have campaigned for the British Labour Party and supported the European Union and voting reform. And you’ve made it clear you plan to run for political office. How long have you had this goal?
I first announced my plans to run for office in Newsweek in 2008. I had this moment when I was being interviewed, and while I’d been thinking of it for a long time, I realized I can’t live this life and not try this, so I announced it then. I have certain skills and energies and I can think outside of the box. And while the politics of centrism are complicated, I do think I can find the center of an argument.
Is it true you will run for mayor of London?
The Labour Party were encouraging me to enter the 2016 [election] for mayor but I’m going to wait for 2020, either as mayor or a member of Parliament, I can’t tell which until we find out who gets in as the next mayor in 2016. So I’m going to keep on being an activist, do as much as I can in Britain and campaign for the Labour Party in the next general election. Then I have to get elected, and I’m going to try to do something positive.
Which is more dysfunctional, the European Union or Washington, D.C.?
This is the way I’d put it: No one loves a political system. In Europe, we’re actually trying to learn to work together like you were before you had the Constitution written and the country was just a confederation of states. Europe is also a loose confederation of states—but without one leader, so it’s hard to get people to work together. The European Union has to find a way. It’s too bureaucratic otherwise. If we can’t get the European Union to work, then the world will not work. Those are the stakes.
You have always been at ease cross-dressing, but lately you appear to have toned down your look, with less makeup and butchier men’s clothes (although still with a great pair of stacked Cuban-heeled boots). Has this been because of your political aspirations?
I will wear what I want, when I want. I won’t have anyone telling me what to wear. I was campaigning in London in makeup, and no one seemed to give a damn about that. I showed up to the Labour Party conference wearing makeup. I wear it, and I don’t wear it, just like any woman does. I could flip a coin each day. Maybe that would be the easiest way to do it.
In one of your most famous stand-up routines, you play out what would’ve happened if the Church of England had attempted an Inquisition like the Spanish one. You suggest they would torture people by asking “cake or death?” What kind of cake would you pick?
No cake, I’m afraid. I don’t eat cake anymore. I gave up refined sugar.
No sugar at all?
Someone told me to cut out the crap. C is caffeine, R is refined sugar, A is additives and P is the preservatives. Cut out the C.R.A.P. and you will have a better life. Obviously, sugar is a great little thing, but it’s so obviously addictive, as is nicotine. As is opium, as are all these things. Sure, some drugs have worse effects than sugar does. But eventually it has a health effect, as everyone becomes one of these large rolling mountains. Since I’ve dropped refined sugar it’s sort of changed my life. I lost more weight in the two months I gave up sugar than in the two months I ran 43 marathons.
What other changes have you seen?
My skin looks better. And I feel I’m closer to a more feral way of existing. I remember when I heard people were doing the caveman diet and I thought, What a ridiculous thing. Then I realized, That’s how we were meant to be. Then we found sugar and started to pump it into our bodies. Take out the sugar, additives and preservatives, and it will change your life. Change your life with no exercise. Eighty percent of what you are is about the food you eat. I thought it was the exercise. It was the food.
On a different note, I’m jealous of how easily you wear bright-red lipstick. I’ve always been afraid it would look too garish on me, with my fish-belly-white skin.
Well, you’ve got to just become more feral! I used to just train indoors, and now I only train outdoors! You need to get that natural sunlight. You need to get that vitamin D in you. All animals look healthy because they are outside.… And that’s what we need to do. If the food gets real and the training is there, it’s the icing on the cake—even though we’re not talking about cake!